It should come as no surprise that I love Stephen King. The Master of Horror is the master for a reason–when it comes to writing, he knows what he’s talking about. Whether you enjoy his work, you can’t deny that the man does work. In fact, he’s one of the hardest-working writers I’ve come to respect–especially because he, like me, heralds the importance of “doing the work” in order to achieve writing success.
Writer of all experience levels can learn something from Stephen King. (While we’re at it, if you haven’t read On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft yet, what are you waiting for?) With that in mind, here’s a list of my favorite Stephen King quotes about writing, as well as what we can learn from them.
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
Like I’ve mentioned, King is a writer who wholeheartedly advocates working hard, putting pen to paper or fingers to keys, and getting serious about your writing. He also believes that no amount of courses, seminars, or special training can make up for not sitting down and writing. This philosophy is encouraging–with hard work, almost anyone can become successful as a writer. Additionally, if you want to become a better writer, King recommends writing and reading as much as you can. That’s it. (It’s not exactly that easy, but that’s about the gist.)
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
See my previous point. (Have I mentioned that King is a dedicated worker?) In King’s opinion–and in mine–true writers don’t just write when they’re feeling inspired. Instead, they come to the blank page ready to do the work, regardless of whether any inspiration shows up.
“tHE SCARIEST MOMENT IS ALWAYS JUST BEFORE YOU START. AFTER THAT, THINGS CAN ONLY GET BETTER.”
Having written hundreds of novels, King understands that the hardest challenge for writers to overcome is often just getting started. Once you can overcome the mental hurdle and the anxiety that comes from staring at a blank Word document, a lot of writing is downhill from there. If you’re still having trouble getting started, check out my post about writing for just a little bit at a time.
“To write is human, to edit is divine.”
You must edit. No matter how good you think your first draft is (and who does that, anyway?), you won’t be able to put out a good book without editing it. This quote also insinuates that it’s okay to feel like your first draft is garbage. After all, you can always edit once you finish the draft!
“i have spent a good many years since–too many, i think–being ashamed about what i write.”
This issue is one I used to run into all the time. I’ve had people look down on me for writing YA or for writing darker subject matter than some of my contemporaries. With Reflections, I’ve already had some people express concerns that it’s something I shouldn’t be writing–but you know what? I don’t feel that way. And like Stephen King, I don’t think it does a writer any good to feel ashamed about what they’re writing. If you’re writing what you love, and you’re writing for yourself–both of which you should be–there’s no reason to feel anything less than happy with what you’re putting out there.
What are your favorite quotes about writing?
“To write is human, to edit is divine.” @brianawrites wants to know what your favorite writing quotes are! (Click to tweet)
The other day my mother and I went to see Maleficent. In spite of not knowing much about the film going in, she and I both thoroughly enjoyed it. From the cinematography to the makeup to the characters themselves, everything was wonderful.
What captured my attention most of all was Maleficent.
Because she was portrayed as a sympathetic character rather than a one-dimensional villain.
I’ll refrain from spoiling as much as I can. All you need to know is that in this version of the classic tale, we get much more of Maleficent’s backstory. We see her as a young faerie and learn about the events that have hardened her heart. It is easier for us to understand her (otherwise questionable) actions because we know her past experiences and have a better sense of her wants and motivations.
Most importantly, Maleficent is dynamic. At the end of the film, she is a different woman than she is toward the beginning. Once again, I don’t want to spoil, so that’s all I’m going to say about that.
Maleficent was delightful, refreshing, and entertaining. While watching the film, I also learned a great deal about writing likable and three-dimensional villains. Whenever you want to add depth to your baddies, make sure they have a backstory, clear motive for what they do, and some kind of arc.
If the villain hasn’t been changed by the events of the story, then what is the point for the story at all?
Have you seen the movie? What did you think? What do you think is the key to creating quality villains?
Twitter is one of the greatest under-utilized resources for writers at the moment. It’s a great way to promote your work, communicate with other writers, find some writing advice, and have a fantastic time. I only recently started spending some serious time on Twitter, and I could kick myself for not using it sooner.
