When I was little I used to write stories for pleasure. I also wrote plays.
Then I grew up, continued writing plays and had some of them staged when I ran a theatre company in London.
I left that behind, dove into business and continued writing lots of non-fiction but stopped writing fiction.
A couple of years ago, having stopped making theatre, I began to need to use my imagination again to create different worlds. So now I’m working on a novel and so I’m continuously reading about writing – which is the best way of making sure you never write… I’m just being sarcastic.
What better book to start the AMAZING writing advice series with than the very popular, quoted in every single book about writing… if you haven’t guessed yet let me tell you that I’ve already talked about the author here today… Mr Stephen King’s “On Writing”.
I’d seen the book referenced and talked about so many times that I absolutely had to read it, even though I had never read any of his novels, for the reasons I mentioned earlier, I just don’t like horror stories.
I loved “On Writing”. It’s honest, unpretentious and it’s also a memoir. The advice is advice at a meta-level, and there are very few tactic or exercises, which I really like. I prefer non-fiction that helps me to draw my own conclusions, rather than that which tries to tell me exactly what I should do.
The advice from King that gets quoted most is that there are two things you need to do if you want to be a writer: read and write. I couldn’t agree more. And I think this very basic truth has got a little bit lost in the new world where it’s easier to put your work out in the world. There is so much advice for writers now that has nothing to do with the craft of writing… and for me, On Writing goes right back to that.
Another little bit of insight I enjoyed is the fact that “people like to read about work”. For me that rings completely true. The novels that energise me most are those about detectives, about journalists, about people who are completely immersed in their work. Of course this might not be true for everyone, but King is the only writer I’ve heard highlighting that aspect of reader’s enjoyment.
He’s got lots more insight but here are my favourite. Talking about description:
Good description usually consists of a few well-chosen details that will stand for everything else.
And on editing, he lives by the formula: 2nd draft equals 1st draft – 10%.
That’s another bit of his advice that I hear regularly, that editing is about removing all the stuff that you don’t need. Something to look out for if you are having trouble with a scene or a description – when we’re not clear, we write too much.
Finally, here’s a quote I’d like to end today’s episode with:
Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.