On Writing

After hearing about this book for several years, I have finally read Stephen King’s memoir On Writing. King’s novels have never been my cuppa, but this book is worth every minute of your time. Not only does he explain why rewriting and editing is important, he shows you in his own work, which is fascinating. He makes the case for the wholesale slaughter of adverbs and of dialogue words other than “said,” and—my favorite—he dismisses that most beloved of institutions among the un- or underpublished, the writers group.

I spent many hours vaguely irritated by the creampuff opinions of my fellow group members, many of whom I truly love and remains friends with, when it was clear that the two goals of most members were a) to get finished already with everyone else’s work so they could read their own pearls to us all, and b) to figure out what to say that was supportive and nonspecific, so that no one’s feelings were bruised. I know this to be true, because that’s usually the way I felt. And let’s be honest—you do, too.

I always said, before I began reading my pages, that I already knew what was good about my stuff (which I did). I didn’t need to hear about that. I wanted to know what people didn’t like, what didn’t work—what was trite, or illogical, or weak. But there’s an inherent flaw in that system: the audience is too big. Stephen King says what I had long suspected, suggested to clients, and now, even practice myself (the iron test, right?): Write to one person, your first reader. In my case, it’s my sister. He has many reasons for this advice, all of which make powerful sense.

Read his book.

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