I have Stephen King to thank for this particular blog post.
Among my major influences as a writer–which include two novelists, a poet, and a visual artist–King may seem to be the unlikeliest. But an entire section of one of my bookcases is dedicated to his work.
This is one of those days where I’m feeling a little unmotivated and I don’t feel like doing any real writing. (I consider blogging to be real writing, by the way.) Some would say I was “uninspired.” When I am uninspired, I think of Stephen King.
Stephen King Influence #1: You shouldn’t wait to be inspired to write.
King is wildly prolific and at his height, you could expect a Stephen King novel at least once a year, if not more often. It got to the point where he used a pseudonym so that he could still be published and not worry about overexposure in the book market.
King probably has more energy and drive than many of us but the secret to his output is not about the “inspiration.” It’s about writing regularly even if there is no inspiration to be had.
I remember him talking about his writing ritual, which involved going into his home office and writing for eight hours a day, every day. Until then, I had considered creative writing to be largely driven by emotional response. Hearing it from King and having that notion reinforced by others over time, I fully understand that good writing is not all in the ideas but in the practice of the craft and in doing the work. I would also add that it is just as important to read others’ work with the eye of a writer and to study formal mechanics. Rarely is the first draft as good as it’s going to get; often the beauty and shape of a piece is revealed during rounds and rounds of self editing
Stephen King Influence #2: It’s ok to be thoroughly modern and accessible.
King writes a column for my favorite magazine, Entertainment Weekly, called “The Pop of King.” In it, he gives his opinion not just about books, but also music, television, movies, societal trends, and anything having to do with pop culture. Stephen King has long been the King of Pop Culture.
King’s novels are riddled with topical pop culture references and as an omniscient narrator, King often makes liberal use of slang. These devices are his trademarks and much of his appeal to readers. He has even found ways to refer to himself as a pop culture icon in his own novels!
As a writer who wants to be read, I think that finding a way to connect to readers is almost as important as what I write about. Particularly as a poet, I don’t think that language has to be limited to highbrow vocabulary or classical references. I wonder, as others have, whether time will be kind to King’s legacy or whether his appeal is unique to today’s readers. Actually, he is no different from any other writer in that all are products of their era. If their work is worthy enough to stand the test of time, we will go to the trouble of understanding it in context.
Stephen King Influence #3: Transparency takes many forms.
King has been very candid about many aspects of his life, including his childhood and as an adult, his substance abuse. Also, over the years, he has been forthcoming with writing advice, not only in his nonfiction works Danse Macabre and On Writing, but also in the forewords of his novels. In essence, he is not afraid to share with even the casual reader tricks of the trade.
Within the novel Misery, the character Paul Sheldon writes a nonfiction book in between novels on the craft of writing. In that book, he says that a story should not hinge on a random event that doesn’t follow the logic of the rest of the story. (This plot detail was not featured in the movie.) But even on a deeper level, some have speculated as to whether Paul was modeled after King himself, and whether the terrifying meeting between Paul and his “biggest fan” during the course of the novel was King’s commentary on the burdens of being a tremendously popular author. The novella, The Body, on which the movie “Stand By Me” was based, was said to have been partially autobiographical.
For someone who writes so much, is it possible not to have pieces of himself exposed on the pages? Even in writing that is not necessarily personal, I appreciate work that shows intellectual or emotional honesty.
Whew, I did it.
Speaking of drive and inspiration, I leave you with Bobby McFerrin performing “Drive” live.
© Sweepy Jean and Sweepy Jean Explores the (Webby) World, 2011