On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Of all the writing books I’ve read, Stephen King’s is my favorite. Just as the title says, it’s part memoir and part craft. Being the master storyteller that he is, King interweaves his personal journey from high school newspaper editor to best-selling author. He shares his experiences as a way to give wannabe writers insight into what the writing life is like including his rejections and what he learned from them.
King started writing short stories when he was thirteen. When he got his first rejection from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, he pounded a nail into the wall of his attic bedroom and stuck the rejection on it. He said, “I felt pretty good, actually. When you’re too young to shave, optimism is a perfectly legitimate response to failure.”
Eventually, he progressed from form rejection letters to letters with hand-written notes. One of those rejection letters had some of the most valuable writing advice he ever received. It said, “Not bad, but puffy. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%.”
The Rewrite Formula, as King calls it, was one of the reasons he started selling stories. He learned that every story is collapsible to some degree and the effects of cutting often make an amazing difference.
As a freelance magazine writer, I learned long ago the art of trimming excess words. Sometimes my first draft would be as much as 2,000 words when my editor had asked for 1,200 words. That kind of cutting required some tough choices, but I learned how to do it and keep the story intact. When I started writing fiction, I didn’t think I needed to worry about word count because I wouldn’t have strict limits anymore. After reading On Writing, I realized that cutting was just as important, if not more so, for fiction. Just as boiling some of the water out of soup makes the flavor stronger, getting rid of unimportant words makes the narrative more vibrant.
The Rewrite Formula is just one of many valuable insights and advice in On Writing. I highly recommend it. With King’s autobiography included, it’s a good read even if you’re not a writer. Click here to buy now.
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