No, seriously, am I the last writer on earth to finally read Stephen King's "On Writing," aka "the writing bible" (as some call it)?
Like parenting manuals, I don't generally read books on how to write. Of course, sometimes I need help -- in either area. When it came time to potty train the Juban Princeling, I picked up "Stress-Free Potty Training," and when we learned he was going to be a big brother I got "Siblings Without Rivalry." I'm not a total Neanderthal, I just don't like wasting time reading books on things I already do everyday.
But sometimes even I have to admit that it's time to call in the Big Guns and see what The Pros have to say. To give you a clue where I am in my parenting life these days, I'm currently reading "Setting Limits With Your Strong-Willed Child." And in my writing life I'm just over halfway through "On Writing."
It started like this.
It took me three years to get to a draft of BLOODSISTERS I was truly happy with. With the first draft I just dove in and wrote it. Then I realized how much it sucked. Like, sucked hard, and with commitment, and on a level that made me embarrassed to show it to people. I know first drafts almost always suck, but from what I understand from other writers, first drafts should at least have a story, even if it needs to be reworked. The draft I had was not a damn thing like the story I saw in my mind. Not even a tiny bit. I didn't know what it was, but it certainly wasn't anything I recognized as the story I wanted to tell. I scrapped about 90% of my first draft, went back, and rewrote BLOODSISTERS until the story itself was something I could live with.
Going into BLOODSISTERS'S sequel, WANDERLUST, was daunting. I didn't want to have to scrap three months of hard work again. I didn't want to have to write the book twice, again. I psyched myself out so badly that after only a few thousand words I just sort of gave up. I took some time off to write a few short stories, revise BLOODSISTERS yet again, and then take a month off from writing entirely. (That last was not 100% voluntary: we moved apartments, and that sucked up a lot of my time.)
Meanwhile, I thought of a story for another book, one not related at all to THE PROPHESIES TRILOGY. The idea happened when the Juban Princeling misheard something his father or I said, and repeated back, "What's a hollow queen?" I decided to come up with an answer. The more I thought about it, the more I decided THE HOLLOW QUEEN would be a horror story. Not a short story this time, which is where my default spontaneous ideas go, but a novel. A historical novel. A ghost story.
Funny, how that little nugget of an idea then opened the creative floodgates. Shortly after figuring out (or "discovering," as King might put it) the setting for THE HOLLOW QUEEN (a passenger ship bringing immigrants to America in the late 1800s), I also discovered the real story for WANDERLUST. I came up with a five-point plot summary (sorry, King) so that I wouldn't get lost in my own story again and my first draft would, at the very least, turn into something I could actually revise and work with. I know the major beats for WANDERLUST; now I just have to let the story itself flow out of my fingers and onto the page. It's not an outline, it's not a plot: it's just beats, five of them. A compass, not a map.
With that, I decided it was time to pick up "On Writing" and finally, you know, read it. It's certainly motivating; look at me, up at 5:30 this morning to get stuff done. Reading other blogs, looking up new markets, anthologies and contests for my short stories, updating my blog, Twittering -- all the writing "work" that isn't actual writing. During the Duke of Juban's, daily 2-hour nap I like to focus on writing, including critiquing for my partners. In 2 hours I can write 1,000 words and critique two chapters for other people.
I'm happy to admit I'm not too proud to know when I need some guidance. If there are parenting professionals out there who can help me minimize my older kid's meltdowns, I'm happy to at least hear what they have to say. I don't need a perfect Stepford child, I just need more good days than bad ones. And if Stephen King himself has some advice on being a professional writer, then I think I need to sit up and pay attention. I don't need to be as successful as he is, I don't need to sell a gajillionty books like he has. I just need to write good stories I can be proud of.