Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The King and I

I wrote nothing over Christmas. Maybe I needed the break, but it didn't feel good, writing nothing. It's hard to work with holidays on, families in and piles of gift paper rising all around. I suppose I could have pulled a 'leave me – I'm a genius!' moment but thankfully I've got nowhere near enough confidence for that. So no writing for a whole week, but I have read a book, and that's the next best thing, especially if that book is On Writing by Stephen King.

I've never been part of a writer's group or had any tuition or guidance on the craft, except for some editorial feedback and what I've picked up from blog reading over the last six months. I tend to think that if you're any good at something you can mostly find your own way, until, that is, you've reached the point where you need concrete feedback on an actual piece of work. When it comes to novel writing I'm still just a beginner, and beginners need to get stuck right in and not worry about technique until they have something they can apply it to.

So On Writing has come to me at just the right time: revision time, right at the moment when I need someone to guide me through a maze of my own making and point out that readers don't actually want a maze, they want a journey, with clear signs and maybe a coffee shop or two on the way. On Writing is itself so clear and honest, and the author so close, that it almost feels like Stephen King was one of my Christmas guests this year! And I feel bad, because while he gave me the gift of his priceless experience and advice, all I gave him in return was a few percent of £8.99.

Next year I'll let him carve the turkey. I might not watch though.


  1. It's so good to read writers write about writing. Soon you might write about your own writing process and that's good too.

    I think there are times when it's good 'not' to write. I call it 'woolgathering', a word I picked up from AS Byatt.

    Things happen while your gathering wool. All those threads collect somewhere underneath in your unconscious mind, and when you get back to your writing, it's often all the better for the break. So enjoy it while you can.

    As a new visitor to you blog, I wish you all the best with it.

  2. I think worrying about technique can get in the way of your writing, too.

    The writing books are good, but if you read too many of them, you can end up confused. I liked Stephen King's, too.

  3. On Writing is still the only book about writing I've ever read. I read it before I ever wrote a word on my first manuscript. I think I need to read it again.

  4. Better to have a break and return "wanting" to write! "Wool gathering" is a great term for it.

    I can't read much when I'm writing, beyond research materials, but if I'm feeling sludgy I find there's nothing more likely to spur me on than a great "finished" book beside me, something to say to my book, "come on, look what you could be"! The madness of being a writer!

    I'm really pleased we bloggy met this year - you've been a real encouragement and your comments have been a joy!

    Happy New Year to you and yours and may much success come to you and your writing in 2010!

  5. On Writing is a great book for sure. And writing is bizarre - one of the very few jobs you teach yourself to do by and large - so that a little guidance goes a long way, I think.

    Don't feel bad about not writing over Christmas! Everyone needs a break, even from creativity.

  6. Elisabeth, woolgathering is the perfect word for it, especially for for the woolly-minded, like me. Thanks for commenting.

    Terry and Natalie, I'm glad you've both read this book too. I'm told it is the only book on writing anyone needs to read. Could that be true? I can almost believe it.

    Rachel, I agree -- it is comforting to have a published book nearby, especially if it's one I can imagine writing myself.

    I've enjoyed meeting you too and reading your delightful blog (even though I sometimes feel like a middle-brow clown when I'm there). I look forward to more fruitful exchanges in the new year, and I wish you a happy and successful 2010.

  7. Hi, marcus -- we cross-posted. Thanks for commenting. I hope we can talk again soon, and perhaps meet up in 2010. I'd love to pick your brains about one or two things, though only in a no-pressure-hey-it's-my-round sort of way.

    Happy new year to you and to Alice.

  8. Thomas,

    Interesting post - as it happens I got this book for Christams too - but I haven't even got around to opening it yet. Looking forward to reading it though. I've also done no writing over Christmas, but the ideas are always swirling around in my head and I'm sure it's not wasted time ...


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