Stephen King’s “On Writing” (part three)

stephen-king-on-writing-d1d225f2c6e25fcd45dce87de1f77d4d6e695e5f-s6-c30So I took my own advice and read while 10 inches of snow blanketed the area. Today was a true snow day for me as I worked from home because of the road conditions. But, I’m not complaining, I didn’t want to go outside when the wind chill was negative 42 degrees.

Here is a continued list of advice from Stephen King’s memoir, “On Writing”

8.) It’s possible to make a good writer out of a competent one

King doesn’t hold back for fear of hurting reader’s feelings when he says it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer and it’s also impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, but “it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.”

9.) You must read and write…a lot

King tells readers that if they want to be a writer, they have to do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. Building off of that, King continues and says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.

10.) Write one word at a time

In an interview one time King told a radio talk-show he wrote one word at a time. “Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like “The Lord of the Rings,” the work is always accomplished one word at a time.”

11.) The material is the boss

King talks about being asked why he writes the things that he does. He says that question is asked under the assumption that the writer controls the material instead of the other way around.

12.) Write what you like 

Most people say to write what you know. King says to “write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendships, relationships, sex and work.”

13.) What you know makes you unique

Even though he said to write what you like, he notes that what you know makes you unique in some other way. “Be brave. Map the enemy’s positions, come back, tell us all you know.”

Stephen King’s “On Writing” (part two)

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I hate to admit that I’m still working on Stephen King’s “On Writing.” This speaks nothing of the quality of the memoir. It has something to do with the fact I have been slacking when it comes to reading.

I’m only 100 pages beyond where I was the first time I wrote about the book, but I stand by what I said the first time – it really is full of wisdom/good advice.

Here are some additional pieces of advice that have stuck out as I’ve (slowly) continued reading the memoir:

4.) Life is not a support system for art

King talks a lot about the struggle of writing. He says that a writer should put their desk in the corner of the room and not the middle of the room. He says this should be a reminder that “life isn’t a support system for art – it’s the other way around.”

5.) Take writing seriously

King says that you can approach writing with the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind.He goes further to say that no matter the reason you come to writing “come to it anyway but lightly.”

King says if people are willing to take it seriously, there is room for them to improve the craft.

6.) Use the vocabulary you have

Writers over time have said this in many different ways, but King tells us that a person’s vocabulary should sit on the top shelf of our “toolbox.” In other words writers shouldn’t try to make their writing fancier or longer just because the short words might make you feel ashamed. Use the vocabulary you have and don’t make a conscious effort to improve it, he said.

7.) Writing = magic

King points out that writing is a learned skill, but that skill can “create things far beyond our expectations.”

“We are talking about tools and carpentry, about words and style…but as we move along, you’d do well to remember that we are also talking about magic.”

Stephen King’s On Writing

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This weekend I started reading Stephen King’s memoir, “On Writing.” I’m only 50 some pages in and the book is already full of wisdom/good advice.

Three pieces of advice that stick out in my mind are (I’m sure I’ll be adding more as I continue to read the memoir):

1.) Write your own story

King recalls showing a story to his mother. He had copied most of it from something else and when his mother read it, she told him to write one of his own.

“I remember an immense feeling of possibility at the idea, as if I had been ushered into a vast building filled with closed doors and had been given leave to open any I liked,” he said. “There were more doors than one person could ever open in a lifetime, I thought (and still think.)”

2.) There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central no Island of the Buried Best Sellers

King notes that good story ideas seem to come from nowhere.

“Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

3.) rejection letters are a sort of rite of passage

As King received rejection letters he put them all on a single nail in his room. When the nail wouldn’t support the weight of the rejection letters, he replace the nail with a spike and kept writing.

A story he wrote was rejected from a magazine and in red ink were the words “not fur us, but good. You have talent. Submit again.” Years later he found it and resubmitted it to the same magazine and it was purchased.

“One thing I’ve notice is that when you’ve had a little success, magazines are a lot less apt to use the phrase, ‘Not for us.”

Writers write, right?

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The first time I wrote a short story outside of school was when I was 10 years old. It was about a magic key that led to a secret forest by the creek in my backyard (hey, I was an imaginative kid). My love of blending words together on paper grew from there.

The first time I wrote a book I was 18 years old, a senior in high school. Looking back through it years later has made me cringe at some sections because I could see mistakes and unfinished thoughts.

The first time I received direction on my creative writing was in college through workshops. Professors took my writing shook it for a little bit and handed it back to me telling me to delve deeper. After my freshman year of college I decided to make creative writing my minor. Poetry, fiction and non-fiction workshops; I took them all.

I learned the most from an unpopular fiction professor. I say unpopular because he was harsh. I’ve seen people cry because of his class. However, every piece of information I’ve ever heard him give made the writer and story better.

The best advice he ever gave me was “The longer I teach the more I realize that it’s very human to want to get something done right, but that making good art takes time, practice and patience. Workshops can often be discouraging to young writers and sometimes because of workshop they give up. I hope you know that if you really want to continue to write all good things will come to you in time.”

I let my writing slack in the past 11 months and I’m going to try to be better. I’ve realized even though writing was easier in school when I had an allotted time to do it, it will never just be handed to me. I’ll have to work on it.

The first time I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up I said a princess. The second time I was asked I said an Olympic swimmer. The third time I said I wanted to be an author. Since I haven’t yet turned into a princess or Olympic swimmer I think I’ll stick to writing. I might even start one of those annoying 7- or 30- day writing challenges and keep track of it on my blog. Forgive me, friends.

Moleskine scribbles

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I have a stash of Moleskine notebooks ranging in sizes and colors. I found  an old notebook from college and found everything from quotes, short stories, assignments and poems from workshops. Some are my own and others are borrowed words. A few entries are below.

When gods die they die hard. It’s not like they fade away or grow old or fall asleep. They die in fire and pain and worst of all is you’re not sure if there will ever be a god to fill their place. 
– Wednesday Wars

Smiling teeth are deceptive
they give the impression that the face behind the mask
is filled with equal euphoria
the emotions beneath are unknown
the unknown is the biggest threat.
-Art museum improv

The man with candy will lead the children into the sea. 
-Joan Didion

In a short story only trouble is interesting. 
-Anthony Ardizonne

The cure for everything is salt water – sweat, tears and the sea. 
-Isak Dinesen

Hissing machine
barely audible now
eyes cast downward to avoid
uncomfortable moment when words escape
socially acceptable behavior

Mesmerizing mirrors
socially acceptable behavior
you keep tousling your hair
yet you can’t reach perfection
a door slams.

Luminous light
a door slams
causing you to flinch slightly
you look around without satisfaction
familiarity is replaced.

faded shadows
familiarity is replaced
the bulb is burning out
no trace of your face
and they laugh.
-collaboration with Levitsky

Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt. 
-Kurt Vonnegut

The difference between today and last Saturday is that for the first time in a while, I can look forward to the things I want to do in my life. . . Bike, eat, drink, talk. Ride the subway, read, read maps. Make maps, make art.  Run, travel, swim, skip. Yeah, I know it’s lame, but, whatever. Skip anyway. Breathe… Live. 
-It’s kind of a funny story