Writing, the Stephen King way

I write a blog post once a week, and an article almost every week for a corporate client. Plus fund-raising proposals and press releases and social media posts and newsletters. What I don’t do is write like Stephen King.

I’m starting to think though that I should give that a try. (I don’t mean write like Stephen King as in be a best-selling author of 64 books; I just mean I should write more than I do now, or differently from the way I do it now).

King’s book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, recently found its way into my life thanks to my son’s girlfriend, who is writing a novel. Over the years, I’ve often seen recommendations by writers, and for writers, urging people to read “King on writing”. But somehow, I just never got round to following those recommendations.

What does King say?

On Writing starts with a substantial, and fascinating, recounting of major events in King’s life. Even if you aren’t a writer, and have no intentions of becoming one, I recommend reading the first part of the book: the man has had an interesting life; he writes well (of course he does) and he’s funny.

But it was the second half of the book that poked me in the ribs, so to speak. There’s a section on the tools a writer needs – some grammar, some thoughts about sentences and paragraphs. And then there’s the deeper stuff, starting with the things a writer needs to do.

Read and write

The essence of King’s advice is this: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

I have no problem with the first part: I read all the time. It’s the second part I was interested in. King says you need to write every day. “If God gives you something you can do, why in God’s name wouldn’t you do it?” he asks passionately, saying he likes to write ten pages a day, or 2000 words.

He’s talking about fiction of course, and he has much to say about ideas, and where they come from, and about the construction of a story (he doesn’t plot a novel: he starts with a situations and see where it takes him.).

In God’s name why am I not doing it?

I have no problem with ideas: I have several ideas in my head at any given time, and I am prone to epic, sweeping dreams in which stories play themselves out, often in recurring landscapes that bear no relation to anything I’ve ever seen in real life.

And yet, I have no unfinished manuscripts languishing in lost folders on my computer because I somehow never get round to doing any writing about those ideas and dreams.

I think I know why

King is very clear: there is a hierarchy of writers. There a bad ones, there are competent ones, there are really good writers and there are geniuses. He says:

… while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.

Somehow, this spoke to me more than anything else he had to say. I know I am a competent writer – and I could try to be a good writer. But I don’t have to be great – Stephen King said so! If being a good writer is okay with Stephen King, it’s okay with me.

I think I might give it a try.

Main picture: Kelly Brito, Unsplash

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I write a post every week – sometimes about books and reading, sometimes journalism, sometimes editing or writing. And sometimes opinions. I like to think they’re helpful, or entertaining, or both. If you’d like a simple weekly notification, via email, when a post is published, subscribe here.

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