Stephen King is my writing coach—even though I’ve never seen or met him, or even read more than a couple of his books. Here’s why: it’s Christmas day, and I’m writing—both on my novel and this blog post—and I love King because he gives me permission for this singularly obsessive behavior and lifestyle.
In his autobiographical opus, On Writing, he tells an interviewer that he writes every day “except Christmas, Fourth of July and birthdays” and in this book he confesses, “Actually, I write on Christmas, the Fourth and my birthday too. I just didn’t want to sound like a workaholic dweeb.”
Thank God I’m not alone!
I’m on deadline for the final book of the most productive year I’ve ever had as a writer—I wrote THREE novels this year—and one of the disciplines I’ve imposed on myself to stay productive in the final stages of a rewrite/deadline is that I can’t read any new fiction.
I can only read writing books and, for variety, writing magazines. Humpf.
It’s a good kind of torture. I’m a gluttonous reader when left to my own devices, and this “rule” helps me stay focused for a couple of reasons:
1) I am dying to get back to “fun” reading, so I work harder on my deadline project;
2) I am so desperate for reading I’ll even read these ‘how to write’ books, and their suggestions end up helping.
I have quite a collection amassed by now, varying degrees of useful/motivating/inspiring which I will indicate with a 5-star rating:
- The Write to Write by Julia Cameron ***
- The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron *****
- Writing and Selling your Mystery Novel by Hallie Ephron ***
- Room to Write by Bonnie Goldberg ***
- Don’t Murder your Mystery by Chris Roerden ***
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott ****
- Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder *****
- So You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland ****
- The Elements of Style by Wm. Strunk Jr. ***
- 250 Things You Should Know about Writing by Chuck Wendig ***
- Story Engineering by Larry Brooks ***
- Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg ****
- On Writing by Stephen King *****
I actually have more, but I’m afraid by telling you the titles I’ll feed the trap many writers fall into: that somehow, in reading about writing, talking about writing, blogging about writing, we are actually going to get to be better writers.
Not so— I agree with King on this—only in reading a lot and writing a lot will we get to be better writers. Out of the lineup I shared, the book I go back to over and over is King’s On Writing. And each time, as I become a more experienced and disciplined writer, I get new insight out of it.
The first time I read On Writing, I mulled over King’s f*cked-up childhood, as any good therapist will, and concluded it was why he was a horror writer. I liked his downhome “you can do it, just keep falling forward” tone.
The second time I read it, I was amazed at the fact that he could write such a wonderful, honest, humorous and helpful book practically on his deathbed after getting mangled in a hit-and-run. I was impressed with his discipline and work ethic.
The third time I read it, I mulled over his central premise: that ideas pre-exist in space/time and the writer only unearths them “like fossils.” It was a feeling I had as well, an intuition based on Jungian psychology, but I was struggling with corralling my plots and because they’re mysteries, making them behave. I have a different attribution—I think stories (and especially archetypal characters) exist in the collective unconscious. Writers are the telepaths and scribes of the dreaming world’s stories, not the inventors of them.
On the fourth reading, I was reminded about the Elements of Style and bought it. Discovered I didn’t really need it (with relief) but it was a good reminder of basics. I also went on an adverb and attribution hunt in my latest WIP, and was glad I did.
In this, my fifth reading, I finally really get what King says about the discipline of daily writing. I still admire and aspire to his daily goal of 2,000 words, and his refusal to outline—instead, to unearth each “fossil” via three main areas: situation, character and dialogue. I find his admission that he virtually never takes time off from writing validating. (It’s put paid to my worries I’m becoming over-obsessed, even bipolar about my writing, surging up and down in my emotions with my characters and their plights.)
King is unapologetically prolific and in that, I can very much relate. Even in my daily life, my stories go on behind the backs of my eyes. I can feel my busy brain working all the time, on multiple levels, and a longing to return to the page is always there, a sort of nagging hunger like an addict must feel. As a mental health professional, I’m investigating what’s happening to me—and part of me has been frightened by the transformation.
King says it’s okay, and even necessary.
As of my fifth reading of On Writing and nearing the end of my sixth novel, he’s become my official writing coach and hero. No, King’s not “normal”—but whoever in the world has followed a passion and been normal? I want to fulfill my potential as a writer, and I sense it’s only just begun to be tapped. I just want to write every damned day, even Christmas—because the stories I’m meant to write burn to be found and unearthed and shared, and I’m having so much fun I can hardly stand it.
Normal is overrated.
How about you? Who are your heroes and coaches?