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  1. Ree
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    Ree Member

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    Stephen King - On Writing thesis

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Ree, Feb 3, 2010.

    I read this over and over last night and thought I'd post it here for discussion. He wrote, with regards to the approach on his book,

    "...while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one."

    Each time I finished, I thought "Oh ****! If I'm a bad writer, I better hang up my hat now." But then I thought, doesn't life experience and age play into this as well? I feel like this is saying "Once a bad writer, always a bad writer."

    What are your thoughts?
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    My thoughts are that Mr. King is not the be-all end-all of writing. The fact that he has said something as though it were pearls of truth rained down upon us from the gods does not make it so.

    Some of Mr. King's (and by some I mean a lot) work is cack. Pulp. A shameful waste of beautiful trees.

    His popularity is not to be confused with his acumen. Ridiculously bad things are often popular. Cigarettes, for example.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Agreed. There are some pieces of King's writing that I enjoy, and a lot of it I think is utter garbage. Furthermore, the man has no concept of the word "concise." He rambles like a kudzu vine.

    But even if that were not the case, On Writing is a book about his writing experience and opinions. Every writer is different, and finds his or her best way of organizing, and of learning.

    No one starts out as a brilliant writer. There probably is such a thing as innate talent, but most of it is a willingness to work hard and to continually learn.

    There's nothing magical about greatness. There is no "born elite." Who is King to say whether the good writer has the seeds of greatness within? It will still require hard work.

    I personally recommend against reading books like On Writing, unless you can keep it firmly in mind that he is neither a god nor a guru, only a guy.
     
  4. ManhattanMss
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    I think you have to take into account that SK wrote this book for the purpose of satisfying his publisher, not because he thought he had some magic key that developing writers ought to learn something from. If you want to know how he's become so successful, study his fiction. His passion to tell a good story and his own, singular imagination are where his success comes from. His forte is satisfying his fiction readers by delivering the goods over and over and over again. ON WRITING is highly flawed, inconsistent at best, and clearly written under duress. Even so, it is, if nothing else, a valuable insight into the experience he's willing to share with others who aspire to something they, too, might recognize as success. It seems honest and straightforward, which I think are important qualities for a writer to posess--no matter where that writer falls on the scale of genius or greatness.

    No passionate writer is going to hang up his writing strengths because of his weaknesses, but will use those weakness to guide his own learning process and development. I think SK has done that for himself, just as the rest of us must do something similar.

    JMO;)
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    My other personal take on the quoted portion is that words like bad, competent, good, and great are traitorous words at best. They have no loyalty to any camp and will play both sides of every fence.

    These words are literary prostitutes for hire, and their hourly rates appeal to any budget.

    You must decide what matters more to you as a writer, your purpose, and chose words to describe and define you as a writer that have more loyalty to your cause.

    Will you be a popular writer? Are you looking to get paid?

    Will you be a contemplative writer? Are you looking to get quoted?

    Will you be a probing writer? Are you looking to get essayed?

    Will your writing appeal to the masses?

    Will your writing be esoteric?

    Will your writing follow a formula?

    Will your writing create a new formula?
     
  6. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    When I read it, a few years ago now, I couldn't help but pick flaws. Such as his examples of bad writing; he simply gave us an example of what is apparently bad writing without the context in which the sentence (or sentences) where placed.

    He has some good things to say in it, don't get me wrong, but it's not 'The Gospel according to Stephen King'. He sat through and discribed his literary growth as a writer, which is something we all do with practice and study.
     
  7. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not gospel? Are you sure? So, if the emperor has no clothes, then who should we look to for guidance and remote-mentoring? Seriously. If King is not your cup of tea as a writing guide, then who is?
     
  8. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I think his book is worth reading. I enjoyed it a lot when I did, and it gave me some good pointers with what to do with my own work. But we must always remember this is one man's experiance, considerable though it may be.

    I just don't think On Writing is detailed enough.
     
  9. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    Not gospel? Probably not. I imagine if there was a "gospel" of great writing, we wouldn't all take so much interest in forums like this one.] Are you sure? [Pretty sure;)]So, if the emperor has no clothes, then who should we look to for guidance and remote-mentoring? [I think we should probably turn over every inward and outward rock we can find. I've enjoyed many how-to-write books in my time, though most I didn't find very helpful except to jiggle loose a thought here and there. But I think most writers have something worth listening to (if only to drive you in some new, even contrary direction).] Seriously. If King is not your cup of tea as a writing guide, then who is? [I'm sure it depends on what drives your own interests, and sometimes the best tidbits come from writers and others who aren't necessarily the ones we think of as the most popular or successful. Me, I haven't read any books on writing since I read John Gardner; but I'm certain not everyone familiar with him and his work has found his views and advice to be as inspiring as I did.]
     
  10. Irish87
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    Irish87 Contributing Member

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    Couldn't have said it any better... bravo, Wrey, bravo!
     
  11. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    He is one of those people, I find, that does have good stuff, they are just way outweighed by the bad.
     
  12. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    King is very successful (I will get to this at the end because your definition may vary from the one I am using in this post).

    Maybe some folks don't care for his works (I am not one who really cares for his writing and stories, but that is just me--one of my sisters, for example, loves his works, has purchased all of his works and also gives them as gifts on occasion).

    King has been in the business for quite some time, and this been around the block a few times and probably has learned a thing or two. Sure, what works for one writer won't work for every writer and even if it does, rarely in the exact same way.

