Stephen King, who reportedly has written some best sellers (I think I read a short story 30+ years ago; it was pretty good), offers 20 top rules for writers in an old Atlantic interview. Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of overlap with Struck & White’s Elements of Style.
King’s versions (selective), which I offer not as an exemplar of good writing, let alone a novelist:
1. First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience. “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”
2. Don’t use passive voice. “Timid writers like passive verbs for the same reason that timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe.”
8. Don’t worry about making other people happy. “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”
9. Turn off the TV. “TV—while working out or anywhere else—really is about the last thing an aspiring writer needs.”
11. There are two secrets to success. “I stayed physical healthy, and I stayed married.”
16. Take a break. “You’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience.”
17. Leave out the boring parts and kill your darlings. “(kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.)”
18. The research shouldn’t overshadow the story. “Remember that word back. That’s where the research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it.”
20. Writing is about getting happy. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”
From the same Open Culture piece, three more links, verbatim:
I love Vonnegut’s tips, by the way, since they’re so very Vonnegutian, but you can read them for yourself.
Pre-publication “update”: “I have found that anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the Northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.” (Flannery O’Connor, who, Vonnegut says, broke all his rules but the first.)
Taking tacit issue with King’s letter to his 16-year-old-self is Irish Rocker Shane McGowan, with whose ouevre I’m actually less intimately familiar than I am with King’s:
“If you’re asking whether drink and drugs have worked for me,” he told an interviewer in 1994, “I’ve got to say they have. I’m one with William Blake on this one. Drink and drugs and all that shit, it’s a short cut to the subconscious.”
City Journal’s profile proceeds to describe his subconscious as “a religious bouillabaisse of Celtic paganism, Catholic mysticism, and ‘drunken Zen.’” The rest of the article bears that out. I think I shall avoid him – not because he’s a syncretist but because his musical genre, punk, is one I’ve always found unbearable, even if it’s supposedly genius.
May god have mercy on the drunken genius anyway.
And taking tacit issue with Shane McGowan (assuming that the “subconscious” and “knowing God” are analogous – etymologically, they’re not, but people use words oddly sometimes), Fr. Stephen Freeman proposes
Few things are as difficult in the modern world as fasting. It is not simply the action of changing our eating habits that we find problematic – it’s the whole concept of fasting and what it truly entails. It comes from another world.
We understand dieting – changing how we eat in order to improve how we look or how we feel. But changing how we eat in order to know God or to rightly keep a feast of the Church – this is foreign. Our first question is often, “How does that work?” For we live in a culture of utility – we want to know the use of things. Underneath the question of utility is the demand that something make sense to me, and that I be able to ultimately take charge of it, use it as I see fit and shape it according to my own desires.
What is at stake in the modern world is our humanity. The notion that we are self-authenticating individuals is simply false. We obviously do not bring ourselves in existence – it is a gift. And the larger part of what constitutes our lives is simply a given – a gift. It is not always a gift that someone is happy with – they would like themselves to be other than they are. But the myth of the modern world is that we, in fact, do create ourselves and our lives – our identities are imagined to be of our own making. We are only who we choose to be. It is a myth that is extremely well-suited for undergirding a culture built on consumption. Identity can be had at a price. The wealthy have a far greater range of identities available to them – the poor are largely stuck with being who they really are.
But the only truly authentic human life is the one we receive as a gift from God. The spirituality of choice and consumption under the guise of freedom is an emptiness. The identity we create is an ephemera, a product of imagination and the market. The habits of the marketplace serve to enslave us – Lent is a call to freedom.
He offers guidelines for Christian Lenten observance not only from within the Orthodox tradition, but for those in other traditions (as he once was) as well – though with some necessary caveats.
If you’re reading this, don’t say “yeah, I’m gonna do Lent like that next year.” It’s not too late to start, as St. John Chrysostom’s Pascal Homily (Easter Sermon) shows:
If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.
But don’t fast if you’re not going to pray.
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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)