“What follows is an attempt to put down, briefly and simply, how I came to the craft, what I know about it now, and how it’s done. It’s about the day job; it’s about the language.” (p. ix).
Stephen King approaches writing like a word play, where he lets his unconscious (rather than consciously) develop characters. And he doesn’t believe in developing plots as much as developing characters in situations.
P17. As a child, he copied and slightly embellished the words fro comic books. His remembers his mother asking if the stories were original (he admitted they were not) and said he should write “one of your own”.
P33. He kept mostly science fiction books.
P34. His habit of saving his rejection slips on a nail spike, until there were too many. That was only up to sixteen years old, which meant he’d submitted and continued practicing during his teens.
BTW, that para is a lesson in making writing interesting (“write, not describe”). He could’ve written that he received many rejection slips but persevered. Instead he wrote: “By the time I was fourteen… the nail on the wall will no longer support the weight of all the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”
And P37. Instead of listing Dave’s (his older brother) passion and hobbies, he wrote from his perspective: “I wasn’t interested in the printing process, and I wasn’t interested at all in the arcana of first developing and then reproducing photographs. I didn’t care about putting Hearst shifters in cars, making cider… What I cared about most between 1958 and 1966 was movies.”
P45/ 46. Selling his story in grade school (albeit plagarised unknowingly) sold en mass. And a teacher admonishing him for writing “trash” and leaving an indelible mark and self-doubt for years.
P56. Editorial advice he received from his first paid assignment as a student reporter: “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story… When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”
(between P56 to 112). Early family life, struggles, his sale of Carrie, acknowledgement and dealing with alcoholism and drug abuse, death of his mother.
P112. “… Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”
P114. “Books are a uniquely portable magic”.
P118. Feels that if we want to be writers, don’t take writing lightly.
P125. His version of a writer’s toolbox:
1. Vocabulary. But write concise and appropriately; don’t use vocabulary merely to dress up.
P133. Good grammar is the foundation of good writing.
P134. place a noun with a verb and you always have a sentence (whether it makes sense is another thing): “rocks explode”, “mountains float”, “plums deify”.
P134. His pet peeve is passive tense: “The meeting will be held at seven o’clock” (passive tense) Vs. “The meeting starts at seven” (active tense).
P145. “With a hammer he killed Frank” Vs. “He killed Frank with a hammer” (see the emphasis on the hammer Vs. the person).
Suggests to have Skrunk and White on hand.
P145. Use “s” even if word ends with “s”: “Thomas’s bike” Vs. “Thomas’ bike”.
P164. To be a good writer, above all else, “read a lot and write a lot”.
P178. “one word at a time”.
180. “don’t wait for the muse”.
He reads about 70 novels a year. Not analyse them per se but because he enjoys reading. Also learns what is good and bad writing.
His routine is 2,000 words a day (about 10 pages) unfailingly. Keeps writing on current theme to keep the characters fresh.
P171. “The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor.”
P182. On what to write: “Anything at all… as long as you tell the truth.”
P182. “… The job of fiction is to find the truth inside the story’s web of lies…”
P185. Writing about what we know and like: “write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex and work. Especially work. People love to read about work.” (e.g. John Grisham’s The Firm) suggests a plumber who enjoys Scifi might consider a novel about a plumber abroad a starship or on an alien planet. Recommends Clifford D. Simak’s Cosmic Engineers. And don’t lecture on what you know; use it to enrich your story.
P188. He believes that stories make themselves, i.e. Minimal predetermined plot and letting the story develop. That the writer’s role is to use their writing tools and techniques to uncover buried stories as intact as possible (paraphrase: “undiscovered relics of a pre-existing world” — hmm, one can say the same of music too, I suppose).
P189. Narration (moving the story); Description (creating a sensory reality for the reader); Dialogue (giving characters life through their speech). Plot, to King, is a writer’s later resort.
P190 – P195. Described himself as writing about “situations” rather than plots. Explains how he developed/ wrote Misery (or let the story develop itself).
P255. “is this story coherent?” and “what will turn coherence into a song? What are the recurring elements? Do they entwine and make a theme?”
P255. He looks for ‘resonance’: the thing that will linger in the reader’s mind and heart at the end of the story.
P256-263. His approach to getting his books reviewed (he prefers friends and critics he knows). Basically, the principle seems to be ‘listen to what the majority says’ and ‘author decides if decision is split’.
P266. Rule of 2nd Draft = 1st Draft less 10%.
P270. Praises J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels as good way of weaving in “back stories”, as well as being “fun”.
P273. Background remains in the ‘back’. Warns against self-indulgence in writing.
P278. King doesn’t believe, and admits a bias against, writing courses and seminars. Critiques are vague and he suggests writing a first draft should be just the author and the imaginary Ideal Reader, and not the whole world forcing you to second guess or interrupt the initial ideas.
P301. He states that he has never written a story for the money but for the buzz he derives from writing. “… if you can do it for joy, you can so it forever.”
P305 – 327. He writes a blow-by-blow account of his accident, of meeting the errant driver, being sent for emergency treatment, almost losing his life, the painful recuperation, and how he managed to pick up writing again.
P326. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”
P336. He explains his editorial changes using an actual story he was writing.
P347. What he considers as books that have entertained him.
Ends with a short story he chose as the winner of a writing competition — “Jumper” by Garrett Addams.