Book: On Writing by Stephen King

„Writing is a telepathy” – it’s a process that transports thought from the writers mind to the reader’s.

The biggest takeaway from this book is:

Damn, this guy knows how to write books! I know, insightful!

Part autobiography – part writing manual, „on writing” is a deep dive into Stephen King’s writing process.

An author of Carrie, The Green Mile, The Dark Tower series and countless other stories, Stephen is prolific to a point where people (including my mom) think he has ghost writers.

Now, pushed to spill his secrets, Stephen addresses his prolific career. The book is not self-congratulatory at all. It consists of two parts – one about writer and one about writing.

The writer

In the first part of the book, Stephen briefly tells his life story and it’s exactly what you would expect. He tells amusing stories about his teenage adventures, and later cocaine. All in all, I respect him more now than before reading this book. He just seems like a fun guy. Not only because of the cocaine.

He grew up poor, hardworking and fascinated with the stories. He kept writing since the age of 7 and not long after started sending his stories to journals and magazines, accruing quite a stash of rejection letters.

But he kept improving his art, kept going at it, getting better and better.

He immersed himself in storytelling – mostly pulp fiction, good writing and the kitschy movies of the 50s and 60s. He was at a drive-in cinema when his wife broke into labour.

This is not at all surprising for me. In fact, that’s precisely what Malcolm Gladwell discovered in Outliers and Walter Isaacson explained in Innovators.

Immersing yourself in your art and devoting hours of deliberate practice is key to being ’the best in the world’ in your area of expertise.

The Writing process

The second half of the book holds a few writing principles but is not in any way a curriculum.

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.

  1. Read, Read and read some more. You need to absorb new writing styles and writing tools, so you need to read any chance you get.
  2. Some well-behaved people will not considered it good manners to read while eating. If there is anything slowing down your progress more than not reading any chance you get, it will be listening to well-behaved people.
  3. Write a lot. A LOT.
  4. Ideal paragraph explains itself in the first sentence and in later sentences provides supporting evidence.
  5. Grammar is important. Adverbs are risky and sleazy. Especially in the dialogue. „He begged pitifully”
  6. Stories are made of:
    1. Narrative that moves the story from A to B
    2. Descriptions transferring the reality to the readers mind
    3. Dialogue
  7. Everybody is the hero of their own story. The best characters are the ones that are the heroes from their point of view
  8. “Write behind a closed door, edit in the open. The first draft belongs to you, the second – to anyone willing to read” – a concept similar to „Shitty first draft” of Anne Lamott
    Your second draft IS NOT an opportunity to add more stuff.
    Second version = First version – 10%

Benefits of daily writing practice

In the interviews I used to say that I write every day except Christmas, Fourth of July and my Birthday.
It’s a lie. In an interview you have to say something that sounds a bit funny and I didn’t want to look like a maniac.
The truth is that I write every day, including Christmas, Fourth of July and my Birthday which I try to ignore.

Stephen King

After taking the “Write of Passage” course, I finally understood why daily writing is helpful. Stephen’s reasoning is quite similar:

  • It gets the avarage ideas out of the way. You just have to flush the obvious out of your system
  • In the beginning you will use a hodge-podge of other people’s styles. There is nothing wrong with that. Only with writing you will be able to grow your own style. It needs room to develop and that room is the page.
  • Stephen says that when he is not writing daily, the characters in his mind start to ‘calcify’.
    It becomes harder and harder to make them move and it feels more like work.
    I found the same thing in regards to my blogging – when I don’t create something every day, it becomes harder and harder the next one.

”Write what you know about. If you know plumbing, the story about Space Plumbers is a good concept.”

You know what? I just very well may do that.

Book: The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield

War of Art is a book about creative struggle. Pressfield writes about Resistance as the ultimate nemesis of creativity, a Darth Vader of any creative endeavour.

It applies to enterpreneurs, poets, moviemakers and writers alike. If you want to make something worthwhile, you will be harassed by resistance. Even if you are trying to loose weight, resistance is there to try to stop you.

Amazon Link

My takeway is:

Don’t wait for inspiration. Combat resistance and do the work. Do it for the sake of your art, not to get ahead.

Feel fear? You’re on the right track.

