Learning from Stephen King’s “On Writing”

Stephen KingMy most important take-away from reading Stephen King’s “On Writing” this time around is how important discipline is to one’s writing career if one is serious about being published and making a living as a writer. The message was sinking in as he talked about how he sits down at his desk every morning and writes at least 2000 words per day, sometimes even on Christmas and his birthday.

This morning I woke feeling tired but knew I had to get dressed and get myself to a temp job where I’m working downtown. It’s the way I scrape a little dough these days, though as I look forward to beginning a low-residency MFA program this summer in the hope of getting closer to my passion for writing, books, and literature, I am reading Stephen King’s On Writing again. I read it when it first came out, but that was many years ago. With all those intervening years of practice writing, loads of workshops that I’ve taken and given, other books on writing that I’ve read, and six novel-length manuscripts later, I understand his book so much better now.

So as I lay on the couch, feeling exhausted because I didn’t get enough sleep, my night fraught with downstairs neighbors in a floor-pounding lover’s squabble and a roommate with insomnia, I finally got to sleep in the wee hours and then was tortured with those weird kinds of dreams where I’m being chased by a murderer and have to hide. Ugh! Yet, as I thought about my predicament in light of the kind of discipline that Stephen King displays, I realized that these are problems I would also have to deal with as a professional, full-time writer. It would be so easy to just take the day off.

One can always find an excuse to take the day off. And I was especially aware of how easy it would be if didn’t have a boss who might fire me for choosing a nap instead of working.

That realization was probably the most important lesson I learned this time around. It brought more awareness to the need for self-discipline and the need for clarity around what I value. Do I value a nap or do I value being a published author. I want that question to continue to arise in my mind every time I think, “I can get my word count tomorrow.”

Not necessarily. Any one of us could be hit by a van on any given day and might not live to write another day.