On Writing by Stephen King: A Review (sort of)

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others:
read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things
that I'm aware of, no shortcut.
~Stephen King

I have finished reading Stephen King's On Writing, and I must say, I quite liked it. 
As I mentioned in my (then) current interests post, it was recommended to me by mother along with the words "but I can't really recommend any of his novels." 
I have no particular desire to read any of Stephen King's fiction, for he writes the sort of dark, messed-up weirdness that I know I won't enjoy. Having read his 'memoir on the craft', I do not feel the need to read his novels to study the work of a great writer. 
I have no doubt that Carrie and The Shining were well written, but I don't want to read them. 
Additionally, he speaks of Carrie quite often in On Writing, so I probably know more about it now than I would if I had actually read it. Two birds with one stone (don't throw rocks at birds that is mean). 

Have I babbled enough yet? 

I liked this book. I really did. I haven't read terribly much 'on writing' but I didn't like what I saw. I felt pressured to do things a certain way, and naturally, I hated it. 
But this book, while being FAR more opinionated and rude, was not like that. There were no opinions passive-aggressively couched in timid paragraphs talking about "the way I do things", when what they really meant was "this is how it ought to be done and people who do things differently are idiots". He sort of just said outright "I don't like this, I find it dumb." And often, I agreed.
He has opinions, he has things he hates in books and things he loves, he is quite rude, but he doesn't make you feel like you must do everything his way. Reading this book felt more like having a conversation with King, than anything else. It was a person, telling you what he liked and didn't like, and giving advice. 

The book actually begins with a bit of an autobiography, which was quite interesting. I had the feeling that my highly lovely and easy life is hindering my writing. To some extent, that is true. It seems that all the best writers led very very interesting/hard lives. Lived through extreme poverty, or deathly illnesses, or fought in a war (I'm talking about YOU Tolkien). Someone or everyone in their life died. How on earth am I supposed to be a writer without misery and tragedy? 
I have no idea. Hopefully us lucky, privileged people can write too; from our comfy seats, in our full beds, in our heated houses, with more food than we need sitting beside us, because we just enjoy eating while we write. 

I really can't summarize this book, because one of it's main points is that there isn't some magical key to being a good writer. You could, I suppose, simply say that Stephen King says that you must write the truth. He compares writing to digging up a fossil. Your job is to carefully un-earth an ancient beauty and bring it into the light without breaking it first. There are lots of tools to use, and ways to go about it, and that is up to you. But don't mess it up. Don't dig up one thing and rearrange the bones to be something else, simply because that something else is more popular. 

I do not entirely agree with everything he says. He is not fond of books with lots of description, and I rather love them. He doesn't like to write description, and I do. But nowhere in all this does he make me feel like I am wrong because I like description. He isn't stupid enough to pretend that descriptive books (ahem, LOTR) aren't often wildly popular. He isn't stupid enough to think that his personal preferences should be rules. Although I will say that my 'personal preference' for not having love triangles, should be a rule. Also quirky-relatable heroines. I hate them with passion, but I shan't deny that you can make a good deal of money off of them. 
Don't write for money, write for love (of writing and your story). 

"Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer's job is to use the tools in her or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible."

Ahem. Anyway. I like plotting. I love it. My own book actually began with a character, who did some stuff, and it turned into a plot. Then my story failed, but I loved my characters, and wanted to find their story. Stephen King writes based more on situation than on plotted stories. 
"I lean more heavily on intuition, and have been able to do that because my books tend to be based on situation rather than story......I want to put a group of characters....into some sort of predicament and then watch them try to work themselves free."
This is not the sort of story I enjoy. And it is not the sort of thing I shall write. Once again, I don't feel condemned. Another point for the book that feels like a person's advice, rather than a textbook. 

As I said, I can't really explain the book. I can't make a synopsis for you. I can't hand over the 'point'. I liked it a good deal. I plan on purchasing a copy (the library is your friend, read before you buy).  I feel encouraged and I also feel that I have a better understanding of the way everything in the writing world works. I have had someone articulate things that have previously annoyed me in books, allowing me to better understand and avoid them in my own work. Passive writing was one. 