My highlights

  • an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.
  • Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet.
  • It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and erectile dysfunction.
  • Call it overstatement but I’ll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.
  • RESISTANCE IS INVISIBLE
  • RESISTANCE IS INTERNAL
  • RESISTANCE IS INSIDIOUS
  • RESISTANCE IS IMPERSONAL
  • Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.
  • RESISTANCE IS UNIVERSAL
  • The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.
  • RESISTANCE NEVER SLEEPS
  • RESISTANCE PLAYS FOR KEEPS
  • Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our fear of it. Master that fear and we conquer Resistance
  • RESISTANCE IS FUELED BY FEAR
  • RESISTANCE ONLY OPPOSES IN ONE DIRECTION
  • RESISTANCE IS MOST POWERFUL AT THE FINISH LINE
  • The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight. At this point, Resistance knows we’re about to beat it. It hits the panic button. It marshals one last assault and slams us with everything it’s got.
  • Resistance by definition is self-sabotage. But
  • The awakening artist must be ruthless, not only with herself but with others. Once you make your break, you can’t turn around for your buddy who catches his trouser leg on the barbed wire.
  • Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize.
  • Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives.
  • Anything that draws attention to ourselves through pain-free or artificial means is a manifestation of Resistance.
  • Creating soap opera in our lives is a symptom of Resistance. Why put in years of work designing a new software interface when you can get just as much attention by bringing home a boyfriend with a prison record?
  • Dad gets drunk, Mom gets sick, Janie shows up for church with an Oakland Raiders tattoo. It’s more fun than a movie. And it works: Nobody gets a damn thing done.
  • Doctors estimate that seventy to eighty percent of their business is non-health-related. People aren’t sick, they’re self- dramatizing.
  • Casting yourself as a victim is the antithesis of doing your work. Don’t do it. If you’re doing it, stop.
  • We overthrow the programming of advertising, movies, video games,
  • The fundamentalist entertains no such notion. In his view, humanity has fallen from a higher state. The truth is not out there awaiting revelation; it has already been revealed. The word of God has been spoken and recorded by His prophet, be he Jesus, Muhammad, or Karl Marx.
  • Fundamentalism is the philosophy of the powerless, the conquered, the displaced and the dispossessed.
  • Fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive. There is no such thing as fundamentalist art.
  • The humanist believes that humankind, as individuals, is called upon to co-create the world with God.
  • The paradox seems to be, as Socrates demonstrated long ago, that the truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery. While those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.
  • The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
  • The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work.
  • order for a book (or any project or enterprise) to hold our attention for the length of time it takes to unfold itself, it has to plug into some internal perplexity or passion that is of paramount importance to us.
  • What counted was that I had, after years of running from it, actually sat down and done my work.
  • What better way of avoiding work than going to a workshop? But what I hate even worse is the word support.
  • Oh yeah? Have you ever gone a week without a rationalization?
  • Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. “I write only when inspiration strikes,” he replied. “Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”
  • I’m keenly aware of the Principle of Priority, which states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first.
  • The years have taught me one skill: how to be miserable. I know how to shut up and keep humping.
  • Marines love to be miserable.
  • All of us are pros in one area: our jobs.
  • 1)   We show up every day.
  • 2)   We show up no matter what.
  • 3)   We stay on the job all day.
  • 4)   We are committed over the long haul.
  • 5)   The stakes for us are high and real.
  • We accept remuneration for our labor.
  • We do not overidentify with our jobs.
  • The amateur, on the other hand, overidentifies with his avocation, his artistic aspiration.
  • We master the technique of our jobs.
  • We have a sense of humor about our jobs.
  • We receive praise or blame in the real world.
  • the more important its accomplishment is to the evolution of your soul, the more you will fear it and the more Resistance you will experience facing it.
  • It uses his own enthusiasm against him.
  • The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist.
  • The professional respects his craft. He does not consider himself superior to it.
  • The professional cannot allow the actions of others to define his reality
  • “Good for you,” he said without looking up. “Start the next one today.”
  • that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would not otherwise have occurred.
  • “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now.”
  • I was the salty old Gunny. The power to take charge was in my hands; all I had to do was believe it.
  • When we deliberately alter our consciousness in any way, we’re trying to find the Self.
  • We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become.
  • There’s a problem with the hierarchical orientation, though. When the numbers get too big, the thing breaks down. A pecking order can hold only so many chickens.
  • The artist must operate territorially. He must do his work for its own sake.
  • When the hack sits down to work, he doesn’t ask himself what’s in his own heart. He asks what the market is looking for.
  • 1)   A territory provides sustenance.
  • 2)   A territory sustains us without any external input.
  • 3)   A territory can only be claimed alone.
  • 4)   A territory can only be claimed by work.
  • 5)   A territory returns exactly what you put in.
  • If I were the last person on earth, would I still do it?
  • Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.