This Year, I’m Thankful for Stephen King

Blank Writer's PageDuring my years of martial arts obsession, I learned an old Chinese proverb about kung fu. The student’s understanding evolves in three stages.

Before I knew kung fu, a punch was just a punch, and a kick was just a kick.

As I learned kung fu, a punch was no longer just a punch, and a kick was no longer just a kick.

Now that I know kung fu, a punch is just a punch, and a kick is just a kick.

Over the past year, I have spent my spare moments learning the craft of writing long fiction. Put me in kung fu category #2 where fiction writing is concerned.

Long fiction is hard. Bloody hard. I think that I began my fiction pursuit due to my affinity for sculpting prose. I love words. I used to recite my fledgling vocabulary from the crib, repeating single words while experimenting with different inflections. My love of prose grew naturally from this infant stem. Alas, prose merely begins the discussion. The craft of long fiction includes mastery of so many facets: overall structure, point of view, narrative voice, character development, the tension of character conflict, scene crafting, etc.

Beyond the facets of mere category, I became aware of the wars of purity and method. The Plotters/Planners, armed with pre-planning and detailed outlines, stand arrayed against the Organics/”Pantsers”, who harness the unfolding energies of instinctual story weaving. Dogma and the dogmatic reappear, even in the world of fiction. Should I have been surprised? Religion indeed spawns dogma. But then, fiction did give birth to religion. I chuckled at being tripwired by the tautology. Again. Fiction spawns dogma, now as ever. Make-believe must be gotten right.

Nevertheless, time slowed as those stiff headwinds came pouring from the open doorway of new knowledge. They coiled themselves into a tidy little vortex. My story fell prey to a newly cluttered mind, which pulled in all directions well enough to make progress in none. Paranoia seeped through the crevices of my splintered vision. When you take the necessary steps to get educated about fiction, you realize just how easily you can get it wrong. Yes, you can indeed invest an enormous amount of time on your fiction and still write shit.

Shit comes in many aromas, ranging from the deeply unreadable to the cheaply cliche. Sitting at the keyboard and scenting inevitable traces of bile, I did the natural thing. I began to edit as I wrote. And to re-edit. So it went, until at last the groan of disintegrating gears and the hiss of overheating coils drowned out the last vestiges of the actual story.  A terribly common tale, I’ve come to learn.

Onwriting.jpgEnter Stephen King. Many people naturally associate Stephen King with ‘horror stories’.  (No, I’m not planning to write a horror novel; my intentions orbit around a disturbing little tale of faith, revelation, and the nature of our minds.) Despite this popular but flat categorization, King has written a broad range of fiction, including dramas like Stand by MeThe Shawshank Redemption, and The Green Mile.  I must confess to never having read a single book by  King, until I picked up his excellent memoir, On Writing.

His advice helps to quiet those headwinds and to refocus the writer’s mind on doing what needs doing. It may take sheer speed to outrun self-doubt. Or it may take noseplugs to get through what Anne Lamott calls the “shitty first draft”. The bottom line remains simple. Skill and craft always arise the same way: practice. Miles on the odometer. Time and attempts and failure. You  have to write, as simple as that sounds. You have to let the story be the boss. You have to get it down, and editing in situ can retard that effort.

I have enjoyed the past year’s dive into the craft of long fiction. Writing now fascinates me in richer colors. The mind splintering and confusion have sown good seed. But this Thanksgiving, I would have to say that I’m particularly thankful for Stephen King, whose advice was one half of getting me off the dime.

Mr. Olivetti was the other half.

To be continued…

Comments

  1. archaeopteryx1 says:

    I would suggest that you first outline your story, i.e., establish your beginning and your ending, input plot points for each twist and turn, then lay out your characters. By lay out your characters, I mean give them all of the qualities, foibles, strengths, weaknesses they will have in the finished work, THEN get to know them. Live with them. Become them. Imagine scenarios not necessarily connected with your work, and imagine what they might do and/or say in such instances. What I’ve learned, is that once you truly KNOW your characters, the story writes itself, characters speak to each other just as naturally as they would if they were real because given a particular stimulus, there IS no other way a certain character could respond, it would be out of his/her character to do so.

    However, editing should be the furthest thing from your mind until at least the second draft, there’s plenty of time for that.

    Yes, I have written. I’m not the wordsmith you are, but then Hemingway was no wordsmith either, and he didn’t do too poorly. There’s room for all styles.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Heya Arch,

      I hear you. Good input all around. Curious about what you wrote. How far did you go with it?

      I’ve ‘gotten to know’ the characters somewhat through a series of what I’m calling false starts. It’s complicated. Historical novel, which adds a bunch of additional constraints. It also requires additional research to get inside the head of other cultures. That and there is a mythological dimension, so I’m trying get inside the heads of non-people, so to speak. Complicated. Anyway, the false starts have helped somewhat to get inside the heads of these different people/places/things.

      Turns out there is a pretty strong writing community in Austin. I’ve met a few folks, including a good historian/historical fiction writer, and his input has helped a good bit too.

      Feeling my way, the long way…

      Matt

      Like

  2. Some consider King’s best work was written while he was out of his head on smack and/or booze!
    Shining, Christine, Pet Cemetery etc
    I can’t afford to do this and my missus won’t let me grow weed in the garden. Spoilsport that she is!

    Everyone has advice on how to write. I try to avoid all such advice other than stuff on grammar, and a bit of style. Even here I am choosy and often refer back to the authors I read.

    At one point I became shit-scared that if I followed all the advice I would never write a damn thing. And most sites/books I initially perused made me think how crappy a writer I probably was so I stopped reading them.

    I can’t tell if I am a better writer but at least I still enjoy it.

    Best of luck on the journey, Matt.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Ark. Yeah, king talked about his booze and drug phase. That was a fascinating chapter. Meanwhile, I have another post pending about escape from the paralysis of analysis. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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