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Writing: From a King's Perspective

School is out. Summer is here, somewhat... It is questionable with our crazy Okanagan weather...Some of my tutees are inspiring writers, and sometimes the best way to learn about writing is from another writer, especially a successful one. Stephen King is one of my favorite authors. If you are a writer at heart and have never read, "The Art of Writing" it is worth the read. I also found this other article below online at the  Electric Typewriter website (reprinted in Sylvia K. Burack, ed. The Writer's Handbook. Boston, MA: Writer, Inc., 1988: 3-9).

 

"Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully - in Ten Minutes"

by Stephen King
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I. The First Introduction

THAT'S RIGHT. I know it sounds like an ad for some hoakey writers' school, but I really am going to tell you everything you need to pursue a successful and financially rewarding career writing fiction, and I really am going to do it in ten minutes, which is exactly how long it took me to learn. It will actually take you twenty minutes or so to read this essay, however, because I have to tell you a story, and then I have to write a second introduction. But these, I argue, should not count in the ten minutes.


II. The Story, or, How Stephen King Learned to Write

When I was a sophomore in high school, I did a sophomoric thing which got me in a pot of fairly hot water, as sophomoric didoes often do. I wrote and published a small satiric newspaper called The Village Vomit. In this little paper I lampooned a number of teachers at Lisbon (Maine) High School, where I was under instruction. These were not very gentle lampoons; they ranged from the scatological to the downright cruel.

Eventually, a copy of this little newspaper found its way into the hands of a faculty member, and since I had been unwise enough to put my name on it (a fault, some critics argue, of which I have still not been entirely cured), I was brought into the office. The sophisticated satirist had by that time reverted to what he really was: a fourteen-year-old kid who was shaking in his boots and wondering if he was going to get a suspension ... what we called "a three-day vacation" in those dim days of 1964.

I wasn't suspended. I was forced to make a number of apologies - they were warranted, but they still tasted like dog-dirt in my mouth - and spent a week in detention hall. And the guidance counselor arranged what he no doubt thought of as a more constructive channel for my talents. This was a job - contingent upon the editor's approval - writing sports for the Lisbon Enterprise, a twelve-page weekly of the sort with which any small-town resident will be familiar. This editor was the man who taught me everything I know about writing in ten minutes. His name was John Gould - not the famed New England humorist or the novelist who wrote The Greenleaf Fires, but a relative of both, I believe.

He told me he needed a sports writer and we could "try each other out" if I wanted.

I told him I knew more about advanced algebra than I did sports.

Gould nodded and said, "You'll learn."

I said I would at least try to learn. Gould gave me a huge roll of yellow paper and promised me a wage of 1/2¢ per word. The first two pieces I wrote had to do with a high school basketball game in which a member of my school team broke the Lisbon High scoring record. One of these pieces was straight reportage. The second was a feature article.

I brought them to Gould the day after the game, so he'd have them for the paper, which came out Fridays. He read the straight piece, made two minor corrections, and spiked it. Then he started in on the feature piece with a large black pen and taught me all I ever needed to know about my craft. I wish I still had the piece - it deserves to be framed, editorial corrections and all - but I can remember pretty well how it looked when he had finished with it. Here's an example:

(note: this is before the edit marks indicated on King's original copy)

Last night, in the well-loved gymnasium of Lisbon High School, partisans and Jay Hills fans alike were stunned by an athletic performance unequaled in school history: Bob Ransom, known as "Bullet" Bob for both his size and accuracy, scored thirty-seven points. He did it with grace and speed ... and he did it with an odd courtesy as well, committing only two personal fouls in his knight-like quest for a record which has eluded Lisbon thinclads since 1953....

(after edit marks)

Last night, in the Lisbon High School gymnasium, partisans and Jay Hills fans alike were stunned by an athletic performance unequaled in school history: Bob Ransom scored thirty-seven points. He did it with grace and speed ... and he did it with an odd courtesy as well, committing only two personal fouls in his quest for a record which has eluded Lisbon's basketball team since 1953....

