Four Lessons Learned From Stephen King’s On Writing

Nothing heals a writer like a good book and I’m still shaking my head on why it took me so long to pick up and read Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of Craft (2000). I’m a slow reader but I read through this in one sitting and picked up some key lessons.

Who is Stephen King and Why is He a Big Deal?

I wasn’t a big Stephen King fan. I knew about him and some of my favourite movies are based on his stories.

For one, I’m afraid of horror stories and I wasn’t an avid reader of his type of fiction. Then I read this book.

Stephen King is one of the most prolific authors today. Skimming through his Wikipedia page, King has written 54 novels and 200 short stories and has won countless awards I won’t even bother listing.

King from 2011

Among King’s most famous stories are The Shining (1977), It (1986), and the Dark Tower series (1982 onwards).

King is mostly known for his horror stories. Described as the “King of Horror”, most of King’s stories have become feature-length films and several of his characters have grown to become pop culture phenomena: Pennywise from It and Jack Torrance from The Shining just to name a few.

Although many of his best works mixed genres like The Stand (1978) being a post-apocalyptic fantasy and Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption (1982) being crime fiction.

King wrote a lot and wrote well. It’s already an accomplishment to finish one novel and an even bigger one to have it published so imagine King pumping two novels within a year.

He’s in the Mount Rushmore of all-time great modern-day authors so it seems obvious any advice he’d impart about the craft would be worth learning.

On Writing: Five Key Lessons

This is one of the best and easiest books to read and I highly recommend reading through the whole thing even if the writing advice isn’t until the middle portions of the book.

Reading about King’s humble beginnings, how he got started as a writer all the way to his accident and him writing the book will add much-needed context to his advice.

King manages to give both practical and inspirational advice and it flows naturally in his book. It reads like a conversation, which is a testament to the mastery of his writing voice.

If you’re a writer, you must buy this book and keep it close to you always along with Strunk’s The Elements of Style (which King referenced a lot in his book).

These two books should be read and re-read as often as possible.

The biggest takeaways from King are not revolutionary or mind-blowing.

They are simple yet profound.

Read. A Lot.

Sometimes the most obvious advice is the one taken for granted. It only makes sense for writers to be avid readers.

But King isn’t just referring to any kind of reading. He’s talking about books. These objects made of dead trees usually ignored in libraries or used as decorations or prop sets.

King isn’t just talking about good books but bad ones.

Writers can learn a lot from a good book but it’s the bad books that teach more. ~ Stephen King

This wisdom can be applied to other forms of media like movies.

I had a film teacher show us bad movies then quiz us on all the things the movie did wrong and what could have been done to fix it.

Read voraciously.

Read almost everything you can get your hands on.

King even goes as far as advising to ignore social norms like not reading while eating. He advises reading whenever possible.

Life is much more hectic for most people today. Writers are writing, working a full-time job, a side gig, and taking care of their families.

It’s tough to find time to read but like writers make time for writing, they should make time for reading.

In fact, even some of the brightest and most influential people who aren’t writers like Elon Musk and Warren Buffet spend a great deal of time reading.

Reading either fiction or non-fiction is a good source for inspiration and ideas. It is therapeutic and is a welcome escape from our reality where everything is “go, go, go!”

It’s also a great tool to…

Keep Sharpening Your Writing Skills.

There is a section in the book that discusses all the essential skills for writers. These are but not limited to:

  • Grammar (includes spelling)
  • Vocabulary
  • Editing
  • Proofreading
  • Reading

Writers need to constantly work on their craft and that is only achievable by… writing!

Much like how athletes or skilled tradesmen constantly hone their skills until they “master” them, so should writers.

Reading is a must to help hone grammar and vocabulary. Listening to podcasts, attending poetry slams and going to writer hangouts are also good ways to get embedded with other wordsmiths.

Editing and proofreading are two skills that seem taken for granted these days especially with tools like Grammarly and Microsoft Word’s spellcheck, which do half of the job.

Then the online publishing culture also puts the focus is on speed, quantity, and meeting deadlines.

There are also editors who tend to do the “cleaning up” for most writers.

It should be a writer’s habit to proofread then edit their works.

Go the extra step by having a friend proofread or read out loud what you wrote. Mistakes and parts that sound wonky will quickly be noticed making it easier to edit.

