Writing Advice from Stephen King

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American adults read or listen to an average of 12 books per year. Stephen King, on the other hand, reads seventy or eighty. He calls himself a “slow reader.”

In his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (DB 50873), King emphasizes the importance of writers making time to read:

“Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life,” he writes. “The trick is to teach yourself to read in small sips as well as in long swallows.”

If you do not have time to read, he argues, you do not have the time or the tenacity to become a writer.

Throughout the book, King cites works that he considers poorly written as well as those that are written well. Both types, he claims, can serve as inspiration to new writers. Here are a few he mentions:

“One learns most clearly what not to do by reading bad prose”:

Valley of the Dolls
By Jacqueline Susann
DB 50906
New York City, 1945. Three beautiful young women—Anne, Neely, and Jennifer—become best friends as each seeks success in the world of show business. Their dependence on pills, referred to dolls, becomes their way of coping with life. Explicit descriptions of sex. 1966.

The Bridges of Madison County
By Robert J. Waller
DB 35861
Robert Kincaid, a photographer for National Geographic, arrives in Madison County, Iowa, on August 16, 1965, to photograph covered bridges. He stops at the home of Francesca Johnson to ask directions, but stays for four wonderful days—days that awaken within them a deep and abiding love, which creates another being called ‘us.’ But she is married, and they must let go of one another. Some descriptions of sex. Bestseller. 1992.

“Good writing teaches the learning writer about style, graceful narration, plot development, the creation of believable characters, and truth-telling”:

The Grapes of Wrath
By John Steinbeck
DB 68308
Steinbeck’s classic tale of the Joads, who, like many other families during the Great Depression, are driven from their homestead by drought, economic hardship, and the encroachment of large agricultural interests. They leave Oklahoma in search of a better life in California but meet with hardship and injustice. Pulitzer Prize. 1939.

Shoot
By Douglas Fairbairn
DB 7818
A deer-hunting party is attacked by another group of hunters for no reason. One of the attackers is killed in retaliation, but the death is not reported. Strong language.