I recently read On Writing by Stephen King. Well, technically, I listened to it. It was the first audio book I’ve ever ‘read’. I think the fact that it was Stephen King’s voice I was listening to made it that much more enjoyable. It was only a year ago when I read my first Stephen King novel, and I admit, as someone who isn’t a fan of the horror genre, I was scared. It was ‘Salem’s Lot and overall, I enjoyed the story but it didn’t turn me into a Stephen King fan.
A year later, I’m definitely a fan! I’ll even try reading more of his books - with the lights on when I’m not home alone! On Writing was a fabulous read. Can I still call it that when it’s an audio book? It’s packed with great advice, interesting tidbits from King’s novels, and inspiring facts from King’s life. Part instruction and part memoir, I can see how On Writing is a hit with aspiring authors and Stephen King fans alike.
As you can imagine, On Writing is packed with many helpful tidbits. Here are the writing tips that struck me the hardest.
Limit Adverb Use
This didn’t make much sense to me when I first heard it but as King went on to explain why he doesn’t like adverbs, it became really clear that if you’re a good writer, you shouldn’t need to use adverbs. Your readers will already know that Susan gingerly tiptoed across the carpet because that’s what you’ve showed them in the preceding sentences. Plus, the verb tiptoe already implies that someone is being cautious.
Limiting adverb use is also going to help you show more than you tell in your writing. This is something I struggle with so when I’m having a tough time, I now know to go back and look at my adverbs. If I’ve used a ton, I need to rewrite the passage using as few as possible. None is best, according to King.
Tell the Truth
We all know Stephen King writes fiction, so what does he mean by telling the truth in writing? He means your characters should always be true to themselves. Your potty-mouthed villain isn’t going to say, “Oh, darn” when the heroine of your story escapes his evil clutches, is he?
I loved that King goes on to say that characters all have a piece of the writer in them, whether it’s an actual characteristic of the writer or a characteristic of someone they know. We should know our characters intimately so it will be easy for us to tell the truth as we put them in various predicaments in our novels.
Read and Write Everyday
Reading and writing everyday should be an obvious tip for becoming a better writer but so many people make the excuse that they don’t have time for all that. Or, maybe they have time to write but they don’t have time to read. King argues that by reading, we become better writers (even more so than taking a writing course) so it’s crucially important to make the time.
I feel like this is the most important tip of all. When you find you’re not having fun with your writing anymore (or anything for that matter), you need to stop and ask yourself why. Writing is hard work but you should still enjoy the process enough to want to keep doing it again and again. So when you start feeling like you’re tied to your desk with a large pitbull watching over your shoulder, take a break and go for a walk or read something inspiring. Ignore that pitbull - he’s friendly anyway.
I hope these tips have inspired you to pick up a copy of On Writing and see for yourself all the marvelous gems of knowledge it holds. Most of all, if you’re a writer, I hope you will keep reading, writing, and working on your craft everyday.
Leave a comment below for some accountability and we can help each other stay on track!