Book 10: Stephen King on Writing, a Memoir of the Craft

I hadn’t heard of this book until quite recently, but I really enjoy King’s stories, so as soon as I found out about it I had to read it! I posted it on Facebook, excited to tell my friends what I was reading and it turns out that loads of them had not only heard about the book, but they’d read it too!

Stephen King is a household name, whether it’s because people have read one of his many novels or watched a movie or tv series based on these stories, whatever it is, everyone knows of King! So why wouldn’t I jump at the chance to learn some lessons that he has to offer?

I have half a shelf full of King’s books because a few years ago Waterstones were having a 3 for 2 sale and I got a bit carried away and brought 9 in one go! Some have become favourites like Carrie, Firestarter, Cujo, The Shining (which I have read about 6 times now) and the sequel Doctor Sleep. Others, like Dolores Claiborne and Bag of Bones, I found myself seriously struggling with, but Memoir was awesome, such an great read.

This book is a mixture of teaching the reader about writing, but also sharing in parts of King’s life, and isn’t that a great way to teach – sharing your experiences so other people can learn by example. We read about King’s career, his childhood, his family and even his near death experience. He reveals important lessons he’s learnt, how he gained experience and how be bounced back from rejection.

I found this all extremely interesting, I love that he reads 60 – 70 books a year and that he’s included a list of the ones he’s most enjoyed in the back (Harry Potter is in there!). I think its awesome that he reveals to us where he gets his inspiration from and that he writes for his wife, ahh.

I found his teachings invaluable too, he talks about the writing and editing process and says that your first draft should be about getting everything out of your head and onto paper, (FYI this is my interpretation, not a direct quotation) you shouldn’t keep rereading it and editing, you shouldn’t let anyone else read it and don’t be tormented by the little voice in the back of your head that tells you your writing is rubbish or doesn’t make sense. Just get it out, enjoy it, explore the world you’ve created. Then leave it alone for a few weeks before going back to it with fresh eyes.

When you go through the second draft you need to look for grammatical errors, holes in the plot and things that don’t make sense. You get to reword bits and change character names. After this you can pass it on to your nearest and dearest or the chaps who have said that they’ll read your work and give you feedback.

There are only two bits in this book that I’m unsure of. One is the chapter where King tells us that when we’re looking for a publisher we could do well to be like ‘Frank’. So Frank is a combo of people and I had to read this chapter twice because I wasn’t sure if there was a lesson there or just an account of what some people did, which I guess could be seen as a lesson in itself, but I didn’t find it very conclusive. I’m not sure if when I contact a publisher I should list everything I’ve ever published, however thinking about it, I haven’t had anything fictional published, so I guess it doesn’t matter really!

King also says that you should read a lot, which I totally agree with, but he gives the example of reading in the gym. For me reading at the gym is a big no-no, on the bus, in a queue, during your lunch break, yes yes yes, but in the gym no. The exception to this is when I’m revising for an exam and I sit on a bike and cram and pedal for an hour.

I’m sorry Mr King, I hate to disagree with you and all your awesomeness, but I believe that if you’re at the gym, you need to focus on the gym. I listen to music, but when I’m in the zone it fades away. If I was trying to read or listen to an audio book I wouldn’t be working out as hard as I should be, I’d be lost in the story.

For me, the gym allows my mind to wander, but because I use my phone for my music, if I get a flash of inspiration I can jot it down in my notes section and I do, my phone has really random notes, some a two words, others are paragraphs long! But it’s nice to have this freedom and by allowing my brain to percolate my creative juices start to flow. I wouldn’t be working out my body or my brain is I read at the gym.

So what have I learnt?

  • Write as much as you can about anything and everything, these ideas and flashes of creativity might turn into something bigger.
  • Don’t worry if you want to write about something you’re not entirely sure about, that’s what research is for.
  • Write because you want to, not because you want to quit your day job.
  • Embrace the rejection slip!
  • Ask for feedback, even if it’s a few sentences it can only help you.
  • Adverbs, try not to use them too frequently.
  • Don’t say “it was indescribable”, you’re a writer, you have an abundance of words at your disposal, use them!
  • Show, don’t tell.
  • Finally – you will never ever please everyone.

It’s easy to write a list of things that I’ve learnt, but what about putting them into practice? Well, today I visited an art gallery and after looking at an exhibition, I visited the coffee shop and spent an hour writing! Hazzah!

Have you read this book? What did you think?

I’m reading and reviewing books for charity, if you would like to nominate a book or sponsor my challenge please see free to visit my Virgin Giving page!