If you've read the book and would like to join in on the discussion, you can find the questions HERE.
Do you agree with Stephen King that the desire to write always starts with a love of reading?
I've heard of writers who don't love reading, but I can't for the life of me understand this. I think in order to be a good writer you should definitely be a reader. Reading is not just for entertainment, it's also an important for learning when you're a writer. I learn from the crummy books, the 'meh', and the really good books alike. The way I see it, reading is truly invaluable when you're a writer.
King's wife Tabitha is his "Ideal Reader", the one-person audience he has in mind when writing a first draft. When you write, do you envision a particular Ideal Reader? Who is that person and why?
I don't know that I have an Ideal Reader in mind exactly. I know that much of the humour in what I write is geared toward my sister, who above everyone gets my bizarro sense of humour (and vice versa). Any intertextual references to sci fi favourites, for example, are in there for those geeky few who will catch them. Exhibit A: The number 42 dropped into the story intentionally. If you get this reference, good for you. You're just as geeky as I am. Mostly I just hope my story is relatable to a wide range of people. If it is, then I'll feel as though I've done something right.
Discuss King's "toolbox" analogy. What "tools" do you find most indispensable when you write? Are there any you would add to King's toolbox?
King suggests that our writing toolbox should include the commonest of tools on top (vocabulary & grammar), and just underneath these the elements of style. I completely agree with the tools King mentions and would rank them in the same order that he does. I was particularly interested in his discussion of vocabulary and the temptation to needlessly dress it up out of embarrassment or the need to impress. When this happens we often end up sounding too try-hard or just plain silly. I don't think this negates the use of a thesaurus, but it does caution us against overuse of this tool (think Joey aka 'Baby Kangaroo Tribbiani' in this episode of Friends). I think I'd add a good 'sounding board' to the toolbox, because I feel that we can't overestimate its value in the writing process.
According to King, good story ideas "seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky," and often don't ignite until they collide with another idea that also comes unbidden. Do you find that ideas for stories or writing projects come to you out of the blue, or do you have to search for them? King recalls a dream that led him to the writing of his book Misery. Have you ever gotten a story idea from a dream?
The ideas that I come up with for stories fly at me from out of the blue like King suggests. I've never gone looking for story ideas. My current WiP, for instance, was inspired by a newspaper headline I saw while killing time in an airport waiting for my flight. All of a sudden, the idea for a story started taking shape, and not long after, I started to write it. As for stories that come from dreams--I've never had this happen to me. Another story that I've worked on is a retelling of a Jane Austen romance. This has been done many times before, but I feel as though the story I chose (my favourite Austen) has been mostly passed over. This fact + my love for the story = Opportunity!
King describes the dangers of seeking reader response -- or "opening the door" -- too early or too frequently. At what stage in a writing project do you solicit critical feedback from others?
I have to agree with King on this. I know I have little to no experience with all of this, but I think there's a danger in not getting it all out on the page before sharing it. If you share too soon, how will you ever know if what you've written is entirely your story, you know? How much of it has been influenced by early reader suggestions? I think the skeleton of your WiP needs some padding on it before it's exposed to anyone, but that's just my opinion. Feedback is crucial, but it can wait.
In the first foreword to On Writing, King talks about the fact that no one ever asks popular writers about the language. Yet he cares passionately about language and about the art and craft of telling stories on paper. Do you think there is a false distinction between writers who write extraordinary sentences and writers who tell stories?
I'm not really sure if I completely understand the question, but I'll take a stab at it anyway. I don't think there should be a distinction between good writers and good storytellers. I think that every writer should aim to be both. A certain female author with sparkly characters frequently states that she is first and foremost a storyteller. This sentiment always rubbed me the wrong way. It feels like a crutch for bad writing to me. I'm not saying that Sparkly Writer is a bad writer, I'm saying that storytelling and good writing need to go hand in hand, and the one shouldn't outrank the other.*
Often, King says, "bad books have more to teach than the good ones." He believes that most writers remember the first book they put down thinking "I can do better than this." Can you remember a book that gave you that feeling? Why?
In my own experience (little as it is), I have found that I learn far more from the poorly written books. What eventually prompted me to try my hand at writing was a string of disappointing reading experiences (to be fair, these all followed Divergent, which was excellent). As arrogant as it sounds, I've said a few times that I can recall, "I can do better than this." Incredulity that "This thing got published?" was what ultimately pushed me to try and prove that I could do it too.
King's self-imposed "production schedule" is 2,000 words a day and he suggests that all writers set a daily writing goal. What kind of discipline do you impose upon your own writing efforts? Do you always write at the same time of day? Does adherence to a strict routine help your writing efforts?
When I first started writing, I set a daily word goal of 1000 words, and for the most part I stuck to it. I started my WiP during the summer when the sun was up early and so was I. I'd plant my butt in the chair as early as 6am and stay there until almost supper time (with breaks and internet distractions in between). I was (am) unemployed, so I was actually able to do this, but I know this isn't the case with most people. For me, sticking to this schedule from Monday to Friday, treating it like a job, was the thing that kept me going. I've fallen away from it lately, but I know it works.
King tells a story about getting his fantasy desk, a massive oak slab that he placed in the middle of his spacious study. For six years, he sat "behind that desk either drunk or wrecked out of [his] mind." After sobering up, he replaced the desk with a smaller one that he put in a corner. "Life isn't a support system for art," he figured out. "It's the other way around." Discuss King's "revelation" and the symbolism of the placement of the desk.
I'm not sure if I fully comprehend his meaning here, but I'm going to go with a quote we all know:
"It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that."**If I understand this correctly, King was allowing his art to become the focal point of his entire life, allowing it to take over and consume him. While our 'art' is important to us as writers, our actual lives are of greater importance, and we would do well to remember that. Writing, while a prominent part of our lives, does not and should not take centre stage to the detriment of everything else.
* * *I can't express how much I enjoyed and learned from this book without rambling for another several lines, which I promise I won't do. All of the grammar and show vs. tell examples he gives are very informative, as is the time he dedicates to slamming on the adverb (I totally see his point). Perhaps the most useful part of this book for me was his discussion of narration, description, and dialogue (Parts 5-7 in the section 'On Writing'). This was exactly what I needed to hear where I'm currently at in my WiP. My copy of the book is a starred, underlined, flagged, highlighted, marked up mess:
|The entire book looks like this. You can't tell just how many flags there are.|
I imagine that this is a book that I'll be returning to from time to time just to revisit its goodness. Have you read On Writing? If yes, what aspect would you say was the most useful/informative?
*I'm speaking of fiction here.
**Professor Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone re: the Mirror of Erised.