Despite being incredibly different in pretty much every way, King and I had a few things in common. And I got someone (a published someone, oh goody) to agree with my dislike for any book which says 'in the tradition of such and such'. It's nice to feel vindicated. 

If you are a writer-person, this is definitely worth reading. However, there is a good deal of language. And references to things which many people might feel uncomfortable reading about. He likes horror stories. He has very little filter. His life was not the sort of cushy, clean life that I enjoy, and he isn't prim and tasteful when he writes. 
The book is good. It is worth reading, despite its objectionable content. 

"For years I dreamed of having the sort of massive oak slab that would dominate a room....in 1981 I got the one I wanted and placed it in the middle of a spacious, skylighted study in the rear of the house. For six years I sat behind that desk either drunk or wrecked out of my mind....
A year or two after I sobered up, I got rid of that monstrosity and put in a living-room suite where it had been....I got another desk–it's handmade, beautiful, and half the size of the T. rex desk....I'm doing what I know how to do, and as well as I know how to do it. I came through all the stuff I told you about...and now I'm going to tell you as much as I can about the job.... 
It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room. Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around."
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Reimagining Reality


If you are like me, in that I am a human....wait. No I'm not. Sorry. Start over.
If you are human, you have probably had the experience of your mind wandering off. It could be the simple sort, where you idly wonder if you remembered to wash that fork or fold that towel. Or the less common sort where your entire mind just up and wanders off into some place in a book, or an imaginary world. 
Very inconvenient, especially when you are trying very, very hard not to be strange when talking to people you don't really know. (heh, sorry. Have to go see a man about a horse. *runs for dear life*)

But then there is a MUCH less common kind. The type where, instead of going to another world, your mind just remakes the one you are in, and remakes you in the process. 


You are innocently excusing yourself to use the restroom, and suddenly you realize that it really was just an excuse and your real reason for leaving is some dark and mysterious secret. You hurry through the hallways for a purpose you do not fully understand. 



Or perhaps you were intending on taking a walk in your field, when suddenly it was a vast rolling plain, without a building in sight, and you were talking to your soldier cousin who was leaving that day for his next deployment. The war had grown worse, and you were both pretending not to be worried. 


This is the part where, if your brain doesn't do this sort of thing, I start to look like a lunatic. Allow me to dig myself just a little deeper.




You are feeling adventurous and mixing two drinks together in your kitchen. Suddenly you are a poor waitress at a weird hotel that serves bizarrely named drinks. But you won't be poor for long. You put the poison in the glass, and all you have to do is give it to 'the green man'. He drinks it, and you're rich. And then somehow, you end up drinking it by mistake (I mean you spent time on it and gave it a name, and now you're thirsty). You die tragically, by hopping onto the couch with a book. 


I have no dark and mysterious reason for leaving rehearsal. I haven't got a soldier cousin. I have but one cousin and I have only met him once or twice. I think. As far as I know, World War III hasn't started yet, and I haven't worked at a hotel or poisoned a customer's drink for money. 
Do you know what I else I haven't done? Thought of a point to this post. I have no reasons. Um...how does one end these things? Oh yes! 
Does your brain do this to you? 


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The Romantic Comedy of Reniseb and Ukani

For some reason, reading my first draft sends me into a fit of giggles, so I'm sharing some of these beautifully horrible gems from Reniseb's relationship with Ukani. A quote from Reniseb accurately describes some of my thoughts when reading this draft:
"What had happened? Oh! Why didn’t anything make any sense? What did it all mean?"



Ukani was tall and wiry, he stared at me and didn’t talk to me.

And it was then that I knew, he was the man of my dreams!


“Now then, Reniseb. For your punishment, you must make me another grass rope for me to tie you up with.” I ducked my head and obediently picked some grass. We chatted happily for a while, I don’t really know what we spoke of, but I enjoyed it. Every moment with him was bliss, except when he ruined it. Which was most of the time.


So romantic.




I just buried my face in his shoulder and closed my eyes. He didn’t know it, but I was the happiest girl in the world just then. Almost. If I could have been sure that he took as much pleasure in holding me, as I did in being held by him, my happiness would be complete.
.......Why? 




“Never let yourself be distracted by hurt pride,” Ukani said softly; then he stood and then left.

