I’ve been reading Stephen King’s book On Writing for my MFA this semester and the most useful section for me has been the memoir section.
I just love the way King chronicles his journey as a writer. He’s so transparent about the many struggles and failures he had along the way. It’s very inspiring. I also loved how he detailed the birth of Carrie. Having just begun a new journey with my own novel, I felt a strong sense of kinship with King.
I even got very emotional reading one section in particular about how one night King and his wife, Tammy, were talking about what the paper-back rights sale might bring in for them. In his book, King reflects by saying that it was a “night for dreaming” (84).
It was strange because just the night before, my husband and I had been having an eerily similar discussion about what my advance (if any) could be for Prince of Dreams. Don’t get me wrong, neither of us expects to be rolling in the dough anytime soon or ever for that matter. But, let me be real here and confess something. That night, we were dreaming of it.
There’s wisdom in not counting the chickens before they hatch. But there’s also nothing wrong with being hopeful, or being wishful. So, for that night in the Elzie household, there were a lot of dreams being voiced for the first time, because in some strange way, we’d given ourselves permission to finally voice them.
The other thing that I’ve been loving about King’s On Writing is how much he talks about his wife and how important it is to have a strong support system.
My husband, Kevin, has been supportive of me and my writing in ways that I can’t even begin to comprehend. I just hope that I’m a fraction as supportive of him as he is of me. At those times when I’ve given up entirely, tossed in the towel and said, I’ll never make this dream happen, I’ll never be published; no one will ever read my story; Kevin has found a way to bring me back to myself. To the part of me that writes because it’s who I am, not because I want fame or fortune (though who doesn’t?) or readers cosplaying my characters (again, who doesn’t want that?), or my inbox piling up with fan art. He finds a way to remind me that when I don’t write, I don’t feel like a whole person anymore.
So long as I’m writing something, I’m happy. It doesn’t have to be something “real” in the sense of a novel or a short story either. It could be something as small as a poem or a really snide and snarky note to myself about how much I hate driving in Georgia. It could be a just single line, even unwritten. A line reminding me of my big dreams and an encouragement to keep going. Written or unwritten, so long as I’m smithing words together, I’m a peace with myself.
This brings me briefly to King’s tips on writing. Specifically, his tips for getting the first draft of a book done. No matter the length, he says, “you have three months”. What I adore so much about this advice is that I think, in a way, it permits the writer just to write everything and anything relevant, or not, to the story down without judgment. Those three months are about telling the story to ourselves first. It’s basically a pass to write badly. To write hideously even. So long as we write.
The very first iteration of Prince of Dreams, back when it didn’t even have a title and when it sat closer to 50,000 words than 100,000, took me one month to write. It wasn’t Nanowrimo time either (I never seem to be in the “right place” when Nano comes around). I was just so caught up in the story and the new world I was creating that before I knew it, I had gotten the bare bones of the story down within a month. There was something special about that time, and I think King is right to advise a “closed door” policy on the first draft.
When I was writing that first draft, there was no judgment. I didn’t worry that my sentences were choppy, or overly long, or just plain nonsensical. I didn’t get tripped up on lush and vivid imagery. In some cases, all I wrote down was the dialogue because that’s all that was coming to me at the time.
I know everyone’s process is different too, and I love and admire and respect that about both the craft of writing and other writers. No two writers will ever be the same. We’ll never have the exact same experiences when we come to the page. One method of outlining may work for one person and not for another.
For me, I think I need a “closed door” policy. Not only because I fear what others will say, but, mostly, because I fear myself.
If the writing of Prince of Dreams taught me anything about myself as a writer it was these two things. (1) I’m a surprisingly speedy writer and (2) I’m an ever faster trash-er.
I think I need to make peace with the fact that my process is a rather brutal and cutthroat one. I have to find it in myself to accept and just roll with the fact that draft one will be terrible. Draft one will never see the light of day. Draft one will be trashed and draft two will start from a blank page. There’s a certain kind of liberation in just saying those things. In admitting that I will write horrendously for the next little bit as I trudge through the bones of book two.
I also think finding peace with one’s own process is just part of the journey of being creative.
King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Scribner, 2000. Print.
What’re your thoughts on a “closed door” policy? What’s your writing process look like? I’d love to hear and share and get ideas for how to improve my own system.
Keep Reading and Keep Writing,