    The bottom line is to consider as a writer, do you want to have an audience? Do you want your work read by others--beyond yourself and a few family members/friends? By that measure he is quite successful. One may hold his/her nose up in the air and say King's writing is utter drivel and his audience consists of moronic idiots, or whatever. But he is apparently happy with his writing and his audience and decided to share his opinion on how others might get there as well.

    Take from On Writing, what works for you and go with it. If you don't agree with his belief that someone with only average talent can only raise their skill so far...maybe he is right. Or maybe you omit that aspect of his advice and go about proving his wrong.

    Not everyone can be a major league baseball player, no matter how hard they train. But that doesn't mean they can't have some fun and improve. The advantage is that unlike with sports, such as baseball, a writer has their entire life to work and improve--not a short window. This gives them a bit more time to persist and succeed.

    Terry
     
  13. Sabreur
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    Sabreur Contributing Member Contributor

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    A bad writer is a bad writer usually because he doesn't try hard enough. True, some of us are innately predisposed towards different activities and different ways to learn but it is my belief (based on my, admittedly limited, experience) that hard work, self-discipline and drive to succeed overrides most biological predispositions.

    No one begins as a great writer, like Cogito said. It was a process for EVERYONE, including the literary greats of the present, the past and the future. To say that only some arbitrarily defined "literary elite" can be true writers is snobbery of the highest order. And therefore, something that should not have much stock put into it.
     
  14. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    When King says this:

    "...while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one."

    Bad writer
    Competent writer
    Good writer
    Great writer

    It is so convoluted as to make no sense at all (with regard to logic). If it is possible to move up from competent to good, what stops one from going from good to great? Or from bad to competent?

    And this is without getting into the argument about brain potential. Scientific studies are showing more and more that the brain is extremely adaptive. It does not have the limitations that your body does. You cannot grow any taller in your 40s to play good basketball, but your brain is changeable, reorganizing every moment of your life, always making new connections.

    But your brain does work sort of like muscle. You must challenge muscles with something like weightlifting to increase muscle size. It is the same with the brain. One must challenge the brain for it to grow.
     
  15. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Please tell me this is original to you; it's such a beautiful way of looking at it.
     
  16. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    I probably put it that way because I’ve been spending a lot of time in the gym lately.
     
  17. Ree
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    Ree Member

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    I'm so glad I posted this topic. Excellent responses!

    Here's what really bothers me about his statement... I'm new to writing and I picked up On Writing for a little guidance and enlightenment. Like NaCI says, "remote-mentoring." I read this statement and was totally disheartened. Who is his audience here? I would imagine many new writers like myself. What new writer is going to grade themselves "Competent" in Stephen King's eyes?

    I guess it just hit a sore spot with me. One thing I despise is when someone limits another person's potential. Yeah, maybe that person won't reach their goal, but they'll likely learn an invaluable lesson just by trying.

    Then again, I'm probably looking into this too much. :D
     
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  18. Sabreur
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    Sabreur Contributing Member Contributor

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    Part of it is confidence in yourself. Athletes talk about "psyching" themselves up for a big game, match, fight or what-have-you. Writing is no different. You must have confidence in your abilities. Not overconfidence or even cockiness, but you have to acknowledge that you are in this field because you want to be here and no one is going to make you a better writer but YOU. Without confidence, you will fail. You cannot be hesitant or meek with your writing; apply yourself, hold your head high and while you may heed the advice of those more experienced, writing is highly personal. Therefore, only YOU know what path you will take.

    I'm simplifying a great deal but I hope you can get a glimpse of what I'm trying to convey.
     
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  19. Ree
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    Ree Member

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    I can, thanks!
     
  20. MCWhite
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    I read On Writing and can say it's the first and only guide book I'll ever read. As a paperweight it does a fine job; the tales from his youth and adulthood are entertaining, but as for providing genuinely helpful advice that can be applied to your own writing, it's absolutely useless. Great authors didn't become great because they flipped through self-help books. The best authors never needed advice and probably refused to take any.
    All any aspiring writer needs to do is read and write (incidentally, these were also King's suggestions - not exactly stunning revelations). Everything you'll ever need to know is within the pages of books. It's cliche, but learning by experience is the only way to improve. The more you read and write, the easier it becomes to hone your skills, to see what you're doing right and what needs to be improved upon. Frequent writing allows you to create your own voice, what I consider to be the most important aspect of a writer. If you have the talent to be a great writer, and you're serious about applying yourself to the craft, you'll meet with success sooner or later.
     
  21. Ree
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    <off-topic>

    I understand that everyone's saying not to use a self-help writing book for guidance. But, I come from a technical background with little education (and even less family background) in reading/writing. I'm looking to develop a foundation before I begin. Style is individual, that I understand. It's the rules of writing that I'm searching for. If there are none, then that's what I'll find. But there are always rules in some shape or form.

    Thanks for all your comments. Very insightful.
     
  22. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Ree, if you are looking for the rules of writing, you are better off with Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. You'll still find opinions in addition to hard and fast grammar rules, but the opinions offered are widely accepted as standard across the industry, rather than personal idiosyncrancies and biases.
     
  23. Ree
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    Ree Member

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    Thanks Cogito! I've seen that referenced in many places, including On Writing. I'll pick it up.
     
  24. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ree,

    While there is the technical aspect of writing, putting words and sentences and paragraphs together, there is also the storytelling aspect.

    One of the best ways to learn that is to simply read. Read a variety of novels by different authors. But, don't read simply for pleasure. Read with an eye toward learning. How did that author tackle characterization and dialogue. Watch pacing and POV. Identify use of foreshadowing and symbolism if you want.

    That can help you overcome what you have described as "little education and family background."

    It'll take time but will help you along your path.

    Terry
     
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  25. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Best advice evah!
     

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