Monday, October 02, 2006

Tough talk from Stephen King

If you're a writer, you won't want to miss Stephen King's piece in yesterday's Washington Post. Among the good stuff:

I'm often asked if writing classes are any help, and my immediate and enthusiastic answer is always, Yes! Writing classes are wonderful for the writers who teach them and can't make ends meet without that supplementary income. They are also good places for unattached people to meet, talk about books and movies, have a few drinks and possibly hook up. But teach you to write? No. A writing class will not teach you to write. The only things that can teach writing are reading, writing and the semi-domestication of one's muse. These are all activities one must pursue alone.

Aspiring writers are told these things over and over again and constantly push them aside. They want something quicker. A magic bullet at Breadloaf. A secret passageway at Iowa. They are desperate for someone to tell them it's not what you do but who you know. And when I tell aspiring writers I didn't know anybody, I see the light go out of their eyes.

Aspiring authors who persist in inquiring about secret handshakes get no admiration from me. They're not passionate about writing--they're simply interested in the wealth and recognition they believe must come with publication. The writers I respect are real writers; those who are struggling to learn and grow and write the best stories they can. Even when they suffer crushing disappointments, they don't quit because they must write. I get that.

I don't enjoy horror novels, but Stephen King is an amazing writer and worth listening to any time he talks about the craft. I highly reccommend his book On Writing.


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10 comments:

Sue said...

He doesn't mince words that's for sure! To read King's struggle back to the keyboard after being hit by a car is worth reading. It made me examine whether I would go through all that struggle to get back to my work.

And seeing how he edited a piece of his own is helpful as well.

Mirtika said...

He's right and he's wrong. Here's why. My writing improved taking writing classes BECAUSE they forced me to make the daily space to READ and TALK about what made a story or poem or novel work or not work artistically, and it made me take the time (want to or not) to write daily and prepare that writing for criticism.

For some people, having to make the time via commitment to coursework, is freeing. Life obligations so often intrude, after all. But if you get to say, "Hey, I gotta have this for class Tuesday", then you have the freedom to spend hours and hours guiltlessly writing and reading and analyzing and revising. And there is the added element that you are forced to read fiction and poetry you might not normally read--classics, award winning stuff--that broadens your zone.

If someone spends 2 or 4 years doing that, their writing WILL IMPROVE, because they'll be doing what King recommends--writing, reading, writing some more. Whether they pursue it after courses are done, that's another question. Persistence and discipline and determination...those factor almost as much as talent. The domestication of the Muse part is the hard one.

Mir

Pattie said...

I find this article fascinating in that it is so different from what we hear as aspiring writers, from those "real" writers who are published and successful.

Josie said...

Brenda, thanks for bringing this article to my attention! I've read Stephen King's "On Writing" about six times now. Every time I read it, I pick up a new point I hadn't absorbed. Guess it's about time to read it again!

Brenda Coulter said...

I was thinking the same thing, Josie--time to read it again.

Mir, I see how a writing class might help one get into the writing routine. But sooner or later, all classes come to an end--and the writer who has learned to rely on that external motivation is likely to founder.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

that is a very good book on writing...but then again I like most thisngs he's written, whether serious or fiction!

mercurial scribe said...

i loved On Writing. It's so true, one must simply write.

Btw, just wanted to say i love your site.

Brenda Coulter said...

Scribe, thanks for making me smile.
<3<3<3

Jason said...

Have any of you had any Stephen King sightings? I mean, like people who look like him? Frequently.

Brenda Coulter said...

Well, I think he and Garrison Keillor look enough alike to be brothers....