Stephen King

Writer, Everything’s on Loan

Stephen King gave a commencement speech at the University of Maine in 2005. I’m still haunted by what he said and the application to life and writing:

“And here’s a secret I learned six summers ago, lying in a ditch beside the road, covered in my own blood and thinking I was going to die: you go out broke. Everything’s on loan, anyway. You’re not an owner, you’re only a steward. So pass some of it on. You may not have much now, but you’re going to have a lot. And when you do, remember the ones that don’t have anything. A dime out of every dollar.”

You go out broke. Everything’s on loan. You’re not an owner, you’re only a steward.

I came to grips with these realities in 2009. During a routine five month ultrasound they told my wife and me our second daughter would die. Samantha would die in the womb or shortly thereafter.

She lived four days (see below).

Don’t Wait for the Muse- Advice from Stephen King

A frequently asked question of authors: where do ideas come from? A good question but if we peel back the onion, it makes a lot of assumptions.

An assumption that inspiration, motivation, and ideas, come from what some call, The Muse. Mousa, was the daughter of Zeus, a goddess assigned to oversee the arts, and inspire artists to create. A sky ferry of sorts visiting the struggling writer with inspiration and ideas.

We wait while our next great idea is born and Mousa, comes to nudge it along. But until the ideas falls, we sit idle.

A second assumption is that professional writers have fully baked ideas when they come to the page. Not true. Their best ideas came when they showed up. When they applied butt in a chair. Our best ideas have no chance of seeing the light of day until we add words to the page.

The myth of the muse has damaged many a writer. Held too many writers back. Stephen King in his famous book on the craft of writing, On Writing, said this about the muse:

“Don’t wait for the muse. As I’ve said, he’s a hardheaded guy who’s not susceptible to a lot of creative fluttering. This isn’t the Ouija board or the spirit-world we’re talking about here, but just another job like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks. Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon. Or seven ’til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up.”

I’m not willing to say there’s nothing magical about writing. Where do ideas come from? Why do we write? How does a story take shape? The subconscious, God, the muse? I think all of it. It is magic.

But you can’t wait for the magic. You’ll be waiting a long time.

Nothing good in life happens through passivity. The girl you married didn’t come about because you prayed and waited for her to knock on the door. You made the call, set up the date, and later asked her hand in marriage.

Relationships take work to flourish and writing is no different. Lay the pipe and drive the truck. The muse won’t do it for you.

Somewhere along our journey’s the myth of the muse poked its mythical head in our writing room. The magical creature that shoots ideas out of her butt, into your brain, and then funnels to our fingers. Instead of laying pipe, we sit in the truck, and wait for inspiration.

Steven Pressfield in a recent interview said he wears work boots to write every day. Why? You know, because there’s no Muse. The work boots are a reminder to punch the clock and do the work.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your next book, or article, wasn’t built while you napped. It came to life with fingers tapping, a computer buzzing, coffee flowing, and a back aching.

Waiting for the muse is rooted in fear. A fear of being exposed as a phony and wannabe writer. An opportunity for Resistance to sink her claws into our writing souls.

Later in On Writing King explains the difference between pros and amateurs:

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

Pressfield wears work boots to remind himself it’s time to lay pipe. King writes from nine ’til noon whether or not the muse shows up. Grisham sets a goal of ten pages per day. Muse or no muse. I write 10,000 words a week, whether or not I’m feeling it. The difference between the pro and the amateur.

Now before I go, there’s something King said which is super practical advice. Something we can apply to our writing craft today. Let’s not leave this conversation in the ether:

“Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon.”

If you need The Muse, fine. But make sure he/she knows where you’ll be. Have you determined your writing time/place? Is it on the calendar? We schedule everything else in our lives why does our writing get second fiddle?

Or, are you too much of an artist? You only write on Tuesday’s after drinking fox tears from a silver goblet? You only write when the schedule allows for it?

The more we plant butt in a chair at consistent intervals the better chance the muse can sprinkle story dust on our heads. Funny how that works.

Tell the muse what time you’ll be writing tomorrow. They’re welcome to visit anytime. If they forgo the invitation, fine, we’ll still be laying pipe, and punching the clock.

You know where to find us.

*Originally published on The Writer Cooperative

Stephen King's Secret on Becoming a Writer

I’d like to let you in on a secret. I know a blog is not the smartest place to share some of the most vital information for the aspiring and seasoned word slinger.

Regardless of the repercussions I’m willing to lose it all for what I know. The King of horror (Stephen King) and best-selling American novelists of the last century is giving away his most potent secret. A secret guaranteed to unlock the keys to the kingdom of writing.

Before I give away King’s secret I’d like to go on record and say two things:

First, I do not know Stephen King. Second, this is common knowledge available in multiple interviews and books written about the master storyteller.

Here we go. The secret to becoming a writer. A writer who does the work and shares the work. Not a wannabe, not someone who talks about writing, an actual living and breathing writer.

You decide to become one.

Simple, right?

When you explore the interviews and comments of people who knew Stephen King one is thing rings true. He wanted to be a writer and became one. Nothing would stop him.

King was not an overnight success. He wrote hundreds of short stories and received hundreds of rejection slips. He wrote four novels never published in high school and college (Rage published later under Richard Bachman, but was not his best).

King read stories and wrote stories from a young age. He often said he’d write books and stories even if he never made a dime. In fact, most of his early work never seen by anyone. The secret to King’s success was he determined to be a writer and nothing would stop him.

He talked about writing with professors; he read everything he could get his hands on, and even helped other students with their craft.

The secret for becoming a writer is determine to be one.

Let me be honest. There’s too much chatter on the inter-webs about technique, marketing, and gaming the Amazon algorithms. If that’s what you think is necessary for being a successful writer you’ve missed the forest for the trees.

Writing is art and one of the most powerful means of communication in the universe. But we cheapen the form when we place monetary gain as the ultimate benchmark of success. The only legitimacy for the writer is if he/she land a publishing deal and sell millions of copies.

Love needs to be a new benchmark. You must love to write. Or in King’s advice from On Writing, you need to do two things to be a writer, read a lot, and write a lot.

People who love the art form will write and write often.

When you watch interviews with King or hear him give lectures at events one thing rings true. He loves to write. He sees himself as a writer and nothing else matters. There is a childlike quality to the way he talks about his art.

I don’t hear that kind of affection these days in writing circles and groups. All I hear is how hard it is (which is true), how our books don’t sell, and what is the latest marketing technique to sell 100,000 copies.

This will not sustain you in the hard times. You must determine to be a writer. It’s what you do and what you love.

The secret to becoming a writer is to determine you are one.

If you don’t write… by definition you are not a writer.

When you determine you are. Watch out. You might become the next Stephen King.