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“On Writing” On Powerful Writing

One of the few good things about 8 hour plane journeys is the chance to do some serious, uninterrupted reading.

On my flight out from Amsterdam to Chicago the other week I got the chance to devour Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft in one sitting. The book kept me wide awake all the way through the flight, and fired up and ready to write at the end of it.

You’ll find some classic writing advice in the book, including a ‘toolbox’ you can apply to all forms of writing and an insight into fiction / novel writing if that’s what you’re into (I’m not, but who knows, I might be one day).

It was the sections at the beginning that really grabbed me though: vignettes from King’s life that helped to explain his writing journey but also illustrate his mastery of the craft. Time spent analysing *how* he achieves what he does with a few strokes of the pen would probably pay off more than any attempt to borrow every item in the toolbox.

There were examples of powerful writing aplenty, but I wanted to highlight this line in particular on the power of our words: because the idea of powerful writing lingering, and resonating, is one that came up time and again in the contributions and definitions offered here.

What I want most of all is resonance, something that will linger for a little while in Constant Reader’s mind (and heart) after he or she has closed the book and put it up on the shelf.

This draws to a close the exploration of powerful writing - save for publishing the full list of definitions which I hope to do tomorrow.

I’m turning next to writing with purpose. It’s an interesting transition from one to the other. I often wonder if purpose or intent is the ingredient that makes the biggest difference to our writing. That turbo-charges our words, and gives them power.

Here’s what King’s got to say on the matter. Stay tuned for more in the month ahead.

You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair - the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.

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  1. Megin says:

    YES!! I love love love this book. It’s the only King book I’ve ever read, but I keep saying I should buy it, because as soon as I finished it and returned it to the library I couldn’t wait to read it again!

    Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.

    Great voice, very strong.

  2. SpaceAgeSage says:

    King writes so well, I had to stop reading him because the darkness of his stories lingers a bit too long for me. If this book is written as well as those, then perhaps what lingers for the reader is a passion to write powerfully. Does the book reveal his secret to creating resonance?

  3. Karen Swim
    Twitter: karenswim

    Wow, “Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.” This line completely shook me and made me sit up in my seat. You cannot approach writing with timidity but a boldness of purpose. I believe that is why poetry is so powerful, it is often spilled forth from raw, pure emotion and thought. I can’t wait for Writing with Purpose. I am also going to grab this book, thanks for the recommendation!

  4. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Megin, likewise, I read this for the advice on writing, though I’m certainly tempted now to go and read more of his work. It’s a powerful line isn’t it?

    SpaceAgeSage, I’m not sure it reveals ‘the secret’ - I certainly felt I got to know him better through this book, there are lots of sections with suggestions you can try, and as I say I think analysis of how he achieves the effects he does in the early part of the book would pay dividends.

    Karen, that line keeps running through my head too. I think you’ll enjoy the book. My fingers were itching to hit the keyboard after I read it; the words are full of energy, clarity and purpose


  5. --Deb says:

    This remains the only Stephen King book I’ve ever read. I can’t abide horror or the kind of suspense that keeps me awake o’ nights, but there’s no denying the man can WRITE!

  6. Debbie Yost says:

    I do not read King because I don’t handle horror. I have seen some of his movies and know he is an excellent author. I think this may be the first book of his I ever read. I know he has some books that I would probably enjoy, I just haven’t read any yet. I remember trying to read the Stand to hubby when we were driving home from Texas once. I had to stop because it scared the crap out of me. I have seen the mini-series though.

    I think I got off subject there, it sounds like a really good book and since I do have an interest in writing a novel I plan on picking up a copy. Thanks for recommending it!

  7. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Debbie, that’s okay - you painted a vivid picture all right with your words!

    I haven’t read his fiction either, just watched some of his films, but this book was an excellent read. I think you’d find a lot of valuable suggestions in it.


  8. Nadine Touzet says:

    I read that book a few years ago and although I have no desire to read his fiction (although I’m told that it’s of great interest), I found this particular book a compelling read.

    It was so helpful for me to understand what goes on with writing, that I am glad that you, as a writer, found it of value. Probably a book I would read again with unabated pleasure and interest.

  9. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Nadine, I don’t think I’d have any desire to read his fiction either - were it not for Amy piquing my interest with her PhD! But like you I found this a fascinating book on writing, and one I’m sure I’ll come back to time and again.

    Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment here Nadine

    Best wishes


  10. Janice Cartier says:

    What I like about writers is that they are after the same thing we are as artists. Resonance. May have to pick up this book. Thanks Joanna! Looking good here.

  11. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Janice, that’s so interesting. You know I realise I know almost nothing about visual art. I hadn’t thought about resonance in that way at all. Maybe we should swap books!