Dear Mr. King,
Okay, so first off I should probably tell you I’ve never been a big fan of yours—I am sorry. It isn’t so much you, as it is your genre. I read Carrie as a teenager and it scared the living bejezzus out of me, so I never read anything else. Everyone I know loves your books, so this is really all about me, and not about you. I know you are a very talented and imaginative writer; your work simply gives me nightmares.
So, when I finally started writing after a lifetime of saying “one day”, everyone recommended I read your book on the craft, On Writing. I kept putting it off, because, well, sorry again, you wrote it and it might scare me, and give me writing nightmares, where pens and paper and computers come after me wielding axes and are covered in blood. Ewww.
But I finally decided to bite the bullet and read it. What a fabulous surprise when I could not put it down! The memoir half is riveting and one thing in particular became obvious to me as I read that section: I sadly did not live a painful enough childhood to render me a talented writer. Like Frank McCourt in Angela’s Ashes, you suffered some fairly grueling experiences and were not a robust, healthy lad. I had scarlet fever as a very young child—does that count for anything? I still remember the hallucinations, all these decades later—surely that should count for something!
But of course the reason for reading your marvelous book is for the insights into the craft. I’ve read numerous books written on the subject, but yours is the most helpful, straight forward, and most enjoyable to read. If it is alright with you Mr. King I would like to share with my readers some of the wisdom I’ve learned from your book.
Oh, and I’ve decided to give a book or two of yours a try. But if they give me nightmares you’ll be hearing from me again. Oh yes…you’ll be hearing from me…
Some of the stand-out bits of Stephen King’s wisdom, as in ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT:
- “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” This is my favorite, because I’ve been doing this all my life. Easy. He adds, “Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.”
- King isn’t a plotter. He puts characters in a situation and begins to narrate, allowing the characters to do things THEIR way. I’m not sure if this can work for all of us, after all he’s brilliant and can pull it off. I would love to write like this, and maybe someday I will be able to, but I’m not there yet.
- Dust off that copy of Strunk and White’s ELEMENTS OF STYLE! (Strunk and White would tell you there is an error in that sentence- let’s see if you can find it.)
- “Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.” Writers must be vigilant against overdescribing and underdescribing. I’m working hard to master this one.
- Use passive tense verbs sparingly. Active verbs are king.
- “The adverb is not your friend.” And “…the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” I know this. I’ve read this so many times. So I want to know this: Why am I teaching adverbs to my second graders?
- Avoid dialogue attribution whenever possible, and never, ever use adverbs in those evil attributions. “…while to write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is divine.” So simple, so clear.
- When you rewrite you’re taking out all the things that are not the story. I’m posting this in my writing space. (see 9)
- A writer needs a writing space and it needs a door the writer is willing to shut, thus telling the world you mean business. Most important, this space should contain nothing that can distract the writer. He obviously (adverb alert!) wrote this book before the dawn of social media.
- “Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference.” Thank you Dear Husband for believing in me!