Madeleine on Reading & Stephen King On Writing

 
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When Andrea and I were deciding what kind of posts we wanted to include on our blog, we both felt strongly that we should include book reviews. And that wasn’t just because we’re both book junkies!

So sometimes we will be talking about books that we love to read. Sometimes it will be books that inspire us to write. Or it may even be a book about writing. Our first selection is all three of those things.

Why Are We Including Book Reviews on a Blog About Writing?

There is no more essential tool for learning how to write than reading.

Like writing, reading is something that you should find time to do every day, even if it’s just for 15 minutes. Read first for enjoyment, but also pay attention to how the work is written. Look at the structure of the story, the beginning, the ending. Take note of the things that move you. Note when you lose interest. In other words, read with a critical eye.

You should also challenge yourself with your reading choices. If you generally stick to one genre, then you are missing out. For example, Andrea loves science fiction. Now I hadn’t read a science fiction novel since high school, but Andrea’s excitement for the genre got me excited too and I started reading science fiction and speculative fiction, for which I am truly grateful. I’ve fallen in love with Margaret Atwood’s writing all over again through her MaddAdam books. I’ve looked at classic sci-fi as well as more modern versions; I’ve read about Martians, clones, and robots. I’m still not very interested in Martians, clones, or robots for their own sake, but I’ve been reminded that a fascinating story can take place any time with any cast of characters. It’s the writer who makes writing good, not the topic or genre.

As Stephen King says in his memoir, On Writing: “Read a lot. Learn from the bad. Learn from the good.”

And on that note….

On Writing by Stephen King: A Memoir of the Craft

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I love this book for so many reasons.

First of all, Stephen King, renowned for his horror stories, is one of the best storytellers in the world. I know horror isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so if you haven’t read his books you’ll just have to take my word for it. This book, however, is different. It’s a memoir and a book of advice for writers. But it’s still a story - his story - and it’s compelling.

The first section of the book comprises the stories of King’s life, a compilation of chronological anecdotes that start with his earliest memories and follow his life’s path up to the point when the book was written. For someone who writes about the most exotic and horrifying topics, he’s a pretty regular guy. But he’s also a great storyteller and even the most ordinary events become fascinating stories in his hands. The thing that really stuck with me though is what a hard worker he is. His whole life he worked at writing. No matter what else was going on, no matter how many times he got rejected, he kept writing.

He is not a great writer because he was born with an overwhelming talent. He’s great because he worked at it until he became great.

That’s the number one lesson I learned from Stephen King’s life story. Hard work pays off.

The other major section of this book is advice for writers. He talks about a writer’s toolbox, the necessity for vocabulary, grammar, style and organization, and the importance of these tools in  telling our stories.  This is practical advice and Stephen King is a hard-working, practical guy.

The rest of the advice covers every aspect of writing, from daily practice to editing to where to place your desk. The different sections are filled with more anecdotes and stories that are told so smoothly that I am sure that even someone with no writerly aspirations would find this book thoroughly readable. On Writing really resonated with us, widened our perspectives, and inspired us to keep writing.

My Favorite Stephen King Advice

One of my personal pet peeves is people who tell me that I should write about my life because everyone knows that writers should “write what they know.” (I’ve been very lucky and have led an active and interesting life, but quite frankly, living it once was enough. I have no desire to relive it.) Stephen King’s response is that we should write what we like. But we should fill in the details from our own personal knowledge of life, relationships, friendship, sex and work. That is what creates a unique and believable story. So there are no limits to what we can write about, which is great news for people who want to write about things they’ve never experienced personally, things like monsters or time travel, or  something as elusive as living happily-ever-after.

However, according to Mr. King, a writer’s job isn’t to go forth and search out new, original, or great story ideas. Our job is to recognize a good story when it comes along. That is exactly what I love about our Write from Life prompts. Each one of them is an amazing story waiting to be recognized, and in different writers’ hands the story will appear differently.

Related to the above, in a roundabout kind of way, Mr. King says that there are three major elements of a novel: narration, description, and dialogue. Plot is not a major element because life does not have a plot and trying to force one will smother spontaneous creation. Stories should be found, recognized, uncovered and excavated using all our writerly tools. The plot will reveal itself. That’s the fun part about our prompts. Even though I’m collecting and curating the prompts, and have actually seen the person or event that inspired many of them, I still don’t know what’s going to happen when I sit down to write about one of them.

All of that to say be open, be aware of the world around you and let it speak to you. And when you do recognize a great story, see where it wants to take you.

Our Write from Life Advice

First of all, read this book!

We will always recommend daily writing practice. That's the whole reason that we are here!

Hard work, discipline, practice: this is what will improve your writing. It may be hard to find time, but it is a habit worth cultivating. And while you’re at it, find a way to read daily. I get my daily read on the metro. If it’s a really good read, I sometimes miss my stop. Sometimes I even do it on purpose!

The Write from Life prompts are here to help you develop your writing habit. Our prompts work whether you want to improve your dialogue skills, your narration, or your descriptions of characters or places. Our prompts are truly prompts, a way to both assist and encourage you to write. You can use them exactly as written, or they may inspire another idea. We just want you to write, to recognize a story and uncover it, to use your own knowledge to personalize the details and make the story unique.

And please share your writing with us in the comments section below the prompts. We love to read as much as we love to write!

Happy Reading & Writing!