Tag Archives: Wheel of Time

Writing About “On Writing”: Lessons from Stephen King

Despite the previous post I wasn’t completely unproductive last week. I was able to read Stephen King’s On Writing which was one of my Sober September purchases. I’m not sure why I didn’t get around to reading it then. Better late than never, right? Anyways, as the title implies, the book is about writing. Duh. Since Stephen King is a pretty successful writer you’d expect him to have something insightful to say about the craft.

The book isn’t completely about writing as I soon discovered. The first section of the book is a rough autobiography of King’s childhood and early adulthood that shows how much he’s always loved writing and his struggle to get work published. King seems to have taken failure in stride by hanging up his rejected manuscripts on the wall of his room and kept pushing forward. Reading, writing, and submitting stories until his first major success Carrie was published.

The end of the book, like the beginning, isn’t directly about writing and covers King’s near-death from being hit by a car. (He says something like he was hit by a character right out of one of his stories.) At first this section seemed off and ham-fisted, but with his multiple surgeries and recovery he wasn’t able to write at all. King apparently writes for at least a few hours everyday so this whole incident really broke him from his habit. Towards the end of this section he struggles to pick up writing again and feels as awkward as him learning to walk again was. His writing is his joy and his life and the return to writing was another part of his recovery and he soon found himself finding his stride after losing it. It’s a great way to round off the whole arc of the book.

Okay, onto the on writing part of On Writing. It’s a great book and I sailed through it easily, a welcome break from The Wheel of Time series. Curiously King doesn’t give many clear and direct tips to write successfully; his entire philosophy seems to be to “read and write all the damn time” or at least as much as you can. Sure he shits all over adverbs and ‘the passive voice’ (something I’m still trying to work on. “I am writing this blog post,” as opposed to “The blog post is being written by me.”) while stressing good grammar, but these clear and direct tips are pretty sparse. In short he realizes that writing is a creative experience and it’s hard to offer ‘rules’ that successful writers break all the time. Like sure you can break grammar rules or use the passive voice for effect, but you better know damn well what you’re doing before you try it!

King also dunks all over a heavy reliance on plot and feels it’s too rigid to tell a good story. His idea is that stories are living things, and you start with the characters and a situation and see what happens when you let the story play out. It’s writing without an idea of where the story will go. He sees it this way: if you force a conclusion onto characters who don’t operate a certain way it’s obvious (“This character wouldn’t do this!”) and feels clunky. While I generally feel this to be great advice, especially for myself, I can see other writers taking the plot route and having it work out wonderfully for them. Think of Robert Jordan’s 13-book-series The Wheel of Time again. I don’t think he plopped some characters on a page and magically ended up with an entire 13-book-long series. It seems like he’d need to have a general plot lined out before writing such a massive series. But I don’t know that for fact so who knows.

As mentioned, the main takeaway from the book seems to be to read and write often. Make a habit or a chore out of it. Sit down everyday (or as frequently as you can) and fucking write. See what happens. Even if what you write is trash, well, at least you have something to show for it and you’ll only improve over time. Reading is just as important because that’s how you learn how to write better. Reading gives you ideas, styles, and techniques to use in your own writing; I totally stole semicolons from reading a bunch of Alan Watts. Sentence fragments and gut reactions? Thank you Hunter S. Thompson. By reading you discover what works and what doesn’t, especially regarding your own style of writing. You read a long, detailed, and boring description of a room that you hate? Don’t be overly descriptive in your own writings. Read a few pages of amazingly tense dialog? Put some intense dialog in your own stories. Dig in and do what you like to do. But the only way to realize this is to read and learn, write and try, and see if it works in your own writing.

After writing all of that I’m tempted to imposter syndrome myself into thinking I’m not really a writer. I don’t read as often as I should and I definitely don’t write as much or as freely as King says you have to to be a writer. Is this something you can learn or do you need to be a natural reader/writer from the time you’re a kid like King was as a child? Eh, have a little confidence, I was able to write this and it’s something, right?

I highly recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in writing. The book mentions a ton of important things to improve your writing even if it is nebulous and generalized guidelines like WrItE eVeRy DaY! After reading the book I found I was  inspired to write, to get over the worry of writing and just sit down and write. To plop out whatever is in my mind and see what the mess looks like on paper. It’s like the entire book of On Writing is Stephen King being a hype-man for writers everywhere. Follow his advice. Read the damn book. And then hole yourself in a room and start writing!

Check out my Instagram where I post pointless artistic pics and shitty poems every whenever I get around to it.

Or my other blog where I sometimes post stories.

Or Wattpad where I have a Morrowind fanfic ongoing also sometimes post stories.

Streak Day #14 Sucks (and some stuff about writing and The Wheel of Time)

Two weeks. Two weeks I’ve been at this shit and I’m almost starting to regret it. Things are great if you have something to write, but I’ve been in a funk the past few days. The writer’s block is getting especially bad and while I can still churn out a daily post I can’t for the life of me think of anything to write regarding any of those fictional stories I’m supposedly working on.

