At the Feet of a Master

on-writing

I didn’t post last week, not because I was inactive. No Sir! I was fairly active in my writer’s life. I dug into my reading. I attended a panel discussion at The Center for Fiction (more on that in a future post). I finished the second draft of my novella. So I was pretty active. I didn’t blog because I didn’t know what I wanted to blog about specifically. But this week I come back with a vengeance, baby!

My reading consisted mainly of the book Stephen King On Writing, which I just finished. This is King’s definitive work on the craft of writing with a ton of insightful memoir thrown in. King wanted to do a book on craft but also wanted to do a memoir as well. So the master that he is, decided to put the two together. This book succeeds on both counts.

The first half of the book is memoir. King relates pivotal events in his childhood (constant ear infections, school, reading interests as a child), his single mother’s trials and tribulations raising two sons alone, his extended family, his first forays into writing, college life, meeting his wife, his alcoholism and addiction. He links his life’s adventures to what inspired some of his story ideas and his opinions on craft. For instance, Carrie was inspired by two outcast girls in his high school. Graveyard Shift is based on King’s time during college working at a textile factory one long hot summer.

The second half of the book is on craft. King’s take on writing is most insightful. King states, “…good writing consists of mastering the fundamentals (vocabulary, grammar, the elements of style) and then filling the third level of your ‘toolbox’ with the right instruments.” King believes that, “…it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.” I’ll put myself in this category for now, if I’m being honest.

Regarding craft, King also says, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” I might have mentioned this in another post. My online instructor agrees with this philosophy. Not only that but my instructor attached a number value to it. A writer should write 20% of the time and read 80% of the time. Whoowee! That’s a lot of reading. Not sure if I’m at that level, but it makes sense. King says, “Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.

King continues, “Good writing…teaches the learning writer about style, graceful narration, plot development, the creation of believable characters, and truth-telling.” The horror master brings it home with this straight-to-the-point nugget: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write. Simple as that.” It most certainly is as ‘simple as that’!

Near the end of the book (pg 271), King displays an excerpt from a rough draft of his tale 1408First he shows the rough unedited version, then he shows the version again, but this time with all his notes and edits for revision. Then King explains his reason for revising the particular sections. It’s a great look into the mind of the master and how he first drafts, then revises and why.

The book is just chock full of ‘aha’ moments that you can take to heart or not. Here’s a good one: eliminating adverbs from your writing.

Over a year ago, I started removing adverbs from my writing after reading an article on the subject. It stayed with me. Now I’m a firm believer. Stephen King subscribes to this belief, as well. Although King still uses adverbs, he does so at a bare minimum. King states, “The adverb is not your friend.” Goodbye Lolly, Lolly, Lolly and take your damn adverbs elsewhere!

King goes on to say, “Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind…the writer usually expresses fear of not being taken seriously…With adverbs, the writer tells us he/she is afraid, isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.” King uses the process of revision to seek out and replace any adverbs he may have lazily used as filler in his first draft. Be as clear as can be in your writing and you won’t need most adverbs.

At the very end of the book, King lists the books that he likes to read. It’s fairly extensive with over 200 books he recommends, and you can be sure those were just the tip of the iceberg. They were pretty much what he could think of off the top of his head, more or less. But before King gets into this list, he has a section called, On Living, that is set aside for him to discuss his road accident.

On the 19th of June, in 1999, King was hit by a Dodge van while walking against traffic on the shoulder of Route 5 in western Maine. Bryan Smith, the driver, had a dozen vehicular offenses to his credit long before he allowed himself on this night to be distracted by his dog. Smith rode up on the shoulder of the highway and sent Mr. King flying. The writer barely survived and needed months of recovery.

Since King was in the middle of writing On Writing  when the accident happenedhe wasn’t sure if he would ever be able to get back to finishing it or any other book for that matter. King had to dig down deep and find the reason why he wrote in the first place; and that was for the love of it. Writing made his life “a brighter and more pleasant place.” This is why we should write; to create a brighter and more pleasant place for our readers and ourselves. King had to learn that again in order to write again.

I’m going to end this post with King’s words from the end of the On Living section of his book:

“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”

and…

“…the rest of it (this book) is a permission slip: you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”

Folks, I know King is right. I/We have the permission to write, so let me/us fill ourselves to the brim!

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