We address a question and a comment from listeners.
We talked about movies and TV.
We talked about how Jon finished his third novel.
We mentioned that it took ten years.
We talked about the difference rewriting makes.
We talked about the business of writing.
We talked about how late in the process major details are figured out.
We talked about what it takes to take a book from good to great.
We talked about metaphors for editing.
After our three show marathon about Stephen King’s writing advice, we discuss giving writing advice.
And then tangents take over.
So many tangents…
This is the final, part three, of our shows on Stephen King’s writing advice.
We consider these points:
8. Don’t worry about making other people happy. “Reading at meals is considered rude in polite society, but if you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second to least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”
9. Turn off the TV. “Most exercise facilities are now equipped with TVs, but TV—while working out or anywhere else—really is about the last thing an aspiring writer needs. If you feel you must have the news analyst blowhard on CNN while you exercise, or the stock market blowhards on MSNBC, or the sports blowhards on ESPN, it’s time for you to question how serious you really are about becoming a writer. You must be prepared to do some serious turning inward toward the life of the imagination, and that means, I’m afraid, that Geraldo, Keigh Obermann, and Jay Leno must go. Reading takes time, and the glass teat takes too much of it.”
10. You have three months. “The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”
11. There are two secrets to success. “When I’m asked for ‘the secret of my success’ (an absurd idea, that, but impossible to get away from), I sometimes say there are two: I stayed physically healthy, and I stayed married. It’s a good answer because it makes the question go away, and because there is an element of truth in it. The combination of a healthy body and a stable relationship with a self reliant woman who takes zero shit from me or anyone else has made the continuity of my working life possible. And I believe the converse is also true: that my writing and the pleasure I take in it has contributed to the stability of my health and my home life.”
12. Write one word at a time. “A radio talk-show host asked me how I wrote. My reply—’One word at a time’—seemingly left him without a reply. I think he was trying to decide whether or not I was joking. I wasn’t. In the end, it’s always that simple. Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like ‘The Lord Of The Rings,’ the work is always accomplished one word at a time.”
13. Eliminate distraction. “There should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with. If there’s a window, draw the curtains or pull down the shades unless it looks out at a blank wall.”
This is part two of our giant three-part show on Stephen King’s writing advice.
We consider these points:
14. Stick to your own style. “One cannot imitate a writer’s approach to a particular genre, no matter how simple what the writer is doing may seem. You can’t aim a book like a cruise missile, in other words. People who decide to make a fortune writing lik John Grisham or Tom Clancy produce nothing but pale imitations, by and large, because vocabulary is not the same thing as feeling and plot is light years from the truth as it is understood by the mind and the heart.”
15. Dig. “When, during the course of an interview for The New Yorker, I told the interviewer (Mark Singer) that I believed stories are found things, like fossils in the ground, he said that he didn’t believe me. I replied that that was fine, as long as he believed that I believe it. And I do. Stories aren’t souvenir tee-shirts or Game Boys. Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible. Sometimes the fossil you uncover is small; a seashell. Sometimes it’s enormous, a Tyrannosaurus Rex with all the gigantic ribs and grinning teeth. Either way, short story or thousand page whopper of a novel, the techniques of excavation remain basically the same.”
16. Take a break. “If you’ve never done it before, you’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience. It’s yours, you’ll recognize it as yours, even be able to remember what tune was on the stereo when you wrote certain lines, and yet it will also be like reading the work of someone else, a soul-twin, perhaps. This is the way it should be, the reason you waited. It’s always easier to kill someone else’s darlings that it is to kill your own.”
17. Leave out the boring parts and kill your darlings. “Mostly when I think of pacing, I go back to Elmore Leonard, who explained it so perfectly by saying he just left out the boring parts. This suggests cutting to speed the pace, and that’s what most of us end up having to do (kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your ecgocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.)”
18. The research shouldn’t overshadow the story. “If you do need to do research because parts of your story deal with things about which you know little or nothing, remember that word back. That’s where research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it. You may be entranced with what you’re learning about the flesh-eating bacteria, the sewer system of New York, or the I.Q. potential of collie pups, but your readers are probably going to care a lot more about your characters and your story.”
19. You become a writer simply by reading and writing. “You don’t need writing classes or seminars any more than you need this or any other book on writing. Faulkner learned his trade while working in the Oxford, Mississippi post office. Other writers have learned the basics while serving in the Navy, working in steel mills or doing time in America’s finer crossbar hotels. I learned the most valuable (and commercial) part of my life’s work while washing motel sheets and restaurant tablecloths at the New Franklin Laundry in Bangor. You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”
20. Writing is about getting happy. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”
We open up a can of arrogance on Stephen King’s 20 Writing Rules.
Sometimes we like his advice…
Sometimes we don’t…
As always, we discuss why and why not.
Need a bad guy for your novel?
No problem. Grab yourself a crazy, hell-raising, face-mask-wearing, serial killer psychopath.
For many reasons. Juliet and Jon discuss what psychopaths probably really are and why we write about them.
Podcasts that Jon mentioned in the show:
Books about psychopaths that Jon liked:
Books Jon didn’t like as much:
You know, EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!!
When you need to shout, scream, yell, and LOUDTALK!
How many should you have in your novel? 100? 200? 400? How about 649?
Jon shares an uneasy moment while editing the novel he’s working on, Loom, when he began to think, Hey how many exclamation points have I used here?
Juliet and Jon discuss how many exclamations are too many through the lens of several others novels. They discuss when to use them and when they can be edited out.
Novels mentioned in the show:
Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl
Andy Weir’s The Martian
Sarah Dessen’s Saint Anything
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
Examples in the Podcast from Jon Armstrong’s upcoming (and when he says upcoming, he means years from now):
“Ken!” I cried. “Shut up! Can you hear me? Ken? Please listen.”
“Ken,” I cried. “Shut up. Can you hear me, Ken? Please listen.”
“Stop it! Shut up!” Shouting made pain explode through me.
“Stop it. Shut up.” Shouting made pain explode through me.
“Stop it. Shut up!” Shouting made pain explode through me.
Writing teachers everywhere say, “Write what you know.”
Forget if it’s good advice—What do I even know?
In this show, the Js (writer Jon Armstrong and editor Juliet Ulman) talk about some examples of novels where maybe… just maybe the author didn’t know what he was writing about. How do we know what we know? And do we know anything?
In the show, Jon expressed concern about Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son. (Amazon link)
A tweet from Paul Gilmartin was mentioned. (He is the host of The Mental Health Happy Hour):
Thinking u understand clinical depression b/c u experienced situational sadness is like thinking u know Italy b/c u went to the Olive Garden
— Paul R. Gilmartin (@mentalpod) October 31, 2015
Juliet and Jon paint pictures with color words.
They discuss Ingrid Sundberg’s Color Thesaurus. It’s usefulness and limitations. They read some lovely sentences and tackle the difficult issue of skin colors.
The color image was lovingly swiped from Denise Rose.