When Gould finished marking up my copy in the manner I have indicated above, he looked up and must have seen something on my face. I think he must have thought it was horror, but it was not: it was revelation.

"I only took out the bad parts, you know," he said. "Most of it's pretty good."

"I know," I said, meaning both things: yes, most of it was good, and yes, he had only taken out the bad parts. "I won't do it again."

"If that's true," he said, "you'll never have to work again. You can do this for a living." Then he threw back his head and laughed.

And he was right; I am doing this for a living, and as long as I can keep on, I don't expect ever to have to work again.


III. The Second Introduction

All of what follows has been said before. If you are interested enough in writing to be a purchaser of this magazine, you will have either heard or read all (or almost all) of it before. Thousands of writing courses are taught across the United States each year; seminars are convened; guest lecturers talk, then answer questions, then drink as many gin and tonics as their expense-fees will allow, and it all boils down to what follows.

I am going to tell you these things again because often people will only listen - really listen - to someone who makes a lot of money doing the thing he's talking about. This is sad but true. And I told you the story above not to make myself sound like a character out of a Horatio Alger novel but to make a point: I saw, I listened, and I learned. Until that day in John Gould's little office, I had been writing first drafts of stories which might run 2,500 words. The second drafts were apt to run 3,300 words. Following that day, my 2,500-word first drafts became 2,200-word second drafts. And two years after that, I sold the first one.

So here it is, with all the bark stripped off. It'll take ten minutes to read, and you can apply it right away ... if you listen.


IV. Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully

1. Be talented

This, of course, is the killer. What is talent? I can hear someone shouting, and here we are, ready to get into a discussion right up there with "what is the meaning of life?" for weighty pronouncements and total uselessness. For the purposes of the beginning writer, talent may as well be defined as eventual success - publication and money. If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.

Now some of you are really hollering. Some of you are calling me one crass money-fixated creep. And some of you are calling me bad names. Are you calling Harold Robbins talented? someone in one of the Great English Departments of America is screeching. V.C. Andrews? Theodore Dreiser? Or what about you, you dyslexic moron?

Nonsense. Worse than nonsense, off the subject. We're not talking about good or bad here. I'm interested in telling you how to get your stuff published, not in critical judgments of who's good or bad. As a rule the critical judgments come after the check's been spent, anyway. I have my own opinions, but most times I keep them to myself. People who are published steadily and are paid for what they are writing may be either saints or trollops, but they are clearly reaching a great many someones who want what they have. Ergo, they are communicating. Ergo, they are talented. The biggest part of writing successfully is being talented, and in the context of marketing, the only bad writer is one who doesn't get paid. If you're not talented, you won't succeed. And if you're not succeeding, you should know when to quit.

When is that? I don't know. It's different for each writer. Not after six rejection slips, certainly, nor after sixty. But after six hundred? Maybe. After six thousand? My friend, after six thousand pinks, it's time you tried painting or computer programming.

Further, almost every aspiring writer knows when he is getting warmer - you start getting little jotted notes on your rejection slips, or personal letters . . . maybe a commiserating phone call. It's lonely out there in the cold, but there are encouraging voices ... unless there is nothing in your words which warrants encouragement. I think you owe it to yourself to skip as much of the self-illusion as possible. If your eyes are open, you'll know which way to go ... or when to turn back.

2. Be neat

Type. Double-space. Use a nice heavy white paper, never that erasable onion-skin stuff. If you've marked up your manuscript a lot, do another draft.

3. Be self-critical

If you haven't marked up your manuscript a lot, you did a lazy job. Only God gets things right the first time. Don't be a slob.

4. Remove every extraneous word

You want to get up on a soapbox and preach? Fine. Get one and try your local park. You want to write for money? Get to the point. And if you remove all the excess garbage and discover you can't find the point, tear up what you wrote and start all over again . . . or try something new.

5. Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft

You want to write a story? Fine. Put away your dictionary, your encyclopedias, your World Almanac, and your thesaurus. Better yet, throw your thesaurus into the wastebasket. The only things creepier than a thesaurus are those little paperbacks college students too lazy to read the assigned novels buy around exam time. Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule. You think you might have misspelled a word? O.K., so here is your choice: either look it up in the dictionary, thereby making sure you have it right - and breaking your train of thought and the writer's trance in the bargain - or just spell it phonetically and correct it later. Why not? Did you think it was going to go somewhere? And if you need to know the largest city in Brazil and you find you don't have it in your head, why not write in Miami, or Cleveland? You can check it ... but later. When you sit down to write, write. Don't do anything else except go to the bathroom, and only do that if it absolutely cannot be put off.

6. Know the markets

Only a dimwit would send a story about giant vampire bats surrounding a high school to McCall's. Only a dimwit would send a tender story about a mother and daughter making up their differences on Christmas Eve to Playboy ... but people do it all the time. I'm not exaggerating; I have seen such stories in the slush piles of the actual magazines. If you write a good story, why send it out in an ignorant fashion? Would you send your kid out in a snowstorm dressed in Bermuda shorts and a tank top? If you like science fiction, read the magazines. If you want to write confession stories, read the magazines. And so on. It isn't just a matter of knowing what's right for the present story; you can begin to catch on, after awhile, to overall rhythms, editorial likes and dislikes, a magazine's entire slant. Sometimes your reading can influence the next story, and create a sale.

7. Write to entertain

Does this mean you can't write "serious fiction"? It does not. Somewhere along the line pernicious critics have invested the American reading and writing public with the idea that entertaining fiction and serious ideas do not overlap. This would have surprised Charles Dickens, not to mention Jane Austen, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Bernard Malamud, and hundreds of others. But your serious ideas must always serve your story, not the other way around. I repeat: if you want to preach, get a soapbox.

8. Ask yourself frequently, "Am I having fun?"

The answer needn't always be yes. But if it's always no, it's time for a new project or a new career.

9. How to evaluate criticism

Show your piece to a number of people - ten, let us say. Listen carefully to what they tell you. Smile and nod a lot. Then review what was said very carefully. If your critics are all telling you the same thing about some facet of your story - a plot twist that doesn't work, a character who rings false, stilted narrative, or half a dozen other possibles - change that facet. It doesn't matter if you really liked that twist of that character; if a lot of people are telling you something is wrong with you piece, it is. If seven or eight of them are hitting on that same thing, I'd still suggest changing it. But if everyone - or even most everyone - is criticizing something different, you can safely disregard what all of them say.

10. Observe all rules for proper submission

Return postage, self-addressed envelope, all of that.

11. An agent? Forget it. For now

Agents get 10% of monies earned by their clients. 10% of nothing is nothing. Agents also have to pay the rent. Beginning writers do not contribute to that or any other necessity of life. Flog your stories around yourself. If you've done a novel, send around query letters to publishers, one by one, and follow up with sample chapters and/or the manuscript complete. And remember Stephen King's First Rule of Writers and Agents, learned by bitter personal experience: You don't need one until you're making enough for someone to steal ... and if you're making that much, you'll be able to take your pick of good agents.

12. If it's bad, kill it

When it comes to people, mercy killing is against the law. When it comes to fiction, it is the law.


That's everything you need to know. And if you listened, you can write everything and anything you want. Now I believe I will wish you a pleasant day and sign off.

My ten minutes are up.

Find a tutor 101

Some students benefit from one-on-one support. A tutor can help improve grades, and as well, increase the knowledge and understanding of subjects. Additionally, "the right tutor" can boost a student's motivation to succeed, and allow a student to learn at their own pace. In turn, this can help a student improve their grades; as well as, their self-esteem and confidence.

There are several things to consider when hiring a tutor. For example:

  • Make sure the tutor is a qualified teacher. Why? First of all, BC Certified Teachers must have a criminal record check. Secondly, they will have the proper tools and foundation to teach your child.

