I’m currently reading Stephen King | On Writing. If you haven’t read it, it’s his memoir on the craft of writing. Although originally published in 2000 and in paperback in 2010, I never picked up a copy until my writer son, David, gift wrapped it and placed it under the Christmas tree with my name on it. (My copy came with a decorative canister of hot chocolate mix. Nothing like reading about writing by the fire while sipping hot chocolate during a painfully long Wisconsin winter.) But I digress. The book is an inspirational gift. A good read. And a poignant example of undeniably great writing. But then, what would you expect from Stephen King?
Don’t expect an itemized list of writing principles in the table of contents. In fact, don’t expect a table of contents. Instead, this 284-page memoir opens with 38 mini-stories chronicling King’s life and, in his words, how these life events formed him as a writer. He refers to his journey as “a disjoined growth process in which ambition, desire, luck, and a little talent all played a part. Don’t bother trying to read between the lines, and don’t look for a through-line,” he warns. “There are no lines—only snapshots, most out of focus.”
One hundred pages into the book, King defines what writing is before revealing the “Toolbox” every writer needs—and which tools need to be on the top shelf of that toolbox. He then transitions to the meat of the book, the “On Writing” section before concluding with “On Living: A Postscript.”
King speaks in a frank, in your face style. And as you might expect, throughout the book he entertains you. But don’t be deceived. While he’s entertaining you, he’s subtly teaching you. There are plenty of sound bites you simply must tack to your bulletin board, scrawl on your white board, in your journal or capture on your phone, tablet or laptop.
But this blog post is not a book review. It’s about tips for the writing life—your writing life—from one of the most prolific and commercially successful writers of our time. I leave you with King’s advice on why it is so important when you write fiction to write every day.
“Once I start work on a project, I don’t stop and I don’t slow down unless I absolutely have to. If I don’t write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind—they begin to seem like characters instead of real people. The tale’s narrative cutting edge starts to rust and I begin to lose my hold on the story’s plot and pace. Worst of all, the excitement of spinning something new begins to fade. The work starts to feel like work, and for most writers that is the smooch of death. Writing is at its best—always, always, always—when it is a kind of inspired play for the writer.”
Inspired play. You have felt it before. Yet, to keep feeling it, you must write every day. Yes, easier said than done when your day job grinds you down. But it’s true—you are at your best when you spend time every day crafting your characters.
If you haven’t read Stephen-King | On Writing, pick up a copy. You just might pick up a little inspiration to fuel your writing—and hone your writing skills.
Hot chocolate optional.