This is ridiculous – reviewing Stephen King’s master advice on how to write? Seriously, this constant current of feedback is what’s wrong with the world today. Everyone can review everything, although some (in all honesty – most) people are just not equipped to say anything substantial; to meaningfully add to the discussion; to not embarrass themselves. One of them is me right now, reviewing Stephen King, so I will keep it short.
I spent a while wondering how to approach this. Certainly not a Book Review – as argued above. Not straightforward Memorable Writing either, because I would have to copy the entire book. Not that I’d mind, just I’ll hate Mr. King to think I am infringing on his copyright, when I am actually trying to etch his words on my brain. He would probably think that’s dumb, since every writer has their own process and no time should be wasted on learning how to write from a book etc.; and he would be right but wow did I love this book!
What I mean to actually do (get on with it already!) is share which advice I am already applying to my writing process and you should, too (because it’s so much easier than what you have done before).
I give to ya…
Don’t (necessarily) plot
The writing process, Almighty Mr. King says, consists of uncovering the story – much as an archaeologist digs out a fossil. It’s OK if you have a plan, but most times you dig out a different and much better story you had no clue about in the beginning.
This visualization took a lot of pressure off, allowing me to write with a curious mind (and with no fear that I don’t quite know my destination.)
Don’t dream of the writing retreat, where you will finally finish your breakthrough novel
Just sit down and write. Yes, writing retreats sound amazing. You are probably going to have a nice time. Just don’t count on doing a lot of actual writing.
In truth, I’ve found that any day’s routine interruptions and distractions don’t much hurt a work in progress and may actually help in some ways. It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster’s shell that makes the pearl, not pearl-making seminars with other oysters.
He makes a convincing case but right or not, this observation finally allowed me to come to terms with the harsh truth – I should stop dreaming of the writing getaway, where I am going to write my novel. It’s pretty obvious by now that it will be done in early mornings, late nights, during lunch breaks in a half-conscious state of fatigue, rather than in a secluded romantic cabin in moments of complete serenity.
Read Elements of Style over and over and over again
Van Lynden (my more-than-exceptional Journalism professor) must have known what he was talking about, when he made us all swear by that tiny book. Stephen King constantly referring to Strunk and White gave me an odd sense of continuity and belonging. I knew exactly what he meant. I got the subtle jokes he made about it.
It’s about time I found where my copy got lost, too.
Theme comes later
Problem more than a solution for me. I always start with theme – or clusters of thematic elements, that I weave a story around to hold together. Don’t do it, says Mr. King. Good fiction always begins with story and progresses to theme; it almost never begins with theme and progresses to story. Discouraging, but it made me realize why my stories often don’t quite add up. It is a problem, but I can work to solve a problem.
Backstory is boring
I knew that already, of course, but somehow I failed to actually know it. Now every time I am tempted to wallow in convenient explain-it-all backstory details, I imagine a person telling me about something interesting, then stopping every sentence or so to explain what she wore or how she’d slept the previous night or how her phone had died, yadayadayada this is boring!
And last but probably most…
THE REWRITE FORMULA!
You want to write this down. Yes, I know it’s easy to remember, but just do yourself a favor and write the damn thing down, then print it on a wallpaper.
2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%
or in other words – when you edit, always go for less, not more. (I have a HUGE problem with this)
Do you think these tips would work for you as they have for me? What is your favorite writing advice? Please, share in the comments, I’d love us to swap writing tips!
Ah, and BTW! I am starting a Newsletter in September and I am super-determined to make it worth your while if you subscribe. Plus, there will be a little something for the very first subscribers, not that I am bribing or anything 🙂