Write by the Lake, Stephen King on Writing

Stephen King's book On Writing has a lot of helpful pointers.

I’m here in Madison, Wisconsin this week, staying with childhood buddy Steve Kantrowitz, his wife Pernille Ipsen, and their two kids, Elliot and Sophie.

In addition to reconnecting, having a fabulous time watching Game 5 of the NBA Finals in their basement and generally wondering where all the years went since Steve and I first met in sixth grade, I’m also attending Write by the Lake writers’ conference.

It’s the 12th annual rendition of the conference, and the first one for me.  I am here courtesy of The Chicago Reporter, and thrilled to have a week of professional development paid for by the publication.

I’ve chosen to stretch myself and take a class on writing page-turning scenes taught by Kathy Steffen.  To her credit, Kathy contacted me before the class to make sure that I, as a journalist and non-fiction writer, knew what I was signing up for as she gears the class toward novelists and fiction writers in general.

I did, and am glad that I’m here.

We’ve just had the first day, so any lasting judgments are bound to be premature, and I do feel good about what I will learn from Kathy and the other participants.

To begin, she has already emphasized the importance of thinking through a story in advance and given us a useful checklist to consider when thinking about our works’ protagonists and antagonists.

Kathy has spoken glowingly of The Art of War for Writers, which I have not yet read.  Although I have some skepticism about the value of books about writing, there are several I have found useful over the years.

Stephen King’s On Writing is one of them.

King wrote the book about his near-fatal accident in Maine, when he was hit by a driver who he ultimately concluded could have been a character he had created in one of his many, many novels, screenplays, short stories or novellas.

The experience led to King having the first extended period of writer’s block in his adult life (Whatever one thinks of his work, one has to give the man props for productivity).

The story of how he breaks through that writing drought constitutes the major action of On Writing, and you get a lot more besides.

King actually went back to the wooden table he had originally used when he was a beginning writer.  In the course of the book, in which he does find himself able to put pen to paper in a meaningful way again, he talks about what he values in writing, about meeting his wife Tabitha, about growing up, and about his realization that he needed to quit teaching in order to become the writer he believed he could be.

On Writing also contains a lot of practical advice.

For example, he explains how he does not swerve from his daily commitment to write 2,000 words that he believes are worthy of inclusion in his current project.   Depending on the day, this can take anywhere from a few hours to most of the day.  But he does not let himself leave until he’s completed his task.

Of course, reading advice is easier than writing books, but King’s book and the pointers I’ve absorbed so far are useful ones.

I’ll keep you posted as the week continues.


4 responses to “Write by the Lake, Stephen King on Writing

  1. Jeff,
    I love Madison AND King’s On Writing! You’ve got it made, Jeff. I’ve copied snippets of the book to share with my students at College of DuPage as it’s good to hear one man’s writing process–and King’s humor in the middle of an academic writing class now and then doesn’t hurt either.

    In fact, just this morning I was doing some organizing and came across the part comparing writing a first draft of a novel to crossing the Atlantic in a bathtub! Students know King from popular movies, etc. and for me, it’s like visiting with an old friend whose short stories I discovered as a young teenager…now as an adult and a writer myself, I appreciate him on a whole new level.

    Great choice of book, Jeff! Enjoy Madison. (Any chance your buddy works in IT and can hook us up?)

  2. Also love On Writing. I recently read on a writer’s blog that she commits to just 500 words per day, which my reporter’s mind thought, 500 words? No problem. But 500 truly page-turning fiction is probably a different story.

    P.S. Just read “When The Game Was Ours” following your reco from January. Great timing. Go Celtics!

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Tina, for the comment. I hope all is well with you and your crew. And Amen to the Celtics love! 🙂

  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention Write by the Lake, Stephen King on Writing « Jeff Kelly Lowenstein’s Blog -- Topsy.com

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