Saturday, March 2, 2013

What I learned From “On Writing”

Guest post by Anita Kelly 

Stephen King gives a great historical perspective of his own life as a struggling author and what it took for him to finally break through. Some of the greatest insights he gives us are the “must have” tools in the writer’s toolbox, permission to write and read, and to write your story with the door closed.

Real life examples throughout confirm that he walks his talk. Many writers take years to learn the tools in the toolbox. The top drawer consists of proper and colorful vocabulary and the use of correct grammar indicative of the story. Use proper sentence structure, avoid the adverb at all costs, and use “he said.”

The second drawer includes Elements of Style by Strunk and White, and the use of the paragraph. It is the beat of the novel and ultimately shapes the writer’s style. The third drawer includes dialogue that tells the truth, a magnifying glass, and magic.

Love it! The next time my family complains that writing and reading is a waste of time, I’ll refer to the permission Stephen King gave me on page 145: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” (Up to 4-6 hours per day!) In fact, I may print this out and buy a cheap frame and hang it next to my computer at home!

My biggest take away, though, was to write story (rather than character) with the door closed. As a Christian mother of 4, and as a new writer, it is difficult to come to the paper with less than appropriate behavior and vocabulary. Stephen gives all writers permission to do so. Yeah!! Open the door to your Ideal Reader and write the second draft which is the first draft minus 10%. Keep the door closed first.

 “If God gives you something you can do, why in God’s name wouldn’t you do it,” is his call to action for all writers to get out there and write with their toolbox, read and write a lot and to start with the door closed. His near death experience in the middle of writing this book may have been the catapult for what seems to be a new calling for him. He went on to finish and teach “On Writing” around the country and continues to write because he loves it. Perhaps, in the end, it is God’s gift to writers.

Anita Kelly is an NCW Member working on her first novel.

1 comment:

Lynn said...


Good for you for taking S.K.'s advice and granting yourself permission!

I've read the book and learned much, but I'm thinking it's about time I re-read it. It's been a while and I'm bound to learn new things. Thanks for the reminder of the wealth of insights in this book!

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