31 March 2011

Writing habits: Stephen King

Stephen King
Stephen King was one of my favourite authors when I was younger. I recently found his book of short stories Just After Sunset  and was reminded why. 

In the introduction he describes his early career, when he was teaching English and working in an industrial laundry at nights. He was earning just enough to support his habits of buying books, beer and cigarettes (in that order).

Stephen was also writing short stories for magazines and says he wrote them fast and hard in the laundry room on his wife’s little Olivetti portable.  There was no time to think about structure or character development so he was just ‘flying by the seat of his pants’. 

The interesting thing for me was that he goes on to say how, even for him, short story writing is a ‘fragile craft’ easily forgotten if not used constantly.

Stephen King’s rigorous writing schedule

In his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft  Stephen King suggests working to a rigorous writing schedule and explains that he writes ten pages a day, six days a week, even on holidays. That is about a thousand words a day – half my target but when I think about it my average output is probably less once I take into account the days when I don’t write anything. 

The importance of reading

King also stresses the importance of reading other people’s work and says ‘If you want to write, you must read a lot and write a lot.’  It may seem obvious but are you reading as much as you used to?  As well as introducing you to new styles and plot structures, regular reading helps you to develop what he calls an ‘intimacy with the process of writing’.  If you read a lot and often it will help you to understand what works - and what doesn’t.

I always thought of myself as a voracious reader and would routinely get through my limit five library books every two weeks.  I would also get through various paperbacks and of course my own collection of books, which I would re-read often.   Looking back I realised that television and my lifestyle changed all this without me realising it. 

I remembered a quote from Joanna Penn that “TV was banished from our house and since then I have written four books.”  I’m not sure I am ready for such a big step but I took the television out of the bedroom and immediately found that I am reading more again – Stephen King would definitely approve.

Other posts about the habits of famous writers:

2 comments:

  1. 10 pages a day is significantly more than 1000 words.

    One page typed and double spaced is about 500 words, to give you an idea. 10 pages is closer to 5000, assuming one bothers to double space his work when he writes. Then again, I know he hand wrote Dreamcatcher and I don't know what word processor he currently uses. But whatever he's doing, he's writing way more than a thousand words a day.

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    1. You are right (and since this post I've upped my average to about 2K a day)

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