One thing to note: I’ve started reading The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. I was weary to begin because apparently it’s a massive thirteen-book series, so had only purchased the first two books months ago. The first one is like 700 pages long too. By starting on a fucking thirteen-book series each with a conservate 500 pages means I could be committing myself to reading a massive 6,500 pages at least. Did I really want to get myself into this project? It’ll take like a year.

People say that creativity comes from branching out and trying new things. Reading Hunter S. Thompson nonstop sure helps get the honest, no bullsit, and vulgar tone down in your writings, but it doesn’t help you branch out very much. I hope by delving into some high fantasy stuff that I’m not used to maybe the creative juices will start flowing again. But I don’t know.

The problem with what I write is it shirks the entire idea of high fantasy and stories in general. I think it’s my bleak mindset on life shining through. If I believe that life is not a big and grand adventure and that we’re all looking for some big grand adventure to add meaning to life this is certain to leak into my stories. What I seem to write about is the pointlessness of everyday life, as bleak as that sounds. I don’t even want this to sound edgy or anything; this is what I seem to write about. Strangely I notice I also write about those magical moments in life where things do make perfect sense and everything is wonderful. Little bursts of light here and there in the total bleakness of the grand story (which doesn’t exist) itself.

I read 100 pages of the first book last night. It was great. I was absorbed into the world and the plot, while slow for the first two chapters, quickly took off. I was hooked. The tension that the plot was about to devolve into a shitstorm was palpable. As one chapter ended I found myself eager to start the next chapter, just waiting for some mild break in the story to finally quit and finally fall asleep. I think I finally passed out around 5:30 a.m. Holy hell.

One thing I despise about reading intense fiction stories is the shock that I receive when I stop reading and come back to the bleakness of the Real World. It’s shocking and I’ve noticed this feeling before while watching movies. I clearly remember seeing Apollo 13 in the theater as a kid and the shock I felt walking back to the car on a bright and sunny day realizing that, yes, it was just a movie and I was back in Reality was terrible. I’d have to go to school later and I’d have to do homework and I’d have to grow up and I’d have to get a job and I’d have to grow old. Consider the harrowing adventure Jim Lovell and crew had to contend with over a few weeks as they whipped around the moon not sure if they’d survive in the dark inhospitable environment of space. It’s a fucking Adventure. And it was engrossing and exhilarating and it was a shock walking into the parking lot and realizing that in a way it was all a dream to you.

The same thing happened yesterday when I stopped reading The Wheel of Time. Mind totally blown and fixed on the greater themes in the story. The Light. The Wheel of Time. The impossibility of stopping past events from repeating themselves in the future. The grand battle against The Dark One. The promise that every character in the book has a purpose, some key role they’re going to play in the Grand Tale. I put the book down, blew out the candle, and walked upstairs to eat peanut butter on crackers along with a glass of milk. Only wearing my underwear. I looked out the window and the sky was turning a dull greyish color. Thanks Daylight Savings Time. I slept until 1 p.m., dragged myself out of the bed, and made some coffee. Now I’m writing a blog post. This is my Grand Adventure. Yay.

Not that the characters are on grand adventures all the time. I’m sure they had to deal with the same mundane bullshit I have to deal with, but this doesn’t bother them in the story. It isn’t even discussed really and only appears in vague ways. Wanting to leave the comfy town in order to “see the world” or to “go on an adventure.” But they seem happy enough and you can’t help but feel bad for the everyday person being caught up in the shitstorm. Tam, one character in the story, can’t wait to get back to his farm and tend to his sheep, even if things are going to hell around him. He likes the quiet life. If they are like me though, maybe the want the world to fall apart in some huge crisis between Light and Dark just so they have some reason to break away from the pointlessness of everything else. To be a part of something greater than themselves.

Sometimes I do think I’m on the brink of my own Great Adventure, kinda waiting around to the world or myself to totally snap in some way to set me out on it. Maybe I am a future best-selling author? Maybe these stupid posts are all the hard work I need to do to get to that point? I doubt it. This fragment of hope exists as a tiny and miniscule glow tucked deep in the back of my mind. I’m not writing because I think it’s a step on the path to greatness, no. I’m writing because there isn’t jackshit else to do and I need to kill another hour before I sulk my way to work. Another day in my fourteen-year career at UPS. Another post in my fourteen-day streak on WordPress. Jesus Christ.

I really think these tiny glimmer of hopes for a better future are what keeps people from going insane. The tiny glow of possible being an author is what keeps the darkness at bay. I know it’s likely bullshit, but if I really gave up hope, what else would I do? I think if everyone gave up hope there’d be no other choice but to string a rope from the ceiling and end it all.