Thursday, August 13, 2015

Stephen King tells the secrets - Part 2...

I thought I'd bored you enough in the first one but for those that are just a gluten for punishment, and want to read the other ten, here they are...

(The full story is available on the Barnes and Noble blog below)

11. There are two secrets to success. “When I’m asked for ‘the secret of my success’ (an absurd idea, that, but impossible to get away from), I sometimes say there are two: I stayed physically healthy, and I stayed married. It’s a good answer because it makes the question go away, and because there is an element of truth in it. The combination of a healthy body and a stable relationship with a self reliant woman who takes zero shit from me or anyone else has made the continuity of my working life possible. And I believe the converse is also true: that my writing and the pleasure I take in it has contributed to the stability of my health and my home life.”

I think this is a good insight, especially for authors where writing is not their primary income. To be able to spend a day at the office, come home and spend hours writing is only possible if the family support you as a writer. However, a warning - don't loose track of the fact that you have a family!
12. Write one word at a time. “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.”

13. Eliminate distraction. “There should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with. If there’s a window, draw the curtains or pull down the shades unless it looks out at a blank wall.”

I'm not signing up to this one in its entirety although I see the point that he is trying to make. There is nothing worse than being submerged in the plot, living it so you can capture the essence, and being hauled out of your 'special place' by an annoying distraction. Me, personally, I find silence unnerving at times, my brain seems to work better with a little background noise to the point where I don't actually hear it but take comfort in knowing that it is there.
14. Stick to your own style. “One cannot imitate a writer’s approach to a particular genre, no matter how simple what the writer is doing may seem. You can’t aim a book like a cruise missile, in other words. People who decide to make a fortune writing lik John Grisham or Tom Clancy produce nothing but pale imitations, by and large, because vocabulary is not the same thing as feeling and plot is light years from the truth as it is understood by the mind and the heart.”

Yup - absolutely agree, enough said.
15. Dig. “When, during the course of an interview for The New Yorker, I told the interviewer (Mark Singer) that I believed stories are found things, like fossils in the ground, he said that he didn’t believe me. I replied that that was fine, as long as he believed that I believe it. And I do. Stories aren’t souvenir tee-shirts or Game Boys. Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible. Sometimes the fossil you uncover is small; a seashell. Sometimes it’s enormous, a Tyrannosaurus Rex with all the gigantic ribs and grinning teeth. Either way, short story or thousand page whopper of a novel, the techniques of excavation remain basically the same.”

Hmmm, a modern take on the old adage "stories come from within" - can't argue that one.
16. Take a break. “If you’ve never done it before, you’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience. It’s yours, you’ll recognize it as yours, even be able to remember what tune was on the stereo when you wrote certain lines, and yet it will also be like reading the work of someone else, a soul-twin, perhaps. This is the way it should be, the reason you waited. It’s always easier to kill someone else’s darlings that it is to kill your own.”

As mentioned earlier, the first draft is complete within 3 months. Now you have to switch from writer to reader; the whole book made sense to you when you were writing it, now you have to give time for the writers thoughts to leave the mind, and the reader steps in. As Mr King says, this can be a truly inspirational phase, and one I always find enjoyable (don't be afraid to pat yourself on the back either!)
17. Leave out the boring parts and kill your darlings. “Mostly when I think of pacing, I go back to Elmore Leonard, who explained it so perfectly by saying he just left out the boring parts. This suggests cutting to speed the pace, and that’s what most of us end up having to do (kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your ecgocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.)”

The darling killer - If, as a writer, you have done your job properly, your 'darlings' will be the readers 'darlings' too, so killing them off can be an emotional experience for all parties concerned. I'd probably word this slightly differently to Mr King - Don't be afraid to kill your darlings off. As for leaving out the boring bits - I concur - but it's what I think is boring.
18. The research shouldn’t overshadow the story. “If you do need to do research because parts of your story deal with things about which you know little or nothing, remember that word back. That’s where research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it. You may be entranced with what you’re learning about the flesh-eating bacteria, the sewer system of New York, or the I.Q. potential of collie pups, but your readers are probably going to care a lot more about your characters and your story.”

I am someone that does research the crap out of the subject mater, all in the name of plausibility, but I try and keep it quite subtle. In my current WiP there are a few scenes set on the Harvard Uni campus back in 1986/87 - I'm British, living in New Zealand, and have never been to Harvard. However, I have no doubt that some of my readers have so I have to make it believable. The research is fun, and the fact that very few (if any) care is neither here nor there: In the story "the lift opens" - big deal - but to make something as simple as that plausible you need to understand that there were only three high rise accommodation blocks at that time, and the lifts ONLY stopped on specific floors so my characters accommodation had to be on one of those floors or they would have to use the stairs to go up or down a floor to catch the lift! Plot Fail! That said, I take on board the point that Fiction is not a documentary; information overload leads to DNR.
19. You become a writer simply by reading and writing. “You don’t need writing classes or seminars any more than you need this or any other book on writing. Faulkner learned his trade while working in the Oxford, Mississippi post office. Other writers have learned the basics while serving in the Navy, working in steel mills or doing time in America’s finer crossbar hotels. I learned the most valuable (and commercial) part of my life’s work while washing motel sheets and restaurant tablecloths at the New Franklin Laundry in Bangor. You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”

Could not agree more!
20. Writing is about getting happy. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”
Again, totally agree with this. Going back to one of the earlier answer, write for yourself first, embrace and enjoy the experience - if you can't do that then I would suggest a new vocation be sought. Very very few authors make it big, you need money behind you or a huge stroke of luck. So, if you are writing to get rich (or any of the other options Stephen King offers) then your motivation is all wrong, and your disappointments are almost guaranteed. write for yourself, for your own satisfaction, joy and well being and see what happens.

To repeat the top bit - if you do want to read the whole article it is on the Barns and Noble blog:

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