This week I finished Stephen King’s On Writing and I loved reading it. My husband got it for me as a gift for Christmas (I mighta mentioned that already, but I love his presents so he gets eternal kudos) after he read that it was a great resource for aspiring writers. The first part of this book is a personal memoir describing how he got started in writing and then the second part is some tips on how to be a good writer of fiction.
One thing that he suggests is that all writer’s build their own tool box that they keep handy at all times. This tool box should have at least four drawers according to King. Common tools should go on top and for a writer that is what he calls the bread of writing, vocabulary and grammar. For more details on the importance of an expansive vocab and the do’s and don’t of grammar, you’ll want to read his book and also check out The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White.
I’ll just tell you about one thing Stephen touched on that I can’t seem to get out of my head. Adverbs. Or rather no adverbs. Do not use adverbs in your writing. He said something along the lines of (and I’m paraphrasing) using adverbs is an indication that we aren’t able to get our point across without them. Something about being timid and fearful in writing equals the overuse of adverbs. Great. Now I am afraid. That I’m gonna use too many adverbs and my writing will come across as afraid.
After I read this section of his book, I looked at my first draft of The DeadLands and was horrified by how many adverbs I saw. Yep. Adverbs = Horror. Unintentionally, I switched genres. Thank goodness for the delete button. It is because of this fantastic button on my keyboard that I might not frighten you with all the totally, beautifully, perfectly over use of adverbs! I now hate this word. Adverb. Ugh. I’ll provide you with the quote from Stephen King that has haunted my dreams as the final, and authoritative, word on this subject: “Adverbs are not your friends.”
That was said beautifully, don’t you think? Beautiful. Right? Whatever.
The second shelf in the tool box is filled with those basic elements of style found in the above mentioned book by Strunk/White. Here he spends a few pages talking about sentence and paragraph structure. You’ll want to check out why he thinks the paragraph, not the sentence, is “the basic unit of writing”.
The third shelf and beyond is filled with magic. That’s the best way I can sum up what he discusses for the remainder of the book. The ‘thing’ that turns extensive vocabulary and perfect grammar into a masterpiece that the reader doesn’t want to put down. And, I think, that the writer doesn’t want to stop writing. This elusive contents of this shelf: the fairy dust that we sprinkle into our paragraphs that makes us fall in love with the story. He spends a lot of pages discussing this and I couldn’t possibly do it justice here, so READ his book!
If his commentary on adverbs freaked me out, this next phrase lifted my spirits considerably. “If you want to be a good writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” Now I get to do a happy dance. I LOVE to do both of those things! The next quote and my heart was singing with joy. “The sort of strenuous reading and writing program I advocate -four to six hours a day, every day- will not seem strenuous if you really enjoy doing these things and have an aptitude for them; in fact, you may be following such a program already. If you feel you need permission to do all the reading and writing your little heart desires, however, consider it hereby granted by yours truly.” I just gotta say when I read this that I went downstairs and found my husband and said “listen to this” and proceeded to read that same quote to him. Then I said, “So, Stephen King gave me permission, k?” Then I gave him the sweetest smile I could muster. And bless his heart, he just smiled at me and said “Okay”. Really, what else was he gonna say? He bought me the book!
Happy Reading and Writing. More next week!