Some King-Size Writing Advice
I’m always on the lookout for books on storytelling, something to join entries such as William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well” and Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones” on an easy-to-reach section of my shelf.
Somehow, Stephen King’s “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” had escaped my attention since its release in 2000. I picked up a copy at a friend’s suggestion and plowed through it this past holiday season.
For starters, I realized that I had only read a handful of King’s more than 50 worldwide bestsellers. (I’ve done much better in watching movies and TV series based on King’s stories!) Regardless, his output has always impressed me: How does he do it?
Once into the heart of the book, I started underlining passage after passage; and soon one whole page was nearly covered with yellow highlighter marks. Then, I started folding the corners of the pages for quick future reference.
Here are a handful of his pointers that I flagged:
• “If you want to be a 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.”
• “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”
• “One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones.”
• “Verbs come in two types, active and passive. With an active verb, the subject of the sentence is doing something. With a passive verb, something is being done to the subject of the sentence. The subject is just letting it happen. You should avoid the passive tense.”
• “The adverb is not your friend.”
• “What you need to remember is that there’s a difference between lecturing about what you know and using it to enrich the story. The latter is good. The former is not.”
• “Remember that the basic rule of vocabulary is to use the first word that comes to your mind if it is appropriate and colorful.”
I could go on with nuggets of Stephen King’s writing wisdom — advice that is relevant for aspiring novelists or experienced communicators — or I can lend you my copy of “On Writing” for more takeaways!
I mention King’s book as a backdrop to our annual writing and storytelling issue. We offer an array of articles with tips and takeaways that we hope will inspire you. Topics include the challenges of writing for a committee and, similarly, navigating the approval process gauntlet. Elsewhere, you’ll find guidance on interview techniques that yield lively stories, steps for becoming the ultimate storyteller, and insights on crafting speeches and presentations. The features begin on Page 8.
75 years of PRSA
From January 2022 to January 2023, PRSA is celebrating its 75th anniversary. Starting with this issue, we will highlight a contribution — past or present — that PRSA has made to help shape the communications and PR profession over the past 75 years.
In this new feature, read about PepsiCo helping advance DE&I with a new scholarship fund. Look for more 75th-anniversary-related content in the months ahead.