Stephen King’s book on writing, “The Memoir of the Craft,” is one of those widely acclaimed books on writing that gets written once in a lifetime, probably. And, once you start reading it, you’d know why writers can’t ignore it.
For one, it shares some incredible do’s and don’ts on writing. Another thing being, it teaches you to develop thick skin – that is to nail all your writing failures on a massive wall nail and move on.
Yet another book on writing that’s totally meant for non-fiction writers is, “William Zinsser’s book, “On Writing Well.”
If anything, these two books are regarded as The Bible for writers and should be referred often if you are really keen on making a career out of writing.
7 golden nuggets shared by King in his book on writing:
#1. Read, Read, Read
“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write. Simple as that.”
In the real world I have known so many writers who don’t even take the pain to read a newspaper much less a book and still blog away without any compunction.
“Where’s the time to read,” they say. God bless such poor souls who probably would never know what a good book could do to their writing!
And sure enough, their copy shows.
Even Stephen King reads 4 to 6 hours every day and that’s how he gets through 70 to 80 books every year. Yes, you read that right!
“Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life. I take a book with me everywhere I go. The trick is to teach yourself to read in small sips as well as in long swallows,” says King.
Even after producing 60+ bestsellers, King still finds reading to be an indispensable part of his writing process. Even Khaled Hosseini, the renowned Afghani writer of 3 best sellers gets his creative juices flowing by reading his favorite novels first before moving on with his writing business. And, for that matter, even Jon Morrow of smartblogger fame loudly reads a couple of pages from Stephen King’s novels right before he starts writing his pieces .
Key takeaway: Read a couple of pages, if not more, every day before you start writing for your blog or marketing emails, or any other writing related stuff.
#2. Write, Write, Write
“If you don’t want to work your ass off, you have no business trying to write well.”
Yes, writing is hard work. Though some might disagree, but ask majority of writers for whom writing is their bread and butter. They don’t wait for the muse to strike. Instead, they write so much, every single day, that I guess the muse finally gives in.
As King says:
“ There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over the typewriter or computer station. You have to do all the grunt labor, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you.”
No wonder King manages to hammer out 2000 words every day. Yes, every day. Or, else, how could he manage to churn out 60+ books in such a short time.
Key takeaway: Write, Write and Write away… and be assured the muse will make a way out for you.
#3. Edit, Edit, Edit
“Write with the door closed. Rewrite with the door open,”
It simply means writers should attempt a vomit draft first. Once the vomit draft is done, you could proceed with your cleaning up (editing) process.
In other words, free write first.
I know, that’s easier.
Then move on to the tougher part, that is the editing process. Which means you may have to sit and re-read the whole thing first, word by word, so as to cut down the unnecessary words that may have crept into your copy, knowingly or unknowingly, making your writing look bloated, cramped and incomprehensible.
Key takeaway: Don’t edit as you write. Edit the next day, or the day after when your mind is clear and your thoughts better articulated.
#4. Carry on, no matter what
“Stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea.”
Sometimes you feel that your writing has reached a dead end. As in the piece is going no where. Don’t lose your nerves in such situations. Rather, push yourself to write on. Because eventually heavens will have to come to your rescue. The muse will have to show up. And you’d be really reaching that elusive ‘End’ finally.
As King adds, “Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you are doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”
Key takeaway: Come rain or shine, go on, because for writers pushing themselves is the only way forward.
#5. Say no to Adverbs
“ I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.”
Every writer who happens to have written books on writing has vehemently opposed the idea of using adverbs in writing, be it William and Strunk or William Zinsser or Stephen King, or Constance Hale for that matter.
But then, do writers care for these nuances? Because still there are writers out there using adverbs in abundance. “They are like dandelions,” says King. “If you have just one, it looks pretty. But then the next day and the day after your lawn would be totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions.”
Key takeaway: Keep your writing simple and clear. That’s how it should always be.
#6. Get your Grammar right
“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.”
King suggests us to read ‘Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition.’ But you could even try Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wicked Good Prose by Constance Hale. Or even Penguin Guide To Punctuation by R L Trask.
Reading these books is one sure-fire way to write foolproof copies.
Key takeaway : In fiction writing, bad grammar could be excused to some degree. But then, that’s not the case with non-fiction writing. Grammar has to be prim and proper in non-fiction writing.
#7. Avoid Big Words
“The bread of writing is vocabulary. Put your vocabulary on the top shelf of your writing toolbox and don’t make a conscious effort to improve it.”
But then, no one really heeds to King’s wisest words. Writers are basically word nerds. Ain’t they?
An amateur writer likes to keep digging for unheard words. But then, that’s okay until their love is limited to learning their meanings and usage. The problem starts when they start using it widely in their work as well.
“By dressing up your vocabulary, by looking for long words because you are ashamed of short ones is one of the most unfortunate things about writing,” adds King.
Key takeaway: Don’t complicate your copies by adding more complex words. Keep it short and simple.
If you are a WIP writer, it’s more important than ever to enter into self- apprenticeship stage by reading this book. Sure enough, it could never replace a mentor. But then, this book could turn out to be the next best thing you could rely on if finding mentors seem difficult to you.