Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Mentor for the Month: Stephen King, Part 2: The Commandment

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” –Stephen King, On Writing

Time for a little self-evaluation: Do you follow this train of thought?

For the first part, the reading, I think that I do pretty okay. Currently, however, (and I blame J.K. Rowling for this) I have gone through a ‘reading block’. I did not think something like this could happen. I mean, how do you not read? Just pick up the book, open the cover and let your eyes rove along the lines of words.

Nope. Since Harry Potter finished up I’ve been at a complete loss as to what to read. I think I wanted to pick up something un-put-down-able like HP but have been failing to tell myself that any book is good enough. Just read. Just do it.

Then, the night before last, it occurred to me to do the opposite. I would pick up a book that I knew I would not be able to finish in one shot. I picked up the largest, heaviest, thickest tome I could find, knowing I would have to put it down. No, not War and Peace. The book that I selected to pull me out of my reader’s block is Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. And I’m sooo glad I did. It’s really quite good, but I can put it down without feeling guilty because it’s like a reading marathon…a good companion to the writing marathon I’m putting myself through.

As far as writing goes, King recommends a really strenuous writing program. And if I did not have a full time job and a kid and a half then I would gladly write for four to six straight without any complaining. I realize that this sounds like “I have no time” excuse, but I have a really hard time buying that when King was daddy to three small children and working in a laundry and/or teaching high school English that he wrote for six hours straight either. (Or maybe I should take up smoking?)

My writing schedule is something more like this:
Tues-Thurs: write while Owen is at school (three hours), if I have to work one of those days then I swing it during my lunch 15 minutes and sometime in the morning/afternoon depending on what shift I’m working.
Fri: generally a no-go
Sat-Mon: early in the morning is seeming to work best, I have anywhere from an hour to an hour and half.

I do try to write something everyday. Now that I am focusing on finishing my novel (seeing the home stretch!) then I keep my butt in the chair a little more than normal. So, I think I do okay. How’s about you other writers out there? Are you workaholics? Or write-when-the-mood-strikes? Or somewhere in between?


  1. I have a hard time with a writing routine. The general irregularity of my schedule gets a little credit here, but mostly it's lack of discipline. However, if I set a time for myself, I'm usually pretty good at following through on it - provided I'm not at home.

    The "but" here is that I spend a great deal of time writing things other than stories, like letters to Camii and updates on my blog. Both of those happen with decent regularity.

    My schedule: I try to submit something each month to the group, which means I have to write something each month. The thesis is also providing good incentive to be more disciplined.

  2. I used to regularly write during my lunch break. I liked it, I actually was able to focus and crank things out fairly effectively. But, after the new guy came in, somehow that got pushed to side in favor of being sociable. Ever since I have had a hard time finding a similarly regular time to do it. I used to think I needed to be "In the right mood". But upon reflection, it seems that I do better when I set time aside and say "Right now is the time you have to write."

    I just need to work on being more consistent with it.

  3. Hi Jenny :) I wanted to jump into this blogging stuff, so you're my first comment.

    I have also experienced readers block at alarmingly frequent intervals (usually during school). However, when I find that actually have free time, the flood gates open up and I'll read several books in a week. I find that my writing works the same way. I won't pick up a pencil for weeks, but then I write five + poems in a month. Weird. One thing I have noticed though is that I generally like to compose in my head while I'm doing other things. Like driving, or working, etc. If I can zone out a little I like to start piecing together lines, then I try to commit it to memory, then scambble to write them down later.

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  5. See. Did you think I was lying when I le praised Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrel. Is good book. Is need be read by many folk a lot. Is talk like Russian day.

  6. You know, I think that you're doing exactly what King did when he wasn't able to be a full time writer--You write whenever it's humanly possible, which is actually quite a bit when you think about it. I think that what King meant was that you shouldn't let life stop you from writing. If you only have an hour here and there, then use that hour. Don't let the fact that it's only an hour become an excuse not to write. Just put the words on the page to keep them flowing.

    I wish I could say I follow this advice. I can't even really use my thesis as an excuse. It's not like I write on that all day every day. I have a lot of time that I should be using to write my stuff, but I don't. I don't know if it's because of burnout or laziness, but I do know that I'm being a very bad writer in not practising my craft. Don't feel bad about the limited time you have to write, at least you use that time.


Fellow thieves! Please feel free to let me know what you've taken from this post - or share pertinent information that you don't mind me stealing.