Friday, July 10, 2015

Creative Writing 1 - Advice from Stephen King

from On Writing, by Stephen King

To be a writer:


·        "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 . . . I'm a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year. . . You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you."

·        Reading a lot helps you absorb a variety of writings styles, which you will blend together as you develop your own voice. It tells you what's been done and what hasn't, what's fresh and new, and what's a stale cliché (uschnuté klišé).

·        "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." They show you what not to do.

·        How much to write varies from one writer to another, but Stephen King recommends four to six hours every day. You might write just seven words in that time (Stephen typically finishes ten pages), but at least you sat there, thinking about your story. "If I don't write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind––they begin to seem like characters instead of real people . . . The work starts to feel like work."

To tell a story:

·        "The object of fiction isn't grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story . . . to make him/her forget, whenever possible, that he/she is reading a story at all."

·        "Book-buyers aren't attracted, by and large, by the literary merits of a novel; book-buyers want a good story to take with them on the airplane, something that will first fascinate them, then pull them in and keep them turning the pages."

·        "I don't believe a story or novel should be allowed outside the door . . . unless you feel confident that it's reasonably reader-friendly. You can't please all of the readers all of the time; you can't please even some of the readers all of the time, but you really ought to try to please at least some of the readers some of the time."

·        A common piece of writing advice is to "write what you know." Stephen King says, "interpret this as broadly and inclusively as possible . . . The heart also knows things, and so does the imagination."

·        Fiction might not be true, but it must be honest. Part of truth telling is choosing to write about what you love, not what you think will sell. If you love sci-fi, write sci-fi. If you love mysteries, write mysteries. If you hate love stories but have an idea you think could be popular, tell it to someone who loves writing love stories.

·        To write honestly, first write what you love, then "blend in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex, and work. Especially work. People love to read about work. God knows why, but they do." This is what brings your story to life. A great example is The Firm, by John Grisham. It's about a young lawyer who takes a job for the mafia, and finds himself trapped. Before writing it, John worked as a lawyer and saw these kinds of things in real life.

·        Avoid repeating yourself. Fear is at the root of most bad writing. The reader is like a man trying to walk through quicksand. The writer's job is to throw him a rope––so he doesn't get stuck in all those words. He just needs a rope, but the timid writer will throw 90 kilos of steel cable––so much explanation that it kills the story.
·        Don't get caught up on names & titles. Just put down what feels natural, knowing you can change it later.

On Inspiration:

"There is a muse, but he's not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer station . . . You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you. Do you think this is fair? I think it's fair . . . It's right that you should do all the work and burn all the midnight oil, because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic. There's stuff in there that can change your life. Believe me, I know."


On Talent:

"When you find something at which you are talented, you do it (whatever it is) until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head. Even when no one is listening (or reading, or watching), every outing is a bravura performance, because you as the creator are happy . . . four to six hours a day, every day––will not seem strenuous if you really enjoy doing these things."

On Writer's Block:
Sometimes you'll get to a point in a story where you don't know what will happen next. The common reaction is to panic, "I'm losing my book! Ah shit, five hundred pages and I'm losing my book! Condition red! CONDITION RED!!" The only solution is to keep thinking about it day after day until a solution comes. "If there is any one thing I love about writing more than the rest, it's that sudden flash of insight when you see how everything connects. I have heard it called "thinking above the curve" and it's that; I've heard it called "the over-logic," and it's that too."
On Where to Write:
The space can be humble . . . and it really needs only one thing: "a door which you are willing to shut." There should be no phone, no TV, no distractions. If there's a window, draw the curtains. Stephen King plays music while writing, but only to tune out the sounds of the world around him.
On Writer's Retreats & Workshops:
·        The point of a writing retreat is to work, free from interruptions. But Stephen King says those interruptions can actually help. "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."
·        These workshops can put too much pressure on a writer. "When, on the other hand, making sure the kid gets to his baseball camp on time is every bit as important as your work in progress, there's a lot less pressure to produce."
·       The critiques usually aren't helpful because they're vague, "I love the feeling of your story," and because you haven't finished your first draft yet, so you're not ready to consider the themes, symbols, etc. of your work.

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