Recently, I’ve been reading On Writing by Stephen King, which is WONDERFUL!!! I am about the biggest chicken you will ever meet, so I have read a total on one (1) Stephen King book (this will be my second), so I wouldn’t say I’m a huge Stephen King fan, except, I am (especially after this book). His writing is so honest and accessible. Under the Dome is the only other book I’ve read by him and I devoured it. Many more of his works are now on my unending reading list after On Writing, but that’s not relevant to this post.
Every writer of fiction should read this book. It is refreshing and hopeful. Many of my greatest fears have been soothed by reading about the humble beginnings of one of the century’s most well-known authours. Not only this, he shares his process – invaluable.
The most beneficial thing that I’ve taken from the book is the encouragement to write alone in a dark corner of the room without any distractions. I’ve tried so many different tactics to improve my focus while writing but had forgotten the roots of my own process. When I was younger, I would always sit in my dark room and pound out pages of writing. Since I’ve decided to pursue writing on a serious level, I have found it d. Not hard in the way of finding what to write about, but the actual sitting down and writing. There were too many distractions. My desk faced the window – an eye to the outside world, for inspiration… or so I thought. In fact, it was a distraction. One more thing to draw my eye (and mind) away from the task at hand.
Since reading the book, I have once again adopted the habit of shutting all my lights, turning my computer and phone to airplane mode (not something I had to do in the past, but necessary today), and plugging in my headphones when I sit down to write. It has made A WORLD of difference. I can now easily pound out words by the thousands. Also, when I find myself stuck and clicking on websites that turn up the “unable to connect to the internet” message (which happens all the time – old habits die hard), I get back on track much quicker. Previously, I would spend 30 minutes looking at BuzzFeed.com (so many hours spent looking at lists of “45 Cutest Photos You Have Ever Seen” or similar). It is amazing.
King discusses the need for the writer to escape into the inner world of the story. Any outside “noise” just pulls you out of that world and back into the present. There has to be complete immersion if you expect to get anything cohesive out of your writing. As well, it triggers your brain to move into the writing mindset. There is a ritual that your body associates with introspective story time. These rituals are important.
I live in a small bachelor apartment in a big city. There is not space to find a separate corner to dedicate to writing and there are lots of distractions, even on the street, so shutting the lights, putting on my writing sweater (yes, I have a sweater that I wear when it is writing time – and sometimes a toque – very Canadian) and sitting at my computer means that I have left the reality of my apartment and exist only in the words I put on the page. Usually, this is accompanied by a cup of coffee or scotch (or both), but there is a ritual to it and my body responds.
Another thing that has immediately affected my writing is from his reference to The Elements of Style by Strunk & White regarding Rule #17 – Omit needless words. King discusses the rule of thumb formula that 2nd draft = 1st draft – 10% (an interesting approach). King, as I’ve read from many writers, believes that you should write the first draft of anything without looking back at what you’ve written until it is finished. Don’t edit along the way – it is unproductive and you get caught up in a web of your own inadequacies. Once your first draft is complete, you can bring the red pen down and start slashing all those needless words, the result should be about 10% shorter than the original. At least that’s the basics of the principle - you really need to read the whole book.
I might not be at the 10% level yet, but it is a good rule to keep in mind while editing. “How can I say this clearer?” is the question I find myself asking now, which usually results in saying the same thing in fewer words.
The last thing I’m going to mention in this post (not enough time to cover everything – that’s why I called it “Redux”) is that King charges new writers with writing 1000 words a day with one day off a week. I cheered a little when I read that. I had set to that task at the start of the month, just to get a groove going, so I felt one step ahead of the curve – a good place to be. King writes 2000 words a day. His routine is to spend the morning writing 2000 words of whichever story he is working on (as long as it takes him), go for a walk, edit in the afternoon and read in the evening. For him, reading is as much part of being a writer as writing. Reading informs your work – good and bad. Good writing gives you something to strive for and bad writing makes you feel better about your own. It’s true – think about it.