Thursday, September 27, 2012

On Reading Stephen King's On Writing

Dear Mr. King,

Okay, so first off I should probably tell you I’ve never been a big fan of yours—I am sorry. It isn’t so much you, as it is your genre. I read Carrie as a teenager and it scared the living bejezzus out of me, so I never read anything else. Everyone I know loves your books, so this is really all about me, and not about you. I know you are a very talented and imaginative writer; your work simply gives me nightmares.

So, when I finally started writing after a lifetime of saying “one day”, everyone recommended I read your book on the craft, On Writing. I kept putting it off, because, well, sorry again, you wrote it and it might scare me, and give me writing nightmares, where pens and paper and computers come after me wielding axes and are covered in blood. Ewww.

But I finally decided to bite the bullet and read it. What a fabulous surprise when I could not put it down! The memoir half is riveting and one thing in particular became obvious to me as I read that section: I sadly did not live a painful enough childhood to render me a talented writer. Like Frank McCourt in Angela’s Ashes, you suffered some fairly grueling experiences and were not a robust, healthy lad. I had scarlet fever as a very young child—does that count for anything? I still remember the hallucinations, all these decades later—surely that should count for something!

But of course the reason for reading your marvelous book is for the insights into the craft. I’ve read numerous books written on the subject, but yours is the most helpful, straight forward, and most  enjoyable to read. If it is alright with you Mr. King I would like to share with my readers some of the wisdom I’ve learned from your book.

Oh, and I’ve decided to give a book or two of yours a try. But if they give me nightmares you’ll be hearing from me again. Oh yes…you’ll be hearing from me…

Monica Knightley

Some of the stand-out bits of Stephen King’s wisdom, as in ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT:
    1. “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” This is my favorite, because I’ve been doing this all my life. Easy. He adds, “Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.”

    1. King isn’t a plotter. He puts characters in a situation and begins to narrate, allowing the characters to do things THEIR way. I’m not sure if this can work for all of us, after all he’s brilliant and can pull it off. I would love to write like this, and maybe someday I will be able to, but I’m not there yet.

    1. Dust off that copy of Strunk and White’s ELEMENTS OF STYLE! (Strunk and White would tell you there is an error in that sentence- let’s see if you can find it.)

    1. “Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.” Writers must be vigilant against overdescribing and underdescribing. I’m working hard to master this one.

    1. Use passive tense verbs sparingly. Active verbs are king.

    1. “The adverb is not your friend.” And “…the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” I know this. I’ve read this so many times. So I want to know this: Why am I teaching adverbs to my second graders?

    1. Avoid dialogue attribution whenever possible, and never, ever use adverbs in those evil attributions. “…while to write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is divine.” So simple, so clear.

    1. When you rewrite you’re taking out all the things that are not the story. I’m posting this in my writing space. (see 9)

    1. A writer needs a writing space and it needs a door the writer is willing to shut, thus telling the world you mean business. Most important, this space should contain nothing that can distract the writer. He obviously (adverb alert!) wrote this book before the dawn of social media.

    1. “Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference.” Thank you Dear Husband for believing in me!

    Happy Writing!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Inception to Rejection or The Education of a Fledgling Writer

Long time readers of this humble blog know that once upon a time I had a great idea for a young adult historical novel that was going to require a substantial amount of research. Not wanting to wait to begin writing something and thus practice my craft I began writing what would become known as The Practice Novel while I worked on the research for the other. It turned out that writing TPN was great fun. I quickly finished the first draft and started working on the rewrites, because after all, this was to be a Learning Experience. Many rewrites later the editing began. When I finally had a finished, polished manuscript the next obvious lesson for me would the query process. As I shared in recent posts, I learned how to write the dreaded synopsis and query letter, picked three publishers to send this package off to, and with shaking hand pressed the SEND button. I had almost accomplished the full Learning Experience. Only one experience was left to be checked off the list, and I was looking forward to it: the rejection letter. I had queried with the goal being a nice form rejection letter. Then I could consider myself a real writer. But the great writing gods had different plans, and their sense of humor is quite twisted.

Four days after I hit that send button I received a request for a partial. Surprised and delighted I sent it off, knowing that the rejection was that much closer. How thrilling. I wouldn’t allow myself to get too excited about it because after all this was all being done in the name of education. My education as a writer. Just another step along the way. When the kind editor emailed me a week later to tell me she had enjoyed the first 50 pages and asked for the full manuscript I had a significantly harder time staying in my Happy Place of ‘this is all nothing more than a learning experience.’ I foolishly allowed myself to begin thinking that maybe, just maybe, The Practice Novel had a chance.

Of course the inevitable rejection arrived less than two weeks later. However, it wasn’t a form rejection, but a nice, long email explaining exactly where I had gone wrong. I learned a lot from that email, and I will treasure it always. Sure it smarted a bit for a day or two. Yes, I Googled ‘famous rejection letters’ and found great solace in reading rejections of what are now considered classics. (And you really have to feel awful for those twelve publishers who turned down Harry Potter.) But it is pretty exciting to be in such great company!

I’ve been rejected! I’m a writer!