Book Notes: On Writing by Stephen King

Why On Writing

Book Notes and a Review of On Writing by Stephen KingStephen King’s books are too scary for me. I was working with the guys over at Asymetrical Publishing and I found in their forum a discussion in which King spoke about what it takes to be a writer.

Hell, I don’t know if I want to be a writer. I don’t even know what that means. I write a lot, I guess that makes me a writer. The labels seem off balance to me. I appreciate craft and if to be a writer you have to hone the craft, I think they should take on another word for what it is that they do. Perhaps author is that word.

I digress. Anyways, I listened to this one while walking around the illuminated streets Fitzroy in the city of Melbourne, Australia. It was winter and while walking around listening to Stephen King narrate the book to me, I enjoyed the week of projections that the local artists had set up in all the stores windows. Each wall was bathed in light from a projection show that the artists had put together. It was a truly mesmerizing experience and I was constantly stopping to take the following notes. Here you go…

Reading Notes for
On Writing

“We are writers, we never ask each other where our ideas come from because we all know; we don’t know.”

No one asks about the language. This is the idea that hit this book.

“To write is human, to edit is divine.”

Massive poverty for these kids growing up in Durham in the mid 50s. = Another example of the abundance society we live in these days

“The idea that creative endeavor and mind altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop intellectual myths of our time. The four 20th century writers who’s work is responsible for it are probably Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson and the poet Dylan Thomas.

They are the writers who largely formed our vision of an existential, English speaking wasteland where people have been cut off from one another and live in an atmosphere if emotional strangulation and despair.

These feelings are very common to alcoholics. The common response to them is amusement.”

“…I’m going to tell you as much as I can about the job [writing].

As promised, it won’t take long.

It starts with this:

Put your desk in the corner and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room.

“Life isn’t a support system for art, it’s the other way around.”

You must not come lightly to the blank page.

The first rule of vocabulary is to use the first word that comes to your mind.

“Grammar is not just a pain in the ass; it’s the pole you grab to get your thoughts up on their feet and walking.”

Avoid the passive tense
The passive voice is safe
Unsure writers think the passive tense is majestic
One place or the passive tense:

A fellow dies in the kitchen but the body ends up somewhere else:

The body was carried from the kitchen and was placed on the parlor sofa.

= ok but was is used too often =

Freddy and Myra carried the body out of the kitchen an laid it on the parlor sofa

Why does the body have to be the subject of the sentence anyway? It’s dead for Christi sake! Forget about it!

Too much use of was sucks.

Powerful Stephen King…. I never really understood subject of a sentence until now…

Another one

My first kiss will always be recalled by me as how my romance with Shaina was begun.

Shit… Better=

My romance with Shaina began with our first kiss. Ill never forget it.

Not in love with this because it uses with twice in 4 words…

At least it’s rid of that awful passive voice

Also notice how much simpler it is to understand as its broken up into two thoughts

The reader must always be your main concern

The writer threw the rope; NOT; the rope was thrown by the writer

Adverb is not your friend. It’s used by the timid writer

Adverb = words that motify (often end in -ly)

The road to hell is paved with adverbs

Fear is at the root of most bad writing

Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation.

Good writing is about choosing the right tools to work with.

“You can’t be serious,” bill said unbelievably = shit writing because the adverb is inherently redundant.

Writing is refined thinking.

The more you write, the more your paragraphs take form on their own.

My overall take away from On Writing

Stephen King uses On Writing as an excuse to tell his life’s story and its a beautiful accomplishment to blend together; as they are such entwined existences.

King’s life is exciting in only a way that he can explain. His is immeasurably good writing because he can make a life story like his exciting. In truth, his life wasn’t too remarkable. He grew up in a lower middle class household, held crappy jobs until he sold his writing for a high price tag. He then got addicted to drugs and then kicked the habit. Finally, he was hit by a van on a long walk. To be perfectly honest, it’s a mediocre life story in terms of radical adventures and remarkable accomplishments. It’s in the way that he explains his life and passion that makes this book a 5 star, “you must read this book because it is all important if you want to write” type book.

I’m a better writer because of this book and I appreciate grammar for the first time in my life. A lifetime of ignoring English teachers and cheating on tests couldn’t get me to give a damn about what the subject of a sentence was; but King brought it to my attention and I retained it almost immediately when he discussed the importance of grammar.

So yeah, this is a must read. Even if you don’t want to be a writer, it’s a beautifully written autobiography with lessons that could just as easily be used if you want to be a painter or a banker.

On Writing is a Must Read and I Hope These Notes Were Valuable to You

If you want to listen to King read the book to you, you can get it for free through this link.

Amazon sells the book too. Surprise, surprise.


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