“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair–the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart… but you must not come lightly to the blank page.” – Stephen King, On Writing
What writing lessons can Stephen King teach us?
You’d think after many years studying King’s fiction and career I’d be well placed to answer. But as I chased round my mind for a list I could share with you here, it finally dawned on me that all other lessons disintegrate, like so many vampires caught out by the morning sun, when compared with the one key lesson I’ve learned and continue to practice daily.
He taught me to write without fear.
You may find it a little strange that, in my search for a teacher of fearless writing, I would turn to an author renowned for manifesting a state of abject terror in his readers. A teacher of fearful writing, perhaps, but not fearless. However, during the last three and a half years that I have spent researching King (reading articles, tracking down old interviews, transcribing archived documents), I’ve been struck time and time again, by his bravery, by his willingness to tackle new challenges and by his approach to writing, often from new and frequently surprising directions.
- He has refused to stay true to his typecast, and has frequently published work which doesn’t belong to the genre he became famous for.
- He stands up to the literary establishment and demands that his writing is taken seriously.
- He experiments with new media.
- He will try his hand at just about any kind of fiction: short stories, serial novels, comic books, screenplays, e-novels.
- He offers his work up to others for their own creative interpretation.
Writing can be a scary business. Turning up to the page day after day trying to produce something of value, something worthy of both yours and your reader’s attention is often intimidating, sometimes almost crippling. In my own writing I try and choose my words as fearlessly as I can. My touchstones are authenticity, playfulness and audacity, and by keeping these three key words at the forefront of my mind when sitting down to write, I find that I am capable of overcoming my fear of the blank page.
I’d like to finish up with a quote from King’s introduction to the revised edition of The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger. Whilst aimed at young writers who are just starting out, I believe that it can apply to writers both young and old; it applies to all those looking to write fearlessly.
“At nineteen they can card you in the bars and tell you to get the fuck out, put your sorry act (and even sorrier ass) back on the street, but they can’t card you when you sit down to paint a picture, write a poem, or tell a story, by God, and if you reading this happen to be very young, don’t let your elders and supposed betters tell you any different. Sure, you’ve never been to Paris. No, you never ran with the bulls at Pamplona. Yes, you’re a pissant who had no hair in your armpits until three years ago – but so what? If you don’t start out too big for your britches, how are you gonna fill ’em when you grow up? Let it rip regardless of what anybody tells you, that’s my idea; sit down and smoke that baby.”
So, how about you? Do you consciously try to write without fear? How would you advise another writer to overcome their fear of putting pen to paper? What lessons have you learned about writing from King, or indeed another favourite author?
“I work until beer o’clock.” – Stephen King, on his 9-to-5 workday