  • An experienced and qualified tutor will want to initially meet with the family and/or student to develop a learning plan? How can you help a student progress if you do not know where you are going?

  • Ask whether the tutor travel to your house, as there may be an extra travel fee or whether you will travel to the tutor?

  • Rates are typically dependent on experience, and like with anything else in business, you typically get what you pay for.

  • It is also very important to make sure that the student and tutor are compatible. Just like in other areas of life; sometimes people click and sometimes not. In this case, the tutor is a learning tool, so it is very important for the student to form a cooperative and understanding learning environment conducive to the student's needs.

  • A professional tutor should be super organized, in order to track the student's progress and to plan lessons.

  • As well, ensure the tutor is knowledgeable and trained in the subject- specific knowledge the student needs. For example, there is no point in hiring a math tutor to help you with English grammar.

Overall, there are many benefits to hiring a tutor, if you hire the right one and mostly, best suited for the student's needs. Make sure your tutor is educated, certified, knowledgeable, experienced and most of all, loves working with students!

 

The Six Comma Rules

When I worked at the Douglas College Learning Center this list helped me migrate the confusing world of commas. It seems like writers either use too many, don't use them correctly or in exasperation don't use them at all, creating a whole collage of run-on sentences.

 

The Six Comma Rules:

  1. Put a comma before and, but, for, or, nor, yet, and so when they connect two independent clauses.
  2. Put a comma between items in a series.
  3. Put a comma after an introductory expression or before an afterthought.
  4. Put commas with dates.
  5. Put commas around an interrupter, like however, moreover etc.
  6. Put commas around nonessential material.

         Teresa Ferster Glazier, The Least You Should Know About English Writing Skills. Form B, 5th ed. (Harcourt Brace College, 1994).

 

Examples (from corresponding numbers 1 to 6 above):

  1.  I rushed home, and I finished my homework before I went to the birthday party.
  2. She asked me to go to the store to get some milk, pears, olives, tomatoes and bottled water.
  3. In June, I will be going to summer camp at Silver Lake.
  4. I was born on October 10, 1998, in Quebec.
  5. The student studied for the test, however, he studied the wrong things and failed the test.
  6. Tina, the girl with the bleach blond hair, sat in the corner of the room reading her book.

 

Also, as you can see this information is taken from an older source, but as the old adage goes, if it is not broken, do not fix it. In other words, if it still works, use it.

Writing Better? or Better Writing?

Writing is not easy. If it was there would be no need for a tutor. lol As a tutor for over 15 years I have noticed a common list of writing issues. For example:

  • A paper needs a purpose. This purpose and/or argument needs to be clear, otherwise your reader will be confused. In College and University this reader is your professor. If he or she is confused this will usually result in a low mark. This purpose is usually defined in a thesis in the first paragraph, last sentence.
  • The content in the paper is not relevant to what the main argument is. If you stray off topic, then how do you expect your reader to follow what you have written?
  • Don't use unnecessary words. Whether you are using too many words and creating wordy sentences or using a thesaurus to replace simple words with bigger, more sophisticated words, don't do it. Like a College Professor once taught me, simple is better.
  • Know what format you are expected to write in and stick to it. Is it APA, MLA, Chicago style etc?
  • Also, make sure you have enough sources and that the sources are appropriate. For example, most papers need academic sources, not internet sources like Wikipedia or just some article found on the net. Just because it is on the internet does not make it true. The best academic sources are found at College or University Libraries and/or library databases.
  • Leave more white space above, than below headings.
  • Re: Punctuation. Put a period before the quotation mark at the end of the sentence, not after.
  • Watch comma and apostrophe usage, as well as semi-colon and colon use.

I could write pages of tips, but above are the main ones I have noted over the years. Like I said before, writing is not easy. Most of us are not born with the talent of writing well, but with the assistance of a professional tutor like myself, practice and years of honing the craft, writing does get easier.