So why should you set up a Twitter account?
Well, this social media platform is a spectacular way to get your name out there and build up a following. You can promote your work, support other writers who want to promote their work, and link to content that you think other people might find interesting. I promote my blog posts and freelance work through Twitter and it’s gotten me a lot more exposure than I would’ve gotten otherwise.
Twitter is also a great place to get in touch with other writers. I’ve met so many wonderful people on Twitter, most of them writers. They support my work and I support theirs. We talk about all things writing and non-writing. If you’re not currently involved with groups of other writers, Twitter is the best way to meet like-minded individuals. Whenever I interact with other writers on the site, I feel as though there is a sense of community.
Another good reason to use Twitter? Writing advice. Seriously. There are so many amazing tips that get passed around for free. All you have to do is type “writing tips” or “writing advice” into the search bar and millions of helpful Tweets will pop up. The internet is truly a glorious place.
If you don’t have a Twitter account, you need to sign up. If you already have one, you should be using it more. And you should definitely be following other writers (*ahem* ME). Tell me you followed me over from this blog and I will most likely follow you back.
What do you think of Twitter? How does it help you as a writer?
David Morrell is a genius.
There’s no getting around that fact. After reading this book, I am more than convinced that this man has more writing talent in his pinky than I do in my whole body.
When I mentioned on Twitter that Stephen King’s On Writing is one of the most influential books about writing that I have ever read, someone suggested that I look up David Morrell’s book The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime of Lessons about Writing and Publishing.
I’m delighted I did.
This book, like King’s, provides a veritable treasure trove of knowledge regarding the craft and the business of writing. However, Morrell takes a much more practical approach, giving out advice for you to use in your daily writing sessions. King’s book is largely memoir with some practical bits sprinkled in. On the whole, Morrell seems so much more approachable.
The Successful Novelist is suitable for writers of all skill levels. Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been writing for ages, this book is for you.
It’s also short, succinct, and easy to read and understand. What more could you want?
Go out and pick up your copy today. This book will change your life.
Have you read this book? What did you think of it? What book would you like to see me review next?
Back to the Future is one of my favorite movies. This is due not just to the fact that I love eighties films, but also to the acting, directing, and most importantly, the writing. One of the best interviews I’ve read was a conversation with Bob Gale, one of the co-writers of Back to the Future. I’d like to share a little bit of the interview with you.
What do you think about theories on how to write?
First and foremost – don’t let anyone tell you they have a ‘method’ for making a story into a success. Nobody does, and if anyone says they do, they are lying. There is no magic formula, and mercifully, there never will be. If there was such a method, there would be no bad stories, and I don’t think that’s the case now, is it?! All you can ever do as a writer is write your own story your way. Master your craft, of course, by reading stories, and learn from what other writers say about what worked for them, and from teachers about story theory. The information you can get this way is all interesting, and adds to your personal ability, but you must accept all these opinions only for what they can do in helping you to establish for yourself a working method that works for you.
Remember, even with a formula or rule book that seems incredibly convincing or appears to be globally accepted, all that’s happening is that someone is giving their opinion; and often that someone hasn’t actually had any success themselves. Formal learning is only useful if it helps you to find your own voice and establish your own personal method. Your rules are the only ones that really matter for your story.
Do you consider story structure in your own development process?
No. Of all the magic ‘how to write’ methods, I specifically don’t agree with any that are based around story structure. Structure is not a good starting point for a creative process. Stories develop around characters and their behaviours, learning and growth. Structure results from this development. Of course, structure does exist at the scene level, and as you write your scenes, your story will gain a structure under the surface, but it’s not a starting point for development. People talk about acts and how they must deliver the story in three acts or five acts, but acts don’t even exist for a novelist or scriptwriter! Acts are there for practical reasons in physical theatre – to change costumes and switch scenery around – but acts have no place in defining how you create your story. Yes, you can define where acts start and finish once a story is complete (I’m not sure why you’d want to, but you can) but there’s no sense whatever in trying to write a story driven by acts – or even consider acts – unless it is genuinely going to have a curtain going up and down, or the modern equivalent – advertisement breaks in a TV story. For a novel or film script – forget about acts.
