April 16, 2020
Sample Eye of the Moon
April 28, 2020

Five Things I Learned from Stephen King

SK-4, circa 1991, credit Tabitha King, from Stephen King's official website

Stephen King and I have an uneasy relationship, even though I’ve never met him. Would he be the same person I imagine him to be, if I did? I doubt it. I met a genuine Class A writer once. I liked what she wrote, but I didn’t like her. She grated on my nerves. Stephen King might be different. He has a quirky way of looking at situations that I enjoy. At the same time, his writing can be disturbing and hard to get through. His words have power, nonetheless. He can bottle fear and hurl it crashing into my head. I’ve learned much from him—likely more than from any other writer I have read, a fact I find more than a little troubling.

Much of the following points come from his On Writing, but not all. They also include my interpretations of his ideas.

  1. Have a Dear Reader.

If you write, have someone to write for. In the real world, I write for myself, but such an isolated view is limited. Writing takes two people. Stephen King uses the term “Ideal Reader” to describe that other person. I misquoted this for years as “Dear Reader”, and the term has stuck with me. I am wary of changing it because there is a hint of intimacy and closeness in a Dear Reader. Your Dear Reader, besides being your best and second reader, must believe in you and your writing. It’s a big deal, and I can’t stress how important that can be.

  1. Read a lot. Write a lot.

This seems obvious, but it isn’t. I don’t read fast, but I read all the time, and I read a great deal. It’s what I do. As with reading, I don’t have a set time to write. I write when I can, which is pretty much all the time, when I’m not reading. Of course, there are other things in life—many things, in fact, but if you want to know what you are passionate about, observe what you do. People never do “nothing”.

  1. You don’t need a plot, if the situation is strong enough.

Plots don’t have to be sketched out ad nauseam and then followed. Situations create their own plots. What if you woke up in a morgue inside a body bag, or what if you’re a visitor and notice one of the body bags is moving? Or what if something seems to be working at the zipper, and whatever it is that’s getting out looks like… a rabbit? The plot will evolve from the situation—just add water and stir. This to me is brilliant.

  1. Writing is done one word at a time.

When asked how he wrote The Stand, Stephen King replied, “One word at a time.” His answer is obvious and amusing on the surface, but looking deeper, there is more. Writing, like life, is a marathon, and we all get to the finish line the same way: placing one foot in front of the other. All works are created step-by-step, little by little. All art requires persistence and a stubborn regularity.

  1. When you put “The End” on the work, leave it for six weeks.

I think this applies to any major artistic endeavor. Leave it alone, and then come back to it after a time. The second draft should be the first draft minus ten percent. When you rewrite, your main job is to take out all the things that are not the story, but only do that after six weeks. Why six weeks? I have no idea, but it seems to work.

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