I’ve always considered Julia Cameron a mentor. I’ve read almost all her books and have worked through the 12 week process outlined in her most popular book, The Artist’s Way, several times, each time learning something new about myself and the creative process.
But lately, Julia has been replaced by a new and extremely unlikely mentor — Stephen King. Yes, the King of Horror has nudged aside the Queen of Creativity on my mentorship shelf. Not because I want to write anything remotely resembling Carrie or (shudder) Pet Cemetery. (It was after reading that book, by the way, that Stephen King and I parted ways never to be reunited again. Or so I thought.)
The Green Mile and Shawshank Redemption, movies based on novels written by Mr. King, shifted my opinion slightly (although not enough to read said novels) but it was a chance encounter that showed me another side of this prolific author.
We were heading out on a Saskatchewan road trip and I needed something to pass the interminable hours so I loaded up on books from my friendly neighborhood library. On a whim, I tossed Stephen King’s book, On Writing, onto the pile thinking it might be interesting if I finished everything else. Oddly enough, when the need to read came upon me it was his book I reached for first.
I inhaled it between Strathmore and Regina.
I was entranced by the first part of the book, a memoir of his writing life which includes (among other things) the inspiration for Carrie and a description of the circumstances surrounding the acceptance of that first book by a publishing house.
The second portion of the book, called The Toolbox, is a very short discussion of the tools a writer needs in order to write well, including vocabulary and grammar. Strunk and White’s Elements of Style is a favorite on Stephen King’s bookshelf.
But it was the third section, On Writing, that cemented his place in my mentor’s chair. According to Stephen King, if you want to be a writer you must read a lot and write a lot, preferably in a quiet room free of distractions. A room with a door that you can close and that will remained closed until you’ve completed your writing for the day.
He likes to get in 10 pages (or 2000 words) a day and he writes every day, including Christmas and his birthday. For aspiring writers, he suggests a daily writing goal of maybe 1000 words (a little less so as to avoid discouragement) and one day off a week, at least in the beginning – “No more; you’ll lose the urgency and immediacy of your story if you do.”
He goes on to talk about other things including description, dialogue and character development. Each section is liberally sprinkled with examples from the work of other well-known writers. The book ends with a section called On Living that describes the accident that almost took his life, the long road to recovery and the role writing played in that recovery.
The 10th anniversary edition of On Writing contains a section on the editing process with a before-and-after look at a piece of his own writing followed by two lists of books: those that fed his writing over the 4 or so years leading up to this memoir, and a tenth anniversary update adding the best books read between 2001 and 2009.
Those lists are a good starting point for the reading portion of his basic two part prescription (“read a lot”). The second part (“write a lot”) is up to me.
So far, it’s been a pretty productive day.
I’m in my room. The door is closed. I am writing.