How do you develop your own stories?
All writers face the same starting point. We start with a story idea and the challenge is to get from this idea to a beautifully developed story that remains faithful to that original idea. Let me tell you how Back to the Future came together.
Like any other writers, Robert Zemeckis and I started with an idea, and ours looked like this:
“A kid goes back in time. He meets his parents when they were young and his mother falls in love with him.”
That was it. The idea. The starting point. From here, we began with the logical assumption that the story will have three characters – a son and his parents. What do we reasonably know about these characters? Well, if his mother is going to fall in love with the son instead of his father, he must have different qualities from his father. So we said, what if, instead of his father being paternal to him and telling him how to behave, it was the other way around? After all, in 1955, his father is just a kid himself, so why should he be paternal? Marty from 1985 could be the streetwise, strong one, and his father can be unassertive and learn from his son. It is this difference between them that attracts his mother to Marty instead of his future father. Excellent.
So the character of George McFly takes on some shape, as does the character of Marty and Lorraine, and the story is developing through this knowledge of character. If he goes back in time, how did he time travel? In a time machine – where did it come from? Who built it? What does it look like? Maybe a corporation is making it. But, why? Maybe it is government property and it gets stolen. Maybe it’s a product of a crazy inventor, and bingo, we knew that was right, and Doc Brown was born – our fourth character. How, what, where, why…?
And for each answer we came up with, there was a set of logical implications that began to build the story. So, for example, we asked ourselves, if Marty goes back in time, what will he do when he gets there? Well, what would you do in Marty’s position? We would invent something we know about from the future that would make us famous, wouldn’t we? So we said, wouldn’t it be great if he invents rock and roll? What would this mean to the story? Well, it set the timeframe – it meant that he had to go back to around 1955. It also meant that, somewhere in the setup, Marty had to show he can play music, so his band in 1985 and his ability to play guitar and his musical ambition got its place in the story setup, and therefore in his character. Similarly, we thought why doesn’t Marty invent the skateboard? Same thing – we decided Marty would invent the skateboard in 1955, so we needed to establish him as a skateboarder in the setup. You can see straight away from these two small examples that Marty’s character is emerging all by itself – the character actions deliver behaviours – he’s going to be a guitarist in a band and he’s going to be a skateboarder – and this in turn affects the plot – he enters a Battle of the Bands competition and he gets about town using a skateboard. Plot driven by characters reacting in accordance with their natural character.
Just from these few questions and answers leading to more questions and more answers we have characters and behaviours that drive our story, in service of that original idea. We know that Doc Brown is a crazy scientist who invents a time machine. We know Marty is a streetwise cool kid, who rides a skateboard, plays in a band and goes back in time. We know that Marty’s mum, Lorraine, in 1955 is a romantic. She’s looking for a boyfriend and is constantly thinking about love. We know that Marty’s dad, George, in 1955 lacks confidence and is unassertive, and that is why Lorraine will fall for Marty instead of George when they meet. Look at that! All directly deduced from the original idea, which means the characters and behaviours make sense and the story has a cohesion and integrity as a result.
Of course, this is only a short excerpt of the interview. To read the whole thing (which I recommend doing), you should go here.
It’s every writer’s worst nightmare: you’ve been slaving over a manuscript for days, weeks, months, maybe even years when something horrifying happens and you lose all your work.
Whether it’s due to an unexpected spill, power outage, or divine intervention, there’s no denying that losing your work is a demoralizing setback. It can cause cursing, screaming, and sometimes tears.
Surely there must be another way.
I’ll share something with you: Google Drive. Seriously, Drive is the answer to your prayers. This web-based program allows you to upload existing content or start a new project in less than a minute. The text editor looks and behaves just like Microsoft Word or Pages or what have you. But that’s not the best part.
