By Margo L. Dill (www.margodill.com)
Out of the hundreds of writing books that line library and bookstore shelves, my favorite, and the one I actually use, is Stephen King’s On Writing. And my love for his writing book does not stem from my love for his other work. I respect and admire him as an author, but frankly, his tales give me nightmares. I love his writing book because it is honest and funny and practical. Any writer of any genre can use this book to improve his or her craft!
One of the reasons I love his book is because it is an autobiography as well as writing advice on the craft. The autobiography should be inspirational to all of us who complain and hate “our day jobs.” Whenever I am whiny about not being a full-time writer, I try to think of King and his description of doing laundry for a seafood place. I won’t go into it for those of you possibly eating while reading this blog, but let’s just say, being a little tired from working with kids all day is a piece of cake compared to King’s job before he was famous.
But his writing advice is what makes me open the book again and again. It is what makes me share the book with my friends and critique group members and now, all of you. Two of his tips have stuck with me and have worked their way into most of my writing as well as the editing and revising advice I give to my Editor 911 clients (Editor 911 is what I call my small freelance editing business). The first is to use adverbs sparingly (even though I used an adverb right there.) King believes, and I agree, that some writers rely on adverbs to convey their message instead of using stronger verbs or nouns or even dialogue. He gives several convincing examples of how adverbs are really not needed. He also makes the wonderful point that when you do use an adverb every once in a while, it makes an impact on your reader and doesn’t get lost in a sea of adverbs. Of course, he states this point with several humorous examples and in a more poignant way, so check out his book to learn from the master.
The second piece of advice he gives also makes it into my writing, especially into my current ya novel. He says when he reads a description of a character in a novel, he doesn’t need to know what they are wearing. He can open up any clothes catalog to see people and their outfits. He wants to read descriptions that make a picture of the person in his mind with whatever clothes he wants to put on that person, unless the clothes are EXTREMELY important (such as the case of Monica Lewinsky’s dress.) He wants descriptions, of course, but again, I’m going to refer you to his book to find out how to do this!
I hope you will check out his book, which is also available as an audio book, so you could actually listen to it on your commute back and forth to your day job. That way, your free time can be spent putting his advice to work on your latest manuscript.