Writing Tips at GarySpeer.com

Tips for writers and musing about writing and life

Stephen King fan or not, you really need to read his ‘On Writing’


Five or six years ago, Stephen King came out with a combination memoir/instruction book he titled “On Writing.” If you haven’t read it yet, you really should. I also would recommend it as a source of inspiration and some good “how-to” knowledge about writing novels. At the very least, it’s a “how-to” of how Stephen King SAYS he writes novels.

I’ve always been a bit skeptical about writing advice from King or the other “horror/fantasy” genre giant of our day, Dean Koontz. I mean, come on, no one can put out that much published copy in one lifetime and be only human, can they? Both those guys are obviously in league with the Dark One to be able to crank out that many words for that many years.

But back to King’s “On Writing.” It’s been awhile since I read it, but I think the single biggest revelation he made there was the fact that he relies little if at all on plotting and outlines. I don’t have the book handy to look up the details, but I think he sort of makes a “true confession” about it: He has always gone along with conventional wisdom and urged aspiring fiction writers to develop plots and outline them. But in “real life,” he almost never writes that way. Instead, and I’m doing this from memory so I may not get it right, he finds an odd event or odd character, asks himself something like, “what if …” and tears into the writing. He sort of learns what the story is and what the people are doing as he goes along.

That’s great comfort for me. I’m generally too undisciplined or downright lazy to do exhaustive outlining. Now if I only had the King-like (or Koontz-like) skill to pull it off …

I urge you to pick up a copy of King’s book. I pull mine out and read through it again every year or two. Hopefully I’ll learn something from it again this year.
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