Stephen King’s Advice for Writers

Stephen King’s Advice for Writers

His advice has been well publicized, but I thought it worth repeating:

 

  1. First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience. “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”
  2. Don’t use passive voice. “Timid writers like passive verbs for the same reason that timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe.”
  3. Avoid adverbs. “The adverb is not your friend.” (e.g., “he said happily” and “she said angrily”, etc.)
  4. But don’t obsess over perfect grammar. “The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story.”
  5. The magic is in you. “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.”
  6. Read, read, read. “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”
  7. Don’t worry about making other people happy. “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”
  8. Turn off the TV. “TV—while working out or anywhere else—really is about the last thing an aspiring writer needs.”
  9. You have three months. “The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”

Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

I’m off on a tangent again running around on a Saturday because I promised my daughter a new phone, I promised myself I’d get a bunch of gifts for my youth group and they’d all be personalized because…well they are really great kids and I want to make tomorrow’s Christmas party– special.

So off to the store I go and of course the machine is down at the phone store and I run around trying to find a different store with a deal equal or better than the original one I was getting after which, I get caught in the parade traffic on the way to the plaza to pick up those individualized gifts. Now I am spent both mentally and physically and I just want to go home and settle down with a nice big piece of German chocolate cake. But I can’t. I still have a lot of shopping to do.

This has often been my Saturday, but after feeling run down too often by the time Monday morning rolls around I’ve learned to cross things off of my list of to-do and focus on the moral of the story—the point of it all.

Watch the subplots

Too often we add too much drama, run in too many directions with more subplots and story twists than I even want to remember. Often the main story gets buried.

I suppose the first questions are this: do you know what the main story is? Is the story relevant or interesting enough to carry itself? Often times we add to the story because we don’t have confidence that the story as it is will hold up. This does not mean that subplots or even parallel plots will not enhance the story, it simply means that the story is solid and that anything else will only add to the depth of the original and not take over.  If you find that you have a takeover element you may want to consider what is most important—the main story or one of the others—you may be surprised.

Complicated vs. Simple

Buying personalized gifts did not mean in depth conversations with parents or running to every mall in the mid-state to find the perfect gift—it mean simply that I thought about each child—that was the focus, that was the main thing. And for sanity and time sakes, most of them got gift cards. They were very pleased because someone was thinking of them.

The benefit of doing it everyday: Establishing a Writing Routine

The benefit of doing it everyday: Establishing a Writing Routine

My daughter is bent on becoming a connoisseur of musical instruments. She started in sixth grade with the flute—a dainty little instrument and a favorite among girls (probably for its size and sound). I was so proud of the fact that at their first band concert she not only had a duet but also a beautiful solo. We videoed and took pictures; we were beaming proud parents, cousin and grandma. She was on her way to becoming quite a flutist. She enjoyed the idea and liked being a part of the group.

The band director suggested at least an hour a day for practice—gets you acclimated to the instrument and you only become a better player. One hour. It doesn’t seem like much until you have to do it every day—everyday. Then she met the trombone. Perhaps what she didn’t quite get with the flute is that practice is a fundamental task with any instrument—long after the concert is over and no one is asking so how do you like band? And no one is saying, Oh, neat, you play flute. Trombone? Awesome!

It was a commitment–one hour a day including the days her favorite show was running some ridiculous marathon, days when she couldn’t have cared less about a flute because she had a ton of math, days when she realized that lugging that trombone around was no joke.

That’s the thing about being repetitive with any task there are some days that you just don’t want to—including writing. I suppose if I only wrote when I felt like it, I’d be an old woman determined to finish that second chapter. But contrary to what you might believe habit not only creates momentum but it also creates a rhythm of sorts. Everything in life has a rhythm, a cycle, a cadence. Some are established and cannot be changed like the Earth revolving around the sun or the changing of the seasons. But others we can both establish and change, like a 40-hour work week, or a part-time job. Both mentally and physically our bodies and minds adapt to the change and suddenly the kid who crammed for physic exams on the weekend and worked part-time all through college is propelled into the real world and is working 40 hours every week without fail.

For those who say that they don’t have any time to write I say writing is not important to you right now. But if you feel that it is remember it’s not the quantity of time, it is just making time. Period. If it is 15 minutes in the morning before you go to work, commit to it—everyday. If it is 20 minutes after the kids are put to bed do it. Once you establish a time you will suddenly look forward to it. And by looking forward I don’t mean you’ll always be ecstatic about it, but your body and mind will know it’s coming and suddenly you will become focused if only for 15 or 20 minutes.

When I started to write my novel it wasn’t time but pages I used as my focus—five days a week, three to four pages per day. I found that over time I could do no more and no less. But over time, within a year I had written a book. The rhythm of a thing propels it forward and keeps it moving. Established habits keep your story moving and even when it feels like you are stuck you will sit and be able to write something. It may not be stellar or perfect and it may require a rewrite, but your body and soul will know that this time is for writing. Over time you may be surprised at what you achieve.

The Corner Office: Developing Characters in Fiction

The Corner Office: Developing Characters in Fiction

The building in which I work is designed in such a way that you get a perfect skyline view of the city from many of the big offices–big, breath-taking views of the sculpted skyline. I remember years ago that was the thing to aspire for—the coveted office with a view. And then there was the corner office—more spacious, panoramic, posh and oh, so desirable. Those that possessed such a space were privileged, envied, their status quantifiable. And now many buildings are designed much like mine, in such a way that corner offices are plentiful, multiple, almost common.

