by Jesse Davis
Stephen King’s On Writing begins with a message from Mr. King assuring the reader that what they have in their hands is not a biography, but a trade book designed to help them learn from his experiences and develop into a stronger writer. He also makes recommendations towards some other books that he believes will assist the aspiring writer in developing their own style.
While reading this work I tried so hard to read it critically, to be as judgmental as possible. I searched for errors, and found what I thought were some, like fragmented sentences. I was planning on ripping the book to shreds on that one point so I could have some sort of a review here (opposed to the praise to Stephen King that this somehow became), but those plans were immediately squashed when I read the portion of the book where he justifies these sentences, stating that one has the ability to bend and sometimes even break the grammatical rules that bind our writing to add emphasis and character to our prose. I soon realized that King makes the task of critically dissecting his work extremely difficult. He has a writing style that sucks you in as soon as you begin to read one of his stories. It is so deeply personal you begin to feel as if you aren’t really reading at all, but instead sitting there enjoying a conversation with Mr. King himself. Later in the book he describes this literary phenomenon as something supernatural, claiming that writing is simply telepathy.
This part of the book still remains very vivid in my mind because I was so amazed at the simplicity of the concept. He proves his point by describing a rabbit in a cage with the number 8 written on its back in blue ink. He describes the table the cage is sitting on, and the table cloth between the cage and the table. He describes every minor detail of this caged rabbit, but leaves the descriptions vague enough so that the reader has to interpret what he is saying in their own imagination. He says because of this there will be some necessary variations, such as the various shades of red that the readers mind could place on the table cloth. After he puts this clear image in your mind he takes it a step farther and points out what he has just accomplished; telepathy. Stephen King wrote On Writing in 1999, but here I was receiving mental images of a bunny in a cage form his mind thirteen years later and his mouth never even moved. By god, it was telepathy!
In this book King not only teaches the reader how to communicate through telepathy over the course of time, but also howto become a better writer by sharing his insider’s view on the trade. King gives so much insight on how to connect with your reader on a deeper level that it’s hard not to feel like you are becoming a better writer. It’s not just lists of what to do’s though, he also provides you with a fantastic list of not-to-do’s that I think would make any writer feel a tad bit self-conscious, but extremely motivated to improve upon their writing. One of these ‘not-to-do’s’ that particularly stuck out to me were the ones in regards to finding ideas. King says that you should never find ideas; instead you must recognize them when they show up. This was an approach I never really took when attempting to write, but once I read it I began trying to implement it as much as possible and I found myself having ideas just sort of pop-up throughout the course of my day. I also enjoyed the much more practical tips he includes, such as, “never staple your manuscripts”.
Another tip that stuck with me was that “Writing is best when it’s intimate, as sexy as skin on skin”. This made me realize that it is okay to branch out and away from the black and white research paper style I have been taught to use for my entire schooling life; I don’t need to be afraid of embracing taboos and letting my personality shine through my writing. If you put yourself into your writing than your audience is connecting with you while they read, and if they don’t connect with you then chances are your writing style just doesn’t match up with their interests, which is okay too.
After reading On Writing I now have a notebook filled with notes that are underlined and circled, and there are far too many for me to put into this review. However, there is one last piece of advice that I found so simple and yet so insanely profound that I have to include it. King gave one summarizing piece of advice for writing: “Approach it in any way you want, for whatever reason you want, but take it seriously”. When I read this, I knew that was the reason Stephen King is a best-selling author; the man takes his work seriously. Suddenly I found myself going through all of my notes again and again, making sure I understood every piece of advice. I wanted nothing more than to start writing his recommended a thousand words a day, all the while avoiding those pesky adverbs he cautions his readers about; “The road to hell is paved with adverbs”.