All The Dead Things Count Down Deal starts today
People think that I must be a very strange person. This is not correct. I have the heart of a small boy. It is in a glass jar on my desk.
– Stephen King
I love Stephen King’s novels. I grew up reading horror and Salem’s Lot, The Shining and The Stand were touchstone texts for me and my friends. One summer we spent several days trying to figure out how we could trigger a global pandemic capable of killing most of the population leaving a plucky bunch of heroes (modest cough… us) to have adventures in a post-apocalypse world peppered with lonely teenage girls desperate to be rescued by teenage boys with big hair, flying boots and second-hand overcoats (… you had to be there). Luckily for you, our chemistry set was basic, and we didn’t have the internet as a guide.
But I’m not here to talk teenage fantasies (or hair). I’m here to talk writing; something Mr King does every single day; not stopping for birthdays, Christmas Day, hospitalisation or any other puny excuse.
Obviously, Mr King isn’t an average writer. He’s a story-machine powered by a deep love of his craft, his characters and an addictive personality; so addictive that for a period it threatened his health, family, and career, and led to him writing books under the influence of alcohol, drugs, mouthwash and those little squirts of gas you get from a can just before the whipped cream oozes out. He admits that he can barely remember writing The Tommyknockers.
In his brilliant part-autobiography/part musing on the craft of writing, On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft, he outlines his simple, blue-collar methodology, well… simply. I would recommend that every writer should read this. It’s by turns amusing, brutally honest, supportive and exceptionally useful as a guide for bursting pretensions and demystifying the craft for new writers.
A key discipline for him is to write every day. No excuses. It doesn’t matter what you did the night before, where you are today and what you have lined up for the evening. You need to make it into a habit, with fixed hours, like a regular job. This isn’t just to keep you honest; it’s a discipline that enables you to stay within the flow of your novel and to maintain momentum as you see words mount up. (But he does acknowledge this may not be practical for everybody.)
What also stuck with me was the image of him whacking his growing manuscript against desk each morning before he wrote. Feeling its increasing weight, the heftier thunk the pile of paper made as it connected with wood – Thud! -this is his way of saying … “yep, it’s coming along“.
Like most of us, I suspect, I write on a laptop or iPad (other tablets are acceptable) and whacking expensive tech against tables is costly, ineffective and lead to lively budgetary debates with spouses and partners. Instead of the whack, I always scroll through a manuscript from the top to the bottom before starting; taking pleasure from its growth, making sure the visual flow of pages is attractive – that it looks like a book should look – remembering Stephen King and feeling guilty about all the days I didn’t write a goddamn single word
When I can force myself to write every day, I find it much easier to force my way through difficult sections of a book. To access those sections that just won’t flow out of my mind and into my fingers. If I don’t write every day, if I set the manuscript aside waiting for inspiration, momentum drains away. And even if I can’t find what I know is in there, sometimes the only way to get through a tricky section is to write it badly (even really badly) and then revise. It’s better to have a shapeless lump of clay than no clay at all.
And if you are writing… well, then you are a writer.
Books are a uniquely portable magic.
– Stephen King
Why you should ignore this golden rule: see the next golden rule.
Up next: Don’t write every day
“An Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of one”.
Now, I’m almost preaching to myself. I’m English and I’ve been unable to avoid absorbing many of the traits that Americans, Southern Europeans, Australians, Germans … well, pretty much everybody else … finds amusing and bemusing about about us.
The last example does conjure up the image of two Englishman arriving at a revolving door at the same time and becoming locked into a politeness-feedback-loop, both endlessly inviting the other to proceed, mirror images, neither able to break protocol, slowly growing old, frail and succumbing to the reaper as an endless procession of people swirl past the sad piles of bones and moth-eaten clothes.
Which brings me (politely) onto the subject of being pushy. As we discovered in the previous post, with 2.4 million Facebook posts per minute, the web is no place for shrinking violets (or the shy of any other hue).
If you want author alter ego to have any visibility, you must be prepared to talk about your book and, more importantly, you have to market it. If you’re proud of what you’ve written, it’s been well edited and has a compelling cover, then why should you be shy about inviting people to read it? That’s why you spent all those hours bent over a laptop.
This doesn’t mean you need to create social media presence that is the digital equivalent of the market trader standing on a bucket yelling out ‘Pound for the lot!!’ while holding up a huge bowl of tomatoes. It means you have to be targeted and work to find readers who will enjoy your work and with whom you can build up a long term relationship. It means you have to build relationships where you are offering real value, extra content, worthwhile freebies and recommendations for other authors’ books.
It means you have to find a way to avoid being the skeleton in the revolving door.
And you should ignore this golden rule: all rules in moderation. If you try to move too far away from your personality you’ll come across as fake. Readers will see through the mask and that’s alienating
NEXT: Support Derby County Football Club and as a result befriend a Talented Film Director who’ll make a wonderful promo for your book.
Added bonus: I recommend you read this article by the late, great Douglas Adams (creator of the uber English Arthur Dent) for an insight into the peculiarity of Englishness.
When I was planning my trip to Costa Rica, a friend advised me to avoid staying in San Jose. I love sprawling cities, so I pushed him on his reasoning. “Because it’s Central America’s answer to Wolverhampton!” he said.
For those not familiar with English geography, Wolverhampton is a city in the West Midlands, notorious for traffic gridlock and an excessive zeal for concrete. Or so some people say. Is the city’s reputation deserved? I don’t know – I’ve only visited briefly to watch a couple of football games at the city’s Molineux stadium.
According to Wikipedia: “The demonym for people from the city is ‘Wulfrunian‘”. Wulfrunian?! To me, this sounds more like an incidental character from Game of Thrones, one of those introduced early in an episode and slaughtered before its end. A name implying a love of wattle and daub as construction materials, not concrete.
I’m digressing I know, but stay with me. I have a friend from Wolverhampton. At university he fell out of love with his course and spent his evenings learning to play the guitar rather than studying. In fact, he learnt to play one song: Cat Steven’s Moon Shadow – I listened to it on repeat, in sections, a hundred times … I can’t listen to that song ever again. When he sat his first exam, he did no more than scrawl Each Failure Is a Stepping Stone To Success on the exam paper and then headed for the pub. This particular failure wasn’t a stepping stone to success in this exam, but you get the idea – don’t mess with Wulfrunians. He came back and smashed it the following year.
If Wolverhampton can produce such self confidence, I should give its Central American cousin a chance to prove its worth.
So I stayed 2 nights in San Jose, giving me a full day to explore. It was the weekend and my expectations of traffic-clogged streets, exhaust fumes and hollering horns, proved inaccurate. On Sunday morning, a weirdly quiet and almost deserted city greeted me. But slowly, it revealed its charms: the Teatro Nacional, like a building plucked from Madrid and plonked down in the heart of the city; the Pre-Columbia Gold Museum (which also housed a fascinating contemporary art exhibit); and the pretty Barrio Escalante where I ate a wonderful lunch of chorizo salad and drank enough refreshing craft beer to make the rest of my explorations slower paced.
The one attraction I wasn’t able to see in its full glory, as it’s closed on Sundays, was the usually bustling Central Market. The plus side being all the stores had their shutters down revealing this fabulous selection of graffiti.
Te Amos Wolverhampton.