Thursday, May 26, 2011

ON WRITING - Part 1 Take Your Shit Seriously

I was a reader long before I was a writer. I read widely, so widely that I daresay there isn't a type of book (fiction and non-fiction) that I haven't attempted to read.  And that does include a stray romance novel that I found tucked away in the back of an airplane seat when I was young (back then I was excited by the provocative nature of such a book, with its scantily clad characters, but ultimately bored).  I still read quite broadly for enjoyment.  Currently I'm reading a book about Patti Smith, a book about parallel universes and quantum mechanics, a fiction adult book called THE HOUSE OF TOMORROW about an old woman obsessed with Buckminster Fuller and the grandson who defies her for a love of punk rock, and a YA book written by a dear friend (THE DARK WIFE by Sarah Diemer, available now!).  Some of those books, I read to learn the craft.  JELLICOE ROAD, for example has been a huge influence on my writing as of late.

But I credit one book more than any other with putting me on this writing path.  Stephen King's ON WRITING.  I've talked about its influence before, but every time I find myself stuck, I return to it.  Recently I did so and decided to blog what I learn as I learn it.  Who knows how many parts there will be.  Some will be long, some short.  If you have a copy, read along.  If not, go buy one.  And, as always, feel free to share in the comments.  I'd love to know what you all took from the book.

I'm starting with the second part of the book because King's biography, while illuminating and entertaining, isn't the part that called to me.

King starts out writing about telepathy.  That the reader and writer share a type of bond. It's a bond that traverses space and time.  The written word is a way for a writer to transmit his thoughts into the future.  The better at it you are, the further your thoughts will go.  Shakespeare was such a master of language and character that we still, with little interpretation, get him.  But King isn't concerned with your legacy...yet.  He wants to make the point that writing is serious business and that if you're no going to take it seriously, not to bother.

This meant something important to me.  For years, I'd procrastinated.  I'd skip writing because I wasn't inspired or I didn't have time or I didn't have the correct desk or chair or computer or paper or or or or....

The excuses were endless.  But that book wasn't going to write itself.  I couldn't call myself a writer if I didn't sit down and write.  I was approaching 30 when I came to that realization.  It was time to put up or shut up.  And I'm not even talking about being published.  You can be a writer and never ever seek publication.  I'm talking about simply finishing a book.  Up to that point, I hadn't done it.  But from that moment on, I sat down every day and wrote.  Sometimes only a paragraph came out, but the more serious I took my writing, the better I got at it.

I finished one book.  Then I finished another.  Then I finished a third and sold it.

To this day, I write 5 days a week without fail.  I wake up in the morning and write.  When I'm tired, when I'm hungover, when I'm not in the mood, I still get up to write.

Because here's the thing, even if your entire book is nothing but one long string of penis jokes, if you don't take yourself seriously, no one else will either.


  1. I LOVE this book too! In fact, I was about to reread it myself. Good post! And fantastic that you write 5 days a week. Wish I did.

  2. Shaun, take a look at my blog post over at Project Mayhem where I discuss King's view on vocabulary:

  3. This book is definitely a must-have for any writer. I need to pull it out of the whatever box I have it in and re-read it though, because I could definitely use the motivation. Great post though.


Keep it clean, keep it classy, and jokes are always appreciated.