Stephen King saved my writing. Well, perhaps I over-state things a bit…but perhaps not. Around a month ago I nearly gave up writing.
I was working hard on my newest novel when suddenly all the wheels came off the bus, so to speak. My job got crazy, and I had to start working through lunch–my best writing time. At the same time it was looking like I might get a promotion, which would be awesome, though more demanding.
It began to look like I’d be better off giving up writing to concentrate on my job more. After all, I’ve got a good job, and it pays better than writing is likely to any time soon…if ever. Writing at home wasn’t working, either. Evenings were busy with my kids’ games, practices, and various classes, followed by nightly walks-n-talks with my wife (and our dog, though she never contributes much to the conversations). Between my busy days and evenings, what little time I left to write I spent about ready to fall asleep.
Even when I felt awake enough to write, I quickly found it much easier not to. My novel was stuck, and I really didn’t care if it ever got unstuck. It’s not like I really stood a chance of publishing, anyway. In short, I had no time nor inclination to write. I was nearly ready to give up on the whole idea, and the only reason I didn’t was that I kept putting off making a definite decision. That and I had just committed to Jennifer Bennett to become a regular contributor here on Think Tank.
Fortunately a few weeks ago Stephen King’s “On Writing” found its way to the top of my reading stack. Part memoir, part writing tutorial, it’s an engaging book (Language warning, in case you’re not familiar with King). At first it did nothing to rekindle my desire to write. Sure, his stories about how he started writing as a kid were interesting, and I could see some of his enthusiasm in me, but he also had ample stories about how hard life was at times before he finally “made it.” The book was as much a warning as a motivator.
Then I came to the section where he begins his writing advice. Here he really shines. What things I didn’t already know to do he makes a strong case for learning to. He doesn’t belabor any single point, but strings his advice together in rapid, pithy succession. He constantly warns about the dangers of not learning those skills, but he also gives you examples and makes it seem attainable.
But the real kicker was the end of the book in which he relates his experiences in being hit by a van one day on his walk, and how writing helped get him through a difficult part of his recovery. For him, he explains, writing is not about the money. He loves what he does, and wouldn’t want to do anything else. Something clicked in my own head about then. Somewhere in the past year or so writing became about money for me, about improving as a writer so I can get published as soon as possible. It became work.
That’s not entirely a bad thing. We can love our work. But for me it was getting to the point that if I couldn’t make money at it some day I wasn’t sure I really wanted to keep doing it. Stephen King set me straight. Writing can be, and should be, fun.
So I decided it was time to have fun again. My current novel is on indefinite hold while I write something for fun. I’m not using my writing software, either, just Notepad. I’m writing whatever comes to mind, not worrying about where the story is going or where it’s been. Call it a writing vacation or rehab, perhaps even an intervention.
Is it working? I don’t know. I haven’t written all that much, but I’ve had a blast the last day or so researching flour mills and grain elevators because the setting I’ve written myself into requires that I know a thing or two about them. That path led me to an OSHA report about a horrible accident at a granary facility that killed seven people and injured ten more when the grain dust combusted in a chain reaction that turned the entire mill into a fireball from end to end (and that’s saying something! The mill in question is enormous!).
Will that figure in my story? I haven’t a clue. But I’m having fun! I’m starting to look forward to writing again. There is a road back, and at least part of the credit must go to Stephen King. Oddly enough, the only book of his I’ve ever read was this one, but I couldn’t have picked a better one to start with.
One of the most common pieces of advice we hear as writers is “never give up!” I’m not going to tell you that, because I do believe there are legitimate reasons for giving up, or at least delaying the dream for awhile. But for many of us, perhaps what we need is to hit “pause” for a little while until life calms down, or to step back a bit and look at what it is that has us discouraged. Is it really time to quit, or is it just time to set this project aside and start something new, something more fun, like a short-story palate-cleanser? Or perhaps we need to take a step back and figure out why we’re stuck, and either think through a solution or skip it and come back to it later.
Or maybe we just need Stephen King to take us out behind the woodshed and remind us why we should be writing.