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Omphaloskepsis Blog

Get up, get well, get over, get happy

Sep 24, 2011

StephenKing.jpg (I like this photo, his wife Tammy took it)

Stephen King | On Writing A Memoir of the Craft

I just completed Stephen King’s memoir On Writing. I picked up a few writing books out of necessity and began with this one. What struck me was how easily I could substitute the word “artist” for the word “writer” especially in the parts of the book that were most salient for me. His book also seemed to be about giving permission. Here are some excerpts I found helpful as an artist.

“If stone-sober people can fuck like they’re out of their minds […] why shouldn’t writers be able to go bonkers and still stay sane?”

“The most important is that the writer’s original perception of a character or characters may be as erroneous as the reader’s. Running a close second was the realization that stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”

“By the time you step into your new writing space” (here an artist can substitute studio space for writing space) “and close the door, you should have settled on a daily writing goal. As with physical exercise, it would be best to set this goal low at first, to avoid discouragement. I suggest a thousand word a day, and because I’m feeling magnanimous, I’ll also suggest you can take one day a week off, at least to begin with, no more; you’ll lose the urgency and immediacy of your story if you do. With that goal set, resolve to yourself that the door stays closed until that goal is met. Get busy putting those thousand words on paper or on a floppy disk. In an early interview (this was to promote Carrie, I think), a radio talk-show host asked me how I wrote, My reply—“One word at a time”—seemingly left him without a reply. I think he was trying to decide whether or not I was joking. I wasn’t. In the end, it’s always that simple. Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like The Lord of the Rings, the work is always accomplished one word at a time. The door closes the rest of the world out; it also serves to close you in and keep you focused on the job at hand.”

“Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want. Anything at all…as long as you tell the truth.”

“When I’m asked why I decided to write the sort of thing I do write, I always think the question is more revealing than any answer I could possibly give. Wrapped within it, like the chewy stuff in the center of a Tootsie Pop, is the assumption that the writer controls the material instead of the other way around.”

(I think I might do well to memorize that last quote!)


“Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex, and work: Especially work.“

“Some people don’t want to hear the truth, of course, but that’s not your problem. What would be is [sic] wanting to be a writer without wanting to shoot straight. Talk, whether ugly or beautiful, is an index of character; it can also be a breath of cool, refreshing air in a room some people would prefer to keep shut up. In the end, the important question has nothing to do with whether the talk in your story is sacred or profane; the only question is how it rings on the page and in the ear. If you expect it to ring true, then you must talk yourself. Even more important, you must shut up and listen to others talk.”

“The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.”

The other thing Stephen King talks about is why he writes, and doesn’t write. He doesn’t write for money, he doesn’t do it for fame. He gets up every day and writes because it brings him joy, because he has to write, and because it enriches the lives of his readers, as well as his own. Its about—as he says—getting happy.

Category: Art Business

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