I was ecstatic when Rob told us we would be reading "On Writing" by Stephen King in our feature writing class this term. Though I've probably seen a movie or two based off of his source material on accident, I knew nothing of King the writer before reading this book. Strange to me that he would produce easily the most important piece of literature I have ever read, when I'm not even a fan. Given to me as a gift by my parents who always fostered my desire to write about 4 years ago, I was immediately drawn to King's approach to writing, he's a no bullshit kind of guy and I appreciate that.
Of the many many lessons I took away from the half dozen times I've read this book the two that stick with me the most are to be a great writer you must be a great reader, or in his own words "Read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut." I never quite understood in reflection why my writing was so much better during summers where I was as prolific with my eyes as I was my pen but suddenly it made sense when reading that line. Good writing rubs off on you, you cannot exist in a medium you do not appreciate. I have taken that mantra and applied it to everything and thanks to King I actually try to read the newspaper now.
The second most important lesson is to "Kill your Darlings." In the book King has a sports editor in high school named Gould that takes a red pen to his work and shows him more in ten minutes than he learned in 6 years of English lit, composition, fiction, and poetry classes by getting rid of all of the personal indulgences and embellishment and making the story readable. As Gould says "When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all of the things that are not the story." Whenever I edit I try to use what I call the 'King' rule and hack off 10% because I know I was just writing for me when I started, now I need to tell a story to others though and they don't need to hear every flowery bit of prose I can cram into a page. I'm not here to impress people with my massive vocabulary or my ability to conjoin metaphors, if I want to write like that fine, put it in a notebook, but once it goes in print it needs to be fit for consumption by others. Since I started going in with that mindset I have noted my writing has become crisper, stronger, and carried more power and clarity.
In short I love "On Writing" I recommend it to anyone that has even the slightest inkling to become a writer professionally. It summarizes all of the things you must know about writing without any hoops or fire pits to cross in the process.
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