It is interesting the events, the things that we wear as badges of success. We solidify it moments by the things that accompany those moments—luxury cars, company lines of credit and spacious offices. And then we wait for it–to feel accomplished. Only we can never evolve by our external possessions but by that which is already in us. We are that best-selling author, CEO, director, CFO long before the world sees it and long before we feel anything. As our gift is being nurtured, our success is already in the making until the world officially recognizes who we really are.

ernest hemingway

Character building in our fiction writing works in the same manner. By the very nature of the term character building we are working toward the realization of the truth for two parties: Our reader and our characters. We are working out those external and internal blocks which disguise the true nature of who our characters are. Secondly, we are unveiling our characters to our reader—slowly, deliberately and in detail. Sometimes the reader knows at the beginning (before the character knows) these people detailed on the pages of our book. But they love the journey. Who doesn’t love a road trip? They love to read through the bumps and bruises along the way. They want to laugh and cry and celebrate right along with our characters. And if done superbly they will grow and learn and perceive along with them. It is the ultimate experience when a book changes its reader.

As you are developing your characters I encourage you to include those aspects which are necessary for personal growth:

Get rid of influences that don’t add to life

  1. Gather the courage to try something new
  2. Be true to yourself – this one is in crucial, because we must look at life in respect to our heart’s most intimate longings, as our hearts seek after God.
  3. Move forward in faith and confidence in the One who loves us most.

Sometimes our characters’ journey will mirror ours in many ways and that is OK. It makes it easier to write and adds to the story’s authenticity.

In today’s world we realize that occupants of corner offices are booted out and must find new places to sit and work. And it just may be where they were meant to be all along.

Fiction Writing: Getting Rid of the Clutter

Fiction Writing: Getting Rid of the Clutter

I was talking with a co-worker the other day and she confided that she is at a cross-point in her life. Her work, although she doesn’t mind it, is not fulfilling. For some time now she occasionally gets that ache in the pit of her stomach indicating that it is time for a change. But of course there is life and all that it comprises—a daughter, a demanding job, a mortgage, friends and their bevy of problems and the moving parts that come with all of it. She said to me she wants to get away—really get away from it all in order to get some perspective and find out what direction to take with her life. She plans to rent her house out to her daughter, pay someone to maintain her place and then sneak away to a remote beach to rest, relax and silence the noise for about a year or so. Sounds awesome and kudos to her and others who possess such a privilege. But most of us must resort to a more practical means of regrouping. It’s not always a matter of physically getting away from it all, but getting the unnecessary elements away from us—the junk mail, the spam, the stuff that doesn’t add value to our lives but simply takes up space.  A matter of getting rid of burdens we have no business carrying. There’s nothing more unsettling than being boggled down with someone else’s load.   illustration_0710_clutter Getting rid of the clutter, can be a challenge. It’s hard to say goodbye to those things, people or elements that have been in our space for as far back as we can remember. It takes discipline, a motivation to change and a lot of prayer. Cutting away at coarse, complex, long forming vines of clutter that have snaked their way into our lives can be painful, after all they have become—somewhere in our journey—a part of us, however toxic they may be. Fiction writing comes with the same issues. Someone asks us what our story is about and we began to describe in painful detail, the entire plot and all of its intertwined subplots while our listener nods hoping we will eventually get to the point, or, even a point. And suddenly we realize we aren’t even sure. Move with Focus A good story can’t be rushed. It doesn’t magically appear in perfect form. Although readers really want to get to the point, they want to enjoy the journey. I just finished reading The Girl on the Train, a thriller by Paula Hawkins. The author takes time to describe the protagonist to emerge us into her world, her way of thinking, her personal struggles—which of course eventually connects us to her external dilemma. Her life was simple–a simple disaster. But the story moved forward with slow, deliberate steps. The subplots were intertwined but did not upstage the main plot. The focus was clearly on the protagonist, Rachel. The subplots were properly introduced, but you always knew who the story was really about. That is often the problem with focus—remembering who and what the story is really about. Subplots may be juicy and exciting but if they overwhelm the plot instead of enhancing it, it is too much. If the minor characters are more detailed or interesting than your main character they have to be eliminated or toned down. Believe in the Story Often times along the way we begin to believe that our story isn’t enough. We began to add stuff to make it juicer and more interesting, desperate to hold our readers’ attention. But the truth is a good story stands alone—if indeed it is a good story. Sometimes it’s a matter of having faith in our writing—our ability to write the story and write it well. If you don’t believe in the story, or your ability to tell the story, your reader will know. Write with the confidence that this story must be told this way. Let’s face it, you can take a moment in time, an event a person and derive many different stories, from the same instance or about the same person. But when you write, you will do it your way, from your perspective. It is, after all, what makes it uniquely you. It is why you are the author and no one else. If you began to doubt the ability to do so it could be from a couple of reasons: 1) You lack confidence in your writing skills at this point; 2) The story doesn’t possess enough meaning for you. If one of these reasons are applicable then your problem is foundational and must be dealt with before continuing on. Remove everything that isn’t the story Once you are moving with confidence get rid of everything that does not impact the outcome. If you began to describe the town or city in which your protagonist lives, make sure it is relevant to the story, i.e., the mundane of the city counters the excitement that stirs within her or him, or parallels the mundane feeling within. Or, the busyness of the city helps her to hide out, disappear inside of her pain, she has become irrelevant to the world around her. On the other hand, your reader probably doesn’t need a detailed description of her looks unless they are important to how she feels about herself or how others perceive her. The reader will grow tired of a detailed description of the look of each character if it does not add value. Write Often I’ve found out the more often you write the easier it is to get to the point. For some reason prolonging the story prompts you to add more moving parts. It gives you time to think of bright ideas and interesting twists and turns that confuses and complicates. Write on through. Write often, leaving the clutter behind.