On Writing Fiction

stephen-kingThis is my fourth blog post about Stephen King. Similar to Donald Trump and his obsession with how many times his image has appeared on Time Magazine’s cover, Stephen King should be tweeting about the Other Stuff. He’s gotten more real estate than anyone but me.

The other day I attended a large work meeting. As an ice breaker, the facilitator separated the crowd in an open spot in the conference room: coffee v. tea. I aligned with the coffee drinkers, and I was a little irked at how many chose tea. Half the crowd proudly proclaimed allegiance to an inferior drink. It made no sense to me.

Next, she split us up by beer or wine. I love both, but I quit drinking several years ago because, well, I’m a problem drinker. I moved off to the side of the room and felt left out. Last, she separated us into fiction and nonfiction. That may seem like an odd category for a business meeting, but our business is a library, everyone spends all their time thinking about books. I didn’t know where to stand.

My reading is overwhelmingly fiction, but exclusively, I write nonfiction. Until now.

I’ve known about Stephen King’s how-to guide On Writing for more than a decade, but it never once occurred to me to read it. First off, it’s nonfiction, but more to the point, I don’t consider King that great a writer. This may seem strange, because if someone asked me to name my five favorite authors, King would be on the list, probably number three or four. Anytime I strike out in the library, when I can’t find any books to borrow, I swing by the Ks. King’s got dozens of books, almost five dozen books. I can always find one that I haven’t read… or want to read again.

I think King is a masterful story teller, but as a writer, I consider him indulgent and sloppy. Many of his books are twice as long as they need to be. He’s constantly introducing characters only to kill them off a few pages later. He tangents into subplots that have nothing to do with the story and extend his books by hundreds of pages. Anything that pops into his head makes its way into the book. The dude needs an editor.

Somewhere along the way, I decided that good writing is sparse writing. Like an artist making use of negative space, I believe an important part of the story is told by what’s left out. King leaves nothing out.

Recently, an online periodical called the Good Men Project picked me up as a syndicated contributor. They mine my blog for content, stories they think would enhance their site and publish them weekly. Every Tuesday I wait for nine o’clock to arrive, and I get an email telling me which story they published. It’s become one of my favorite parts of the week.

It’s a total scam. I do nothing, and my posts get republished. The only thing that’s required from me is a tweet to my followers displaying a link to my own story. I’m not actually sure this is even a requirement, nobody ever said it was, it’s just the impression I got by reading between the lines. Negative space.

I’m always surprised by which story they pick. They seem to be moving through my blog linearly. Everything they’ve published so far is really old. One of the first stories they published is called Stephen King. A couple of days after my tweet, my brother responded saying he liked the piece. He also asked me if I read On Writing.

We share genes. We grew up in the same household. It’s unsurprising that a pair of brothers both love to write. In addition to his day job, Dana teaches writing courses for Johns Hopkins University. He takes his writing seriously. I was shocked he was endorsing an unserious author like Stephen King. So surprised, I rushed out and bought the book. And I don’t buy books, I borrow them from my work.

I haven’t finished the book yet. Being nonfiction, it didn’t keep my attention. Plus, I’m now spending all my free time writing. On Writing spurred a sudden desire to write a short story. It’s slow going. Making stuff up is hard. The story has a bunch of medical jargon I need to research. My word count is pretty pathetic for a solid week of daily writing. But I’m having fun. And for the first time in five years, I’m writing daily.

Is this blog post a recommendation for On Writing? I think so. So far, King hasn’t told me anything I didn’t already know, but hearing it again never hurts. What he’s done is give me a solid kick in the butt to get writing. And magically, what I’m writing is fiction.

12 thoughts on “On Writing Fiction

  1. I have attempted to read “On writing” several times. I can’t get more than a few pages read before I am looking for something else to do. I don’t get it and I feel left out. On the flip side, I have read other craft books in a single sitting. Glad you are writing every day. That is a huge accomplishment. Congrats.

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  2. I’m currently reading “On Writing” and I find it an easier read. His voice is more natural, because it’s nonfiction. It’s not spun yard in the same way he does his fiction. I’m a fan of his work, mainly because they are fast, indulgent reads and reading his perspectives has helped me with my own writing. It’s giving me bits to think about when I approach my sentences. I’m also enjoying your writing style and look forward to reading more!

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    • “bits to think about when I approach my sentences” Yes, I got this from the book too. It’s almost like he’s watching over my shoulder gasping when I write a passive sentence. Thank you for your compliment.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Like you, I can’t even imagine why there would be so many tea drinkers in a group. It’s a head-scratcher. Also like you, I can’t imagine writing fiction. I will anxiously await the results of your fiction writing experience. Are you going to publish it on your blog?

    Liked by 1 person

    • So this will sound bad. If it really sucks it’s going on the blog with a nonfiction post attached to it. If I decide I like it I’m going to send it out for publication and/or take it to a workshop. It’s going really slowly. I’m crossing the expanse of a day from eight different perspectives.

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  4. I really look forward to reading your short story. It’s great that the book has got you writing again – if nothing else. I have to admit although ‘on writing’ is on my ‘must-read’ list – I haven’t read one Stephen King book. I was actually thinking about picking one up just the other day. I think this is another sign I should.

    Oh one more thing. Tea rocks. I like coffee but tea is my thing 🙂

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    • So I finished the first draft of the story and realized it is really thin and needs to be filled out. I’ll start that next week or so. You like tea because you’re british

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  5. I’ve never read a single one of King’s books but I picked up On Writing whilst backpacking down the West Coast. It was an easy read and it changed the way I approach the page. I’d recommend picking it up again. After all, you find magic when you least expect it right?

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