Stephen King’s On Writing is often quoted as being the essential book for would be authors to read before setting out on their virgin manuscript. It’s good fun too, with the first half comprising a very amusing biography before the second half tells you all the dos and don’ts of writing a book. Did it help me write my first novel? Well, yes, I found it very reassuring, not least because SK is straightforward, unflappable and the master of common sense. But on one area, I definitely had to say, ‘come on Stephen, you’re joking, right?’ Why? Because SK thinks plot is something you should develop as you go along.
At a conservative estimate, King has sold over 300 million books, and what the hell do I know, but come on – writing a book without a clear plotline is a bit like setting off in a car with a full tank of petrol and seeing where you end up. It may work out, but more than likely you’re going to end up at the equivalent of the Overlook Hotel. In winter. Without a toothbrush.
There are a lot of ‘how to write a novel’ guides out there (The Guardian published an extensive supplement recently on how to write the first draft of a novel in 30 days which I reckon would have taken 29 days to get your head around) and there are endless courses where you part with your money to discover you haven’t got what it takes (but thanks for coming, anyway).
But isn’t writing a book predominantly a logical process? In AMOLAD’s case, I started with the blurb – 120 words. All I had to do then was stretch it to 80,000 words. Before I started writing the book I roughly planned what happened to each of the key characters and working from that I gridded up a rough chapter guide.
The route was mapped out – I knew pretty much where Z was before I embarked from A; all I had to do then was write it, and from that blueprint the characters and action took on lives of their own. I also stuck at it – 1500- 1800 words a day, Monday to Friday, mornings only. They soon add up, particularly when you don’t have to stop to think ‘where’s this going next?’
Or look at it another way. Writing a book is like cooking a meal. You have a recipe, you assemble the ingredients, you do the preparation. Then you cook it. Name a famous chef who doesn’t operate that way? If Stephen King ever invites you to dinner discreetly enquire whether he’s cooking before you accept?
So, Mr King, forgive me, but my advice to any would-be author – and I’m not charging for this – is to get your finger out, get a plan, get organised and get on with it. And we all know what happened to Jack Torrance in The Shining after he lost the plot.
This blog originally appeared on the Huffington Post UK