Want to Become More Effective?

First of all, you might wonder what being more effective means?

 

Someone who is highly effective accomplishes their goals by doing the things that bring them the results they need. According to the late Stephen R. Covey who wrote and made infamous "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," effectiveness correlates with personal development. This personal development, according to Covey includes seven steps:

 

1.Be Proactive- be in control of your choices and realize there is always a solution to every dilemma or situation.

2.Begin with the End in Mind- in other words, in knowing the purpose, there is direction and direction equals success.

3.First Things First- learn to manage your time effectively.

4.Think Win Win- this includes fostering a positive attitude and learning to compromise.

5.Seek First to Understand, then be Understood- take the time to listen and really understand a situation before jumping in.

6.Synergize- in other words, finding creative solutions by working collaboratively with others.

7.Sharpen the Saw- by regularly engaging with your body, mind and spirit you will not only develop more as a person, but also become more effective.

 

Also, according to Covey our social expectations are strongly tied to our perception of the world. In essence, it is those social paradigms that dictate the way we "see" the world. It is only when we shift those paradigms through personal development, like the 7 habits described by Covey that we have an "Aha!" experience and begin to change our attitudes and behaviours, as well as begin our self education and growth. As Covey states, "admission of ignorance is often the first step in our education" (37).

 

When I first read "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" in College I looked at it as a boring book that was something to read, write a paper on and forget about. I never thought that years later Covey's sharing of knowledge would make a lot of sense and would be something that I would want to re-read , think about and share with others. All in all, Covey researched over 200 years of literature of successful people to recognize and share with his readers that the 7 habits are principles  typically already within us, but in order to be successful and effective we need to learn to develop and embrace these principles.

               

                Covey, R. Stephen. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1989.

Read a Book!

In a world of technology it is easy to forget to read...

 

Did you know that reading can keep your mind active and engaged?

 

In fact, studies show that those that read have higher GPA’s, higher intelligence, and general knowledge than those that don’t. Reading is also a great way to increase your vocabulary! Some scientists have also concluded that reading is a use-it-or-lose-it process. For example, research supports that if an adolescent forgoes reading in favor of lying on the couch, and playing video games that those unused synapses in the brain will be pruned. Research also shows that avid readers:

  • Read and concentrate better
  • Have an easier time processing information
  • Write better- the more you read, the better writer you'll become
  • Develop an ability to understand how other people think and feel
  • Acquire the ability to understand how unrelated facts can fit into a whole- improved analytical thinking

But, even after reading the previous facts, some of you may still be questioning WHY is reading so important? In this day and age, with television to give us news and DVD's to entertain us, WHO needs to read???

 

The Answer. EVERYONE!!!

 

Why Share Knowledge?

A better question to answer this is to ask yourself why some people stop themselves from sharing knowledge?

 

To begin with, some people believe that the old coinage "knowledge is power" also implies that those with knowledge hold power over those without. But, I think other more prevalent reasons like the lack of trust, lack of time and not realizing how useful certain knowledge is to others is more to blame for the knowledge hoarding movement in our culture.

 

For example, and I am sure we have all been there at one point in our life, especially during our schooling years, that people are sometimes afraid to share knowledge because they are afraid that others will pass it off as their own without acknowledging the true source.

 

The internet has made it very easy for people to "borrow" information and label as their own original thought. For example, in college a former class mate tried to pass the lyrics of a Jewel song off as her own original poem. We were all stupefied at her brazen lie and in the end, the student got kicked out of college for plagiarism.

 

In such a massive universe of technology, unlike the previous example, it is sometimes hard to prove without a shadow of a doubt where the information originated. But, as most mothers allege, "cheating is only cheating yourself," so this must also encompass stolen knowledge.

 

Still regardless of the outcome, sharing your knowledge with others is more advantageous than knowledge hoarding. My first step in starting this service is to share my knowledge with others, and hopefully along the way inspire others to share what they know too.

 

 

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