On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Stephen King: On WritingI read two books on writing in the last month or so: The First Fifty Pages by Jeff Gerke and On Writing by Stephen King. Two very different books with very different messages. I talked about The First Fifty Pages in one of my posts last month – it reads more like a how to manual or a recipe book which kind of suits me, because for over forty years I have done little without a step-by-step manual. Everything is concrete, this is how it’s done, don’t stray from the recipe for fear of, I don’t know – maybe World War 3 is going to break out or something. Don’t get me wrong, I love this book and I think it has real value.

“Be honest in your voice…” S.K.

On Writing is just the opposite. Stephen King writes about himself from childhood to the present. Half the book is memoir, maybe more than half, and I have to admit I was wondering what all the hype was about. But then came the connection.  Bring out the artist. Just write what you want. Be honest in your voice, don’t write for others or the buck. Write the truth, write well, be smart and it will happen.

“You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot…” S.K.

When I started writing I realized I needed to limit things that consumed my writing time – TV, mindless surfing, and reading. Stephen King gave me the okay to read again, insisted on it actually, saying, “You don’t need writing classes or seminars any more than you need this or any other book on writing. You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.” I like that.

“By the time I was fourteen…the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. ..I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.” S.K.

What a relief. Stephen King (and probably every other author) has been rejected. This is normal. And the creative process takes time. This is normal. Stephen King started writing when he was in his early teens, but his first book, Carrie, wasn’t published until a couple of years after he finished University.

What else is normal? There will always be those who just don’t understand:

Teacher: “What I don’t understand, Stevie,” she said, “is why you’d write junk like this in the first place.”

“Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference.” S.K.

“My wife made a crucial difference…If she had suggested that writing stories …was wasted time, I think a lot of the heart would have gone out of me….whenever I see a first novel dedicated to a wife (or a husband), I smile and think, There’s someone who knows. Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough.”

And whereas many people and books will tell you that plot and outlining and theme are the most important things, Stephen King says he’s never plotted: “I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.” I wanted to jump for joy when I read that. The story comes first “…and progresses to theme; it almost never begins with theme and progresses to story.”

Ironically, Stephen King, who writes horror books, makes me feel normal. He’s a writer, I’m a writer. He’s been doing it for a very long time. I haven’t. He’s been through it all: rejection, waiting, acceptance. I haven’t.

What he’s given me is some more tools for the tool box and now it is time to get back to writing.

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One Week in A Writer’s Life

A Week of  Writing, Head Stands, Ice Skating, and Aha Moments. Don’t worry – I’ve left out the boring parts.

December 3

  • Post blog December Update  in which I write:  I think I’ve finally decided what the first chapter will be and that’s actually a HUGE ACCOMPLISHMENT.

December 4

  • Receive six critiques on Chapter 1. Lots of really nice comments like this one:

“…First of all I would like to say it is exciting to see someone who has lived in India for two years rather than a vacation but still has the outsider’s perspective writing about India. I also thought your writing was excellent….”

Some that made me laugh like this one:

“…LOL- now that is not an Indian accent. Sounds more Mexican…”

And a couple like this:

“…This seems like an anecdote. There needs to be more tension…”

I nod my head and make note to self: Add story to anecdote. Laughs…sort of.

December 5

  • Now reading: The First Fifty Pages: Engage Agents, Editors and Readers, and Set Your Novel Up For Success by Jeff Gerke

December 6

  • The First Fifty Pages makes a lot of sense. There must be a story question. What does the main character want and does she get it? Racking brain, I know how India changed me but did I really go there looking for something? It’s not as easy as Eat, Pray, Love – miserable, divorced woman searching for love and she finds it. Or Holy Cow, which was all about a woman who goes to India and explores spirituality.
  • I need to explore what was going on in my life before we went to India: I had Meniere’s disease for six years, I had to quit work (Operating Room Nurse) because of it. I was bored – housework, grocery shopping, driving the kids around to activities. I started taking writing courses and published a few articles.
  • I won’t bore you with the rest but I’m delving into myself. Came across this funny and posted it on Facebook with the caption:

“Watch out parents I’m writing about myself today (laughs hysterically)”:

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Oh, don’t worry, it’s not that kind of book. I’m just figuring it all out.

December 7

  • Read some more of The First Fifty Pages.
  • Go to a friend’s house for dinner. Walk inside and friend says, “Bad day.” I hear the sound of a young child projectile vomiting. The Exorcist comes to mind. Friend’s husband says, “Don’t worry, I’m sure it’s just Norwalk.” Notes to self: 1) Don’t touch anything, and, 2) Possible short story?

December 8

  • Half way through The First Fifty Pages. Getting a grasp on it. Many options.

December 9

  • Finish 3/4 of the book (The First Fifty Pages)
  • Break time: Go ice-skating outside!

Ice Skating

  • Listen to Macklemore Same Love.
  • Finish The First Fifty Pages.

December 10

  • Procrastinate – now I’m a real writer!
  • Watch WestJet Holiday Miracle Video. Isn’t it wonderful? I’m crying. Tears fall onto touchpad – touchpad stops working. What the…? Panic.
  • Do headstand  and contemplate deleting Facebook “Author” Page. Of course, I don’t want to lose my Facebook Followers. Ideally I would prefer people to sign up on my website for email updates.

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  • Now that I have finished The First Fifty Pages I’m off to Starbucks create the best first sentence, the best first page: The Best First Fifty Pages and Beyond.

Any words of wisdom? What’s important to you in The First Fifty Pages of a book? Would you sign up to receive email updates instead of Facebook? Let me know what you think in the comments section. Thanks!