I looked down at the cloth in my lap, remembering the feel of his hands on mine. They were rougher than they had looked. And harder than I had thought possible for hands to be, but they had been gentle as if they were handling a baby. Perhaps they were. For I felt very much like a baby among these men who were so sure of themselves; so able to care for themselves. And me.
I have no words. Clearly.



“You know,” I said, changing the subject, “you should talk to people more.”

“Why?” 

“Because you're—nice.” I blushed. 

How people talk when they're in love.




“So—uh….have you known Nefru long?” I wanted to slap myself.



We all want you to slap yourself, Reniseb. Also, lessons from Reniseb in talking to your crush. 

And one bonus quote:
“HOW DARE YOU, HOW DARE YOU QUESTION MY LOYALTY! THERE ARE SOME MEN LEFT IN THE LAND WHO CANNOT BE BOUGHT NO MATTER HOW GREAT THE PRICE, THOUGH THAT IS MORE THAN I CAN SAY FOR SOME WOMEN!” Nefru shouted at me, I winced at every word.
So did I, my dear, so did I. So much wincing. 
Hopefully everyone feels better about their writing now. 













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How to Write a Second Draft

I should like to preface this post by saying "this is how I wrote my second draft and I don't know if you should really follow these steps"

• Step 1: Planning
    Do some research, figure out (basically) your plot, and character progressions. Do a little more research. Set the stage. (realize later that you didn't do nearly enough preparation and have no idea what you are doing.)

•  Step 2: Do Nothing
    Procrastinate by reading things like "5 Tips for Writers" or "How to Discipline Yourself" or "How to Stop Procrastinating" or "How to Write a Second Draft" or write a about how you are the most procrastinatey of procrastinators. My favourite excuse is "I don't want to start right now, because I'm going to be interrupted really soon". This hinges on you pretending that 'once you start' you will get really into it.

• Step 3: Start writing stuff
    Sit down to your computer or notebook. Start writing. Realize that you hate everything in the previous draft and scrap it. Write very eagerly for a little while. Then realize that all that typing you were doing, was typing and backspacing and typing and backspacing, so you only have about 700 words. 

• Step 4: Plan some more
   Since you find yourself unable to write, decide that instead of doing 'nothing' you will plot it out in more detail, to help you. Repeat steps 2 and 3. Then repeat 1-4 about six times. Once you have done that, you are ready to proceed.

• Step 5: Actually write a bunch
   Hit yourself in the head. Block all distractions (so disconnect from the internet, basically); force yourself to stop sidetracking to do 'research', eat at least seven small meals in the course of an hour because for some reason you are really hungry and you like 'taking quick breaks' to make food. Get super into it and write like a mad thing. Make weird rules about stupid things: "every 700 words I can go down and get another cookie".  Talk people's ears off about strange realizations, chat about your characters, send little snippets to the people you send snippets to. Bombard them with little questions about 'should he do that first or this first?". Feel like an actual writer. Go about your day glowing because you wrote 2000 words that morning. 

• Step 6: Make the mistake of reading what you wrote
    Accidentally scroll to the wrong place. Innocently look for information earlier in your draft. Get distracted by reading through your stuff. Realize that you hate it. Despair of ever finishing. Realize that you will never be content. Go off and read other people's work and then mope over how good it is in comparison to yours. At this point you have two options. You can do what I did, and give up. Put the draft away, mark it as 'horrid and hated' and never ever ever look at it ever again. Go to one of your writer friends and complain (sorry, writer friend. You are wonderful.) Or you can just force yourself to finish it, like your writer friend tells you to. I didn't do that. I moved on to step 7.

• Step 7: Go on a two week vacation and re-invent your book
    Horrify your writer friends, who were so kind and patient and helped you through the terrors of steps 1-6, and devoted actual time to learning your plot and characters, by telling them that you changed everything. Why are they still your friends? I honestly don't know, but keep a tight hold on those people, they are fantastic. This just happened to work for me, but I don't know if I reccomend it. So now I am in third drafts. I'm written a grand total of 9000 words. And I am in the stage of "writing slowly, researching and procrastinating and feeling all the feelings of hatred for your own writing, and not really know what you are doing, but for once, if feels right". 
    


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