A few posts back, when I wrote about house-hunting and the artistic temperament, I mentioned Stephen King as a model of a writer who seems to maintain a positive, grounded life while he writes about dark, disturbing content. I’m not such a fan of Mr. King’s novels. I don’t really do vampires (though he gets points for writing ‘Salem’s Lot before it was cool to write about vampires) or psychotic dogs, but then I did say I was going to read work outside my taste and come back bearing gifts of interesting craft techniques. I’ve also heard so many good things about his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft that it definitely seemed time to take a look at his memoir.
On Writing would make an absorbing read even if one weren’t interested in hearing King’s thoughts on novel-making; his transformation–from a kid who liked copying comic books verbatim to a teen troublemaker selling black-market stories printed his basement to an underemployed young father living in a trailer in the armpit of the country–sketches out a fascinating profile of an artist’s growth and development. King emerges as a figure who has needed to write, and whose fulfillment and joy as an individual emerge from his work, not from his celebrity.
But a main point of interest in terms of craft was his recommendation to write quickly. Very quickly. King says he wrote The Running Man in the space of one week–that’s roughly 30 pages of prose per day. One week was a bit quick even for King, though, so we mere mortals can relax a little. He says his novels generally take him about three months, and he cautions other writers not to take much more time than that. “Any longer” he says, “and the story begins to take on an odd foreign feel, like a dispatch from the Romanian Department of Public Affairs, or something broadcast on high-band shortwave during a period of severe sunspot activity.”
I’ll admit, I had a moment of feeling profoundly–and undeservedly–pleased with myself for writing a first draft of a novel in four months (hey, it was my first. I think I get an extra month as something like a golf handicap). I’d heard from many people (teachers, my now agent, writing friends) that a four-month crusade of noveling was likely a bad idea, and that I ran the risk of burning out, forcing ideas, or, worst of all, writing poorly. I’m happy to say I ignored that advice. I made a plan and a commitment to the four-month extravaganza of writing, and I enjoyed nearly every moment of it. The book came out with a kind of honesty and rawness of action that I’m sure a longer interval would have attenuated.
Of course, revising the novel took another three months. There was plenty of work to do in bringing that rawness and honesty up to a readable level of execution. But I’m inclined to agree with King (or perhaps use King to promote my own idea) that there’s a truthfulness to be gained from a telling that comes fast (that’s not to say spontaneous–that’s stuff of another blog post), fresh and unhindered.
Does this mean I’ll be able to produce a 450-page tome like The Shining in three months next time? We’ll see.