The best and most appealing feature of Google Drive is the fact that it saves your work automatically. Every letter you type is backed up to the cloud. You don’t have to take any extra measures.
It is fantastic.
Since all of your data is saved to the cloud, you can also access it when you’re away from your personal computer. If I’m working on my novel at home and go to class without my laptop, I can go to the library between classes and access my work on one of their computers. I’ve also downloaded the Drive app to my cellphone and Kindle Fire in case inspiration strikes while I’m on the go.
Google Drive is spectacular. There’s nothing more I can say. If you’re lazy about backing up your work, it’s the absolute best way to ensure you don’t lose your work without you having to put forth any effort. Give it a try and let me know what you think. You can thank me later.
I’ve been told a few times that I shouldn’t blog angry.
I’ve been sitting on this topic for a while, but I didn’t want to address it until my fury subsided. Since the How I Met Your Mother finale aired two weeks ago today, I think it’s time to write this post.
Some viewers enjoyed the HIMYM finale. An overwhelming majority did not. How can that be? It all comes down to writing–bad writing, really, with terrible choices. Die-hard fans of the show who had watched nine seasons of heartache, growth, and yearning felt betrayed to see relationships dismantled, plot lines overturned, and characters behaving inconsistently.
Clearly, the HIMYM finale has a lot to teach us about writing, especially what not to do. So, fellow writers, here’s a brief lists of don’ts, epitomized by the disappointing conclusion to a beloved comedy.
- Don’t dedicate an entire season to preparations for the wedding of two characters that end up divorcing almost immediately.
- Don’t force two characters together, spend one episode per season explaining why they aren’t right for each other, and then throw them back together at the end of the series.
- Don’t transform a womanizer into a monogamist and then back into a womanizer who doesn’t know the name of the woman who gave birth to his child (he doesn’t even make up a name, just refers to her as a number).
- Don’t kill the mother when the entire show is about meeting her.
- Don’t kill the mother.
- DON’T KILL THE MOTHER.
- While I’m at it, don’t build sympathy for a character and kill her offscreen as little more than a footnote. It’s cruel and will only make your audience resentful.
- Don’t have your protagonist continue to pine for the same woman even after he’s found the love of his life (he claims), married her, and lost her.
- Have a legitimate reason for the protagonist to divulge his past to his children.
- Don’t have your protagonist show up at The One That Got Away’s house with a nostalgic item to help win her back… and then imply that the woman will have him (of course). THEY ARE DIFFERENT PEOPLE THAN THEY WERE WHEN THE ITEM MADE ITS FIRST APPEARANCE. WHY WOULD YOUR PROTAGONIST TRY SOMETHING LIKE THAT?
Maybe I’m still blogging angry. I promise I’m not only trying to rant. I want you all to become better writers. You can do better than the How I Met Your Mother finale. You should.
After all, that show made it through nine seasons. Anything is possible.
This post should’ve gone live last week, but it didn’t happen. Oh well.
Here are some cool resources I found around the Internet for this month:
- How to Write the Dreaded Query Letter
- How to Write Books that Sing
- The Pros and Cons of Writing a Novel in Present Tense
- The Dreaded Mirror Scene
- On Writing Dead Genres
What do you think? Do you find these links helpful?
One of the most difficult things about writing is avoiding distractions.
Sometimes the lure of social media is too strong to resist. For instance, while writing this blog post, I had to really force myself to concentrate on the task at hand instead of compulsively checking Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. I’ll be the first to admit – it’s tough to focus. Of course, the Internet is not the only evil in the world. When it comes to writing, you can also be distracted by a myriad of nuisances, such as pets, friends, family, the telephone, the television, and sometimes even the weather.
What’s a writer to do?
