On Writing

April 11, 2012
I have to admit – I hate scary things. I am terrified of horror films and even have to turn away when an ad for a scary movie comes on TV. Besides a short-lived obsession with R.L. Stine books in my teen years, I’ve also avoided scary books, which means I haven’t had much opportunity to read Stephen King. I’ve always admired King as writer (love his column in Entertainment Weekly), and have read a few of his books over the years ("Misery" is a stand-out). But I’ve largely avoided his work, until I heard the buzz about his latest novel, "11/22/63." The basic premise is that a man living in 2011 travels back in time to try to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy.It’s a riveting read. There are probably millions of pages of text published about the Kennedy assassination. But what makes this book different is the way King recreates a simpler era, and describes it through the eyes of a modern man. What’s more, his characters are engaging, believable, and despite their flaws, extremely likable. At 850 pages, it’s a long read, but honestly, I’ve been enjoying it so much, that when I see the “percent complete” display on my Kindle move up, I wish it would slow down.As someone who does a lot of writing for a living, reading this book has also given me a new appreciation for one of King’s earlier books – "On Writing." Part memoir, part writing guide, "On Writing" shares King’s tips and recommendations for writing well. Reading "11/22/63" has brought much of King’s advice to life for me, and made it even easier to follow in my own writing experience:

  • In “On Writing,” King recalls a comment from an editor that forever changed the way he writes: “No bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%.” I definitely follow this one in my own writing. I always sit down and write a first draft without paying too much attention to things like word count or conciseness. I just write. Then, I go back and start cutting. I try to imagine my client has asked me to cut 100 words, and I use that as a litmus test to read and re-read to make sure I’m only including the most important and relevant information.
  • King advises writers to “get to the point quickly.” One thing that struck me was how quickly “11/22/63” takes off. Within the first few pages, I was completely hooked – the story and its characters sucked me in. This notion is important no matter what you’re writing. It’s like the old journalist rule of thumb – if you can’t capture your audience in the first few seconds, you’ve probably lost them for good. For me, this means taking time to develop a strong headline and lead, getting to the point quickly, and always keeping the reader’s priorities in mind.
  • My favorite nugget from “On Writing?” When King says: “The scariest moment is always just before you start.” How true, and how meaningful coming from the master of all things scary. I’m often very overwhelmed at the idea of sitting down and writing something, particularly if it’s a longer, more involved piece like a research report or communications plan. But once I’ve moved past that initial fear and just get started, I find that the writing starts to flow more quickly than I’d expected. So, like King says, it’s often just a matter of getting past that first, scary moment.

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend checking out “On Writing” for some excellent writing advice and intriguing insights into the history and personal life of one of the greatest writers of our time. And if you’re looking for a great, NON-SCARY fiction read, be sure to pick up “11/22/63.” Â

Alison Harrison

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