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What Stephen King taught me

Posted by: Joyce Matthews   |   No Comments   |  Posted on: Jul 01, 2016

Today I learned I’m not Stephen King. I’d like to be able to write as well as he does, and to earn the amount of money he’s earned, but that’s a different story.

Over the last few months I’ve been going to a creative writing group. When people ask me how I got involved I tell them ‘They kidnapped me and I keep going back.’ What really happened was I wandered into our local library one wet day last November to use the space of the big table in the library anteroom. When I got my laptop out, I noticed four women sitting round the table, looking at me expectantly.

‘Do you mind if I work here?’ I asked.

‘Actually,’ the lady who looked in charge explained, ‘it’s our creative writing group. Join us.’

I felt I couldn’t say no. Now I go every week.

We often share books we enjoy and find useful to develop our skills. The latest one is an unexpected book by Stephen King called “On Writing – a memoir of the craft”. It’s part biography and part advice.

I’ve been reading a little bit each day and decided to take some of his advice, sitting down to write exactly as he told me he did.

And it went spectacularly badly. I wrote for my usual time and finished feeling flat and frustrated.

‘What’s wrong?’ my husband asked as I humphed into the kitchen.

‘I couldn’t say what I wanted to say.’

‘What was the reason for that?’

‘I was trying to write like Stephen King and it didn’t work.’

‘What’ve you learned then?’

I rolled my eyes at his teacherly tone. I wonder where he learned that?

‘I’ve learned I’m not Stephen King and I should be careful about taking advice from experts for 2 reasons. Firstly because I’m me, and not them. Secondly, because experts often don’t really know exactly how they do what they do. They’re so in flow, unconsciously competent when they try to explain what they do, it might not actually be true. Remember Penny I used to play volleyball with at college? If you asked her how she volleyed she would say ‘ I just do it.’ She had no idea how she did it so well. She couldn’t break it down. She couldn’t stand outside herself and see exactly what she was doing. She was too ‘in’ it. She couldn’t teach it either. Remember she failed her teaching practice in volleyball?’ My husband nodded and wandered off.

So I guess the 3rd thing I learned was, much as I admire Stephen King as a writer, his advice hasn’t helped develop my skills one bit. I reckon the best people to help me progress are the ones that ask the best questions.

I wonder if I’ll be brave enough now not to devour the latest ‘gospel’ written by experts. Maybe I should just get my husband to ask me questions instead?

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