When I decided to try and actually finish my first novel, I decided to read everything I could get my hands on about writing fiction. I figured it was better to stop and learn as much as I could in the hopes that I could avoid making as many “new writer mistakes” as possible. Sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? Well, I think it was a good idea. I just wish I had read them in a different order.
The books I read before getting to On Writing include, The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass (oh yes, I own the workbook too), The Fire in Ficiton also by Donald Maass, The Weekend Novelist by Robert Ray, Teach Yourself Writing a Novel by Nigel Watts…you get the idea. I kept running across references to Stephen King’s book everywhere I looked. But I honestly didn’t want to read it.
One of the main reasons I didn’t want to read Stephen King’s book on writing (no pun intended) was that I still suffered from a bit of hero worship. I read Stephen King in high school like other kids drank beer and smoked pot. I honestly wondered if I would even be able to comprehend what he might have to say about writing.
The second reason I didn’t want to read it was that I was still a little miffed at him over the comments he made about Stephenie Meyer. It’s ridiculous, I know. I just remember feeling so mortified for her. I would die if I were to be publicly dissed by Stephen King himself. I mean crawl under the sofa and never show my face in the light of day again kind of mortified.
Anyway – a few more reviews later and I reluctantly picked up a copy of On Writing from my local library. I wish I had had the good sense to read it first.
He does expunge quite a lot about his personal life and his personal demons, but these are integral to understanding how he came to be who he is and how he approaches the writing process. Regardless, the advice he gives is nothing short of gold.
There are two things I took away from his book. Well, I took a lot more away than just two things, but these are the two most relevant things for me at this time.
1. Shut up and write. Don’t try to write and edit at the same time. Writing and editing are two different things. Not only had I never stopped to think about this, I was so overwhelmed with what I had been reading in the other books on writing that I was scared to put words on paper. He talks about his own writing goals, which I believe is two thousand words a day (minimum). He doesn’t worry about this, that, or the other thing. He just lets the story flow and straightens it out in the rewrite. With that, I set my own goal of one thousand words a day. There have been very few days since that I have written less than two thousand words. Just write.
2. Get the first draft written quickly, before the story leaves you. I had read so many stories about writers who took decades to write their first book that I was convinced it would take me that long too. It might take that long to polish it, but I finished my first book about three months after reading On Writing.
Another thing he talks about extensively is the “first reader.” For him, that would be his wife, Tabitha. I have several first readers; my husband, Tim; my daughter, Savannah; and my sister, Kara. When I’m writing, I can imagine how each of them will react to certain lines and scenes. It’s for them that I write as much as I write for myself. Keeping that in mind is powerful motivation.
I’ve also decided that should my book ever be published, and should Stephen King decide to publicly denounce my writing ability, I’m not going to let myself be mortified and crawl under the couch. Instead, I think I’ll just run around the block screaming, “Stephen friggin’ King read my book!” and leave it at that.