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.”

Tuesday afternoon fiction workshop

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Write what you know
Can you write about what you don’t know?
Write what you know about what you don’t know

Whatever works, works
Put the pen to the paper
Keep your schedule
Whether it is a cup of coffee that helps or a special song

How many hours do you want to write a day?
Three or four
How many do you actually write?
One or two

Do you write better in the morning
Or at night?
Morning
Do you write every morning?
No

Good writers borrow, great writers steal
Isn’t stealing bad?
Not when you make it your own

Steal from Hemmingway
How?
Use short to the point sentences
Anyone else?
Steal from Munroe’s plot development

“There’s nothing to writing, all you do is sit at the typewriter and bleed”
Hemmingway said that
“I didn’t know the kind of thing I was going to write, I just knew I was going to write-I just had to.”
Munroe said that. 

Take Ardizzone’s advice
Novakovitch, Gardner, Fitzgerald
Read them all
Write your own Gatsby. 

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.”

Forgetting how to write

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For the past several months I’ve been juggling an editing position with a reporting position. Each had their perks, but trying to do both was stressful. I felt like the wheels of a spinning bike at the gym when the tension is too loose; out of control and going 90+ mph. 

When my editor asked me if I’d like to go back to writing full-time, I had to think about it. I was getting experience in the editing department but, at the same time, my BA is in journalism with a minor writing. While editing I had trouble finding the words I needed to write stories. Fast forward three weeks and I don’t know why I even paused. 

I’m back to writing full-time and loving every minute of it. While I was doing both jobs, I temporarily forgot to write. I was trying to complete too many things. I would sometimes wake up in a cold sweat thinking about a nearly impossible deadline the next afternoon. I’m happy to say that has changed since resuming writing. 

Yes, some days can be longer than others. Yes, sources can be hard to reach. Yes, it involves multi-tasking and yes it can be stressful. But none of that matters because I love it.  

Even more than that, I love talking to people and getting to know their stories; asking questions I don’t know the answer to and then writing about it. 

Here’s  to getting my [writing] groove back. 

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A conversation with a writer

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I’m happy to introduce my first interview of the series Collecting Conversations. First up to the plate is Andrea, a 25-year-old freelance technical writer who writes textbooks on Microsoft Office software. She has a writing degree from the University of Tampa and hopes to be successful at creative writing one day.

The best part of her job is she gets to work from home and doesn’t have to deal with office politics. Also, Andrea’s name can be found on Microsoft Office software textbooks. Cool, right?

After years of writing before, during and after college, Andrea has a lot of knowledge to share on the subject.

Andrea doesn’t remember the exact moment she began writing, but she remembers being young.

“I’ve always been a reader. As a kid I would carry books with me everywhere I went (and I still do),” she said. “I guess one day I decided I wanted to try writing.”

She enjoys both fiction and poetry. Ultimately she wants to write fiction but she loves poetry and doesn’t want to stop writing it.

Her proudest writing accomplishment has been having poems published in an online journal.

“To me having my own work published is a much bigger accomplishment than getting my name on a book I wrote for someone else,” she said. “I will always remember the first time my own words were published.”

She has learned she can survive writing boot camp.

Andrea finds it harder to start writing than keep writing. She recalls her first year of college as a writing major and refers to it as boot camp, saying it was hard to be vulnerable.

“You spend a lot of time writing your deepest most intimate thoughts and then listen to everyone bash it to pieces,” she said. “If you can take that criticism and weed out the crap and let the rest of it help you then I think you’ll have a much easier time to keep writing.”

She doesn’t keep a writing schedule but wishes she did saying, “I’m just not to the point where I can sit down and say ‘I will write now.’ It doesn’t work that way for me.”

She has learned it’s hard to make time for writing.

“Life gets in the way of most things, but I think if you really have a passion for it, you will make the time,” she said.

Her childhood has been her biggest inspiration. She said she remembers random, insignificant moments from being a child and turns those moments into a story or poem.

She learned not to give up.

There comes a point when most people who have dipped their feet in to writing want to give up. Andrea said she almost gives up everyday, but by sticking with it, her writing improves.

“I’m a perfectionist who could spend an entire day rewriting a sentence,” she said. “I stick with it because nothing makes me happier than that moment when I find the right words to express what I’m trying to say.”

We ended the conversation with advice she would tell other writers or aspiring writers.

“I think you can’t be afraid to write in a medium or genre that you don’t like. I never thought I would ever become a technical writer but I actually enjoy it and it helps my other writing,” she said. “I would also say to really get into poetry. So many writers seem to want to write fiction but never get in to poetry. Learning how to write poems help make your fiction stronger, they go hand-in-hand.”

A look at a few of the questions:
What is the best advice you’ve ever received on writing?
I had a professor tell me that words fail and that once you get over that it becomes a lot easier. I didn’t get it at first but now that I do I’ve had a much easier time writing.
and the worst piece of advice you’ve received?
I think most advice is bad when it comes to art. I’ve been told to not write offensive things, which to me is ridiculous. Life is offensive.
What is your favorite book, short story and poem?
My favorite book of all time is The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. I read it all of the time and each time I find something new to love. My favorite short story is a tie between White Angel by Michael Cunningham and Dance in America by Lorrie Moore. And my favorite poem is This Hour and What Is Dead by Li-Young Lee (honestly I love anything by him).
Best movie you’ve seen lately that was adapted from a book?
Stand by Me is my favorite movie of all time. It was adapted from a Stephen King story. I did just see The Perks of Being a Wallflower and thought it was an amazing adaptation. I love both the book and the movie.

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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