Sunday, June 2, 2013

Words of Wisdom from Stephen King


What keeps Stephen King writing every day?
I’m not really a Stephen King devotee; I did read “Misery” a million years ago and thought it was terrific.  I read most of “Firestarter,” but honestly, I was 12 and was just wigged out by much of it that I couldn’t finish it (this might be a book I have to re-read now that I’m an adult.  Biologically, anyway.) 

So, while I can’t count myself among his legions of ardent readers, I will forever shout from the rooftops the need for anyone aspiring to write a book, of any genre, to read “On Writing,” King’s instructional book about the craft.  The book is sound, practical and entertaining.  King explores every facet of writing from grammar to dialogue to plot and even every writer’s bugaboo, outlining (he doesn’t do it, dubbing himself a “situational” writer instead) while using examples from his own books to illustrate his points.  It is, in a word, brilliant.

Last week, King granted an interview to “Parade” magazine (read it here) to promote his new novel “Joyland,” wax philosophical about the TV show “Revenge” of all things and of course, share his thoughts on writing, reading and why he still churns out 1,500 words a day. 

Below are some of the gems from the interview.  Definitely click on the link above to read the whole thing, but here are some of my favorite soundbites that all writers, published or hoping to be published, can benefit from:

“You learn to write from reading.”
King talks about how he used to pay his three children to read to him when they were younger, which was how they acquired the habit (coincidentally, his two sons are successful novelists in their own right).  He laments that kids today are too focused on the Kardashians to take reading seriously and it worries him.  In “On Writing,” he talks about how his own nose is always stuck in a book and if “you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write.”

Last summer during my writing class with Joy Fielding, one of the first things she said to us after reading our submissions was, “I had to wonder how many of you had ever even looked at or read a book in your lives.”   

Indeed.

Voracious reading expands your vocabulary, generates new ideas, teaches us what not to do and provides inspiration.   Every writer out there has some other writer they wish they could write like (put Anita Shreve at the top of my list).  If you never read, how do you know what you want to write?
 
If you want to write a book and haven't read, "On Writing," by Stephen King,
step away from your computer right now, download it to your Kindle and get busy reading.
(image from Google)

“Spell-check won’t [help] you if you don’t know through from threw.”
Preach it, Brother King. 

This is also a prime example of why trying to proof your own work is a bad idea and one that should be thrown out the window before it has a chance to take up residence in your house.  I hear stories all the time about indie authors who get dinged for just this sort of thing, with the inevitable refrain from readers wondering why nobody proofed the book.  There may be times when your proofreader might miss something (it happens).  However, if you can’t even define what it is they missed, then you’re screwed.

It’s why music teachers make singers learn scales and why Mr. Miyagi had Daniel-son waxing on and waxing off.   Without the fundamentals, you can’t expect to become a master. 



“The major job is…to entertain people”
King says what drives him to write his 1,500 words/five pages a day is the need to keep his work fresh, because otherwise, “the color will go out of it,” and that all creative types should remember we’re here to “sell fun.”  Preachy, condescending writing that’s overwrought with messages is a turnoff.  There is a way to weave education into the narrative (witness how John Jakes does this with his historical fiction or how John Grisham incorporates the law into his legal thrillers) without making the reader feel like they’re sitting in a stuffy classroom on a hot day.   

Keep it colorful, keep it fresh, keep it entertaining.

“There’s no soft landing with Tabby, and that’s fine.”
“Tabby,” would be King’s wife, Tabatha, and his brutally honest, “IR” or Initial Reader.”  When critiquing his work, she doesn’t sugar coat it and tell him what he wants to hear; she tells him what he needs to hear in order to make his work better.   We all need a “Tabby” to tell us what’s working and what isn’t.  I use my sister, Kathryn, renowned in our family for her biting commentary on well… everything (think Alex on “Modern Family”).  I don’t always want to hear what she has to say, but I need to hear it and it helps. 

Don’t look for fawners…look for Tabbies.

“I just [see] myself as a novelist.”
Above all, King sees himself as a writer.  He tells his stories the way he wants to tell them and doesn’t worry about genres or commercial viability (though I’m sure he wrestles with self-doubt like we all do).  He simply…writes.  Every day.  Without fail.

And so should we all. 
 
 

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