If you’re working on a project and don’t want to be distracted, consider these tips to help you stay focused:
1. Disable automatic log-ins. If you know you have a tough time resisting social media, make it a little bit harder on yourself by logging out of your accounts before sitting down to write. Human beings are nototriously lazy. If you have to log-in before looking your ex-boyfriend up on Facebook, it might give you a moment’s pause. Hopefully, with this added step, you’ll realize you shouldn’t be on social media and get back to work right away. But if not, you can always…
2. Block all time-wasting websites for the duration of your session. If logging out of your accounts isn’t enough to deter you, download an app such as StayFocusd or Strict Workflow for Chrome, Leechblock for Firefox, SelfControl for Mac, or even Cold Turkey. Once you’ve discovered your demons, add them to the lists of sites to block, set a time to block, and let the program do the rest for you so you can focus on writing.
3. Turn. It. Off. This tip applies mostly to the computer but can be extended to all manner of technology. If you don’t need it to write, power it down. If you write with pen and paper, you should be nowhere near your laptop. It shouldn’t even be on. If you use a word processor, go ahead and write on your computer – just make sure to switch off your wifi. That way, if you’re tempted to access the Internet, you’ll feel guilty when you see that you’re unable to connect. Sure, you could flip the switch back on just as easily, but for most cases, turning it off should be enough to stop you. The same goes for your cellphone – turn it off or silence it. Let everyone know how long you’ll be working and tell them to leave a message if it’s anything important. I promise you the world can do without you for an hour.
4. Write or Die. No, I’m not just being dramatic. Write or Die is a life-changing webapp that encourages you to reach a custom word count in a certain amount of time; say, fifteen minutes. If you slack off and stop typing for a long, the program punishes you with an unpleasant noise (such as “Mmmbop” by Hanson) and a bright red screen. Honestly that red screen scares me more than anything. I usually set my word count at 1,000 and the time period for an hour. I’m always amazed by how much I manage to accomplish. Check the program out.
5. Play some music. This tip isn’t for everyone, but I’ve found that tuning into Pandora’s “Classical Music for Studying” really does wonders for my productivity. If classical music isn’t your thing, try to stick to some kind of music without lyrics for maximum concentration benefits.
There you have it: a few simple solutions to help you overcome distraction and make some progress with your project. Once you’ve made some headway, feel free to reward yourself with a social media or texting break. After all, you deserve it. Just make sure not to cheat and reward yourself early!
What do you think of these tips? How do you avoid distractions?
- Great writers are known not just for their prose, but for their writing spaces. George Bernard Shaw had a rotating hut. Dylan Thomas did his best work cooped up inside a boat house. And J.K. Rowling, a more contemporary example, penned the Harry Potter series in an Edinburgh café.While you may not have your own special shed or writing carrel, you no doubt have a space where you prefer to write. For me, it’s my bed. I have a desk, but I can’t seem to do anything creative while sitting there. If I do anything other than homework, it has to be done in my bed.If you haven’t discovered your ideal writing space, this article should help you. Here are three elements to consider when choosing a place where you can put pen to paper or fingers to keys.The first thing you need to consider when selecting your space is surface type. For example, you need to figure out whether you prefer writing at a desk, in bed, or in a hammock. If you’re not sure, try every surface you can think of. See which one works best for you. There’s no rule that says you have to get your work done at your desk.Got a surface? Okay, good. Now you need to decide whether you’ll be writing inside or outside. In my experience, most people prefer the convenience of writing indoors. You have control of the temperature and won’t have to cancel a session on account of the weather. There are some people, however, who prefer working in the fresh air and natural daylight. You might very well be one of those people.Finally, you should consider writing in public versus writing in private. As I said before, J.K. Rowling loved writing in public cafés. She loved soft chatter of café patrons and the ready availability of coffee and tea. I, on the other hand, cannot work when there are people talking. I get the most writing done when I hole up in my bedroom. Once again, you’ll have to see which works best for you.Every writer has some sort of unique writing space. Some prefer writing at a desk, while others enjoy the comforts of bed. Writers can choose to do their work outside or indoors. Moreover, some authors like to pen their pieces in public, but there are those who would rather keep their insights hidden behind closed doors. Whatever you prefer, just remember that your writing space is just that—yours. As long as you’re comfortable, that’s all that matters. Try some spaces on for size and find your most productive place.What’s your favorite writing space?