And as short and sweet advice goes: “the second draft is the first minus 10%” per King’s own writing.

Writing Schools Don’t Work.

King didn’t explicitly state that going to writing schools are a waste of time nor did he suggest they have no use. But many of writers have paid for writing courses as the added incentive to finish their manuscripts.

This sounds like a desperate ploy for writers to coerce themselves into completing their work since they paid money for it.

Chances are, most writing courses tend to look and sound the same. I’ve been to a few myself.

It usually involves an instructor with some degree of writing credibility, a few students mostly wannabe authors and maybe a few published looking to network, and yourself.

The main thing to writing courses is the added accountability. You are given assignments and deadlines. You’re basically giving yourself an editor/boss of sorts: someone who will be checking up on your progress.

But if you’re looking for revolutionary insights or career-breaking advice you won’t find online or through other free workshops, you’ll be hard-pressed.

Plenty of the advice I received I already either knew about or read about online. I met a few friends, gained a few contacts, and made progress on my manuscripts.

But I also paid around $500 for an eight-week course and this was over five years ago so that’s probably around $600 these days. It wasn’t a waste of money, but had I been smarter, I could have signed up for cheaper alternatives online.

You can use writing schools to network and make a dent in your manuscript. Maybe you’ll learn a thing or two. Networking is a significant part of becoming an author.

Just be wary of how much you’re paying and weigh that with what you expect to receive.

Write about the Truth.

Write because you love it and because you have something beautiful to share with the world.

Don’t write because you want a paycheque, or you want to impress people. Ignore the naysayers and don’t pay attention to trends or “what sells”.

The moment you begin to look too much outside for “writing advice” is the moment you lose your voice.

Yes, it is vital to listen to others to improve your craft.

But these should mostly be about the technical aspects like how you structure your arguments or grammatical corrections.

Ultimately, you only have your truth: your personal principles, beliefs, and views. This is what makes every writer unique. This is what gives you your voice.

It can be a long and difficult process to find a writing voice.

I’m still struggling to find mine. Writing in many different genres can also complicate things further.

But whenever I feel lost, I always go back to what got me started as a writer.

I wanted to tell stories. I look back to the video games, movies, and books that captivated me as a child and I want to impart to others the same wonder I felt.

In every writer is purity that needs to be shared with the world.

It doesn’t matter how “saturated” genres are or how many books get published in a day or how many countless writers there are.

We always need storytellers and writers are in the forefront even in an era dominated by video.

On Writing: Rekindling the Magic of Writing

As a writer, the process can be so tiring. Pumping out 2,000 words a day at a minimum can be draining. I find it impossible to sit in front of a laptop during some days.

I’m thankful for having read this book because it reenergized me and helped me enjoy writing again. I’ve gained a new perspective on writing and no longer feel it is a huge chore.

I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s almost 20 years old to the date but the wisdom King imparts is timeless. It’s easy to read, it’s inspirational, and it’s practical. It must be on every writer’s bookshelf.

Thank you, Stephen King!

5 to 7 Revisited: The Hopeless Romantic’s Love Story

Most people who know me won’t consider me a romantic type of guy. But I’m a closet hopeless romantic.

Hopeless romantics are hopeless for a reason. We are more absorbed in the idea of love and the person than the reality. This works well during the initial courtship and the early relationship stages, the “honeymoon phase”. But when the flaws and challenges start to appear, we melt away like a snowflake.

I’ve dated my fair share of people like that. Some of them just ended the relationship without good reason and to this day I will never find out why. I can just assume they were enamored with my initial character but once my deeper flaws appeared they ran. I’m guilty of this myself.

Even with this admission, you won’t catch me watching romcoms and the like. They are just so silly, immature, and as fake as a pornstar’s tits.

But something about 5 to 7, starring the late Anton Yelchin and Berenice Marlohe, spoke to me and it’s easily my favourite romance. Not only was this movie endearing, but it managed to do the rare thing of making you fall in love with its ideals while reminding you of how trying true love can get.

5 to 7: A Love Affair With A Bittersweet Lesson

Brian Bloom, played by the late Anton Yelchin is a young aspiring novelist in New York City who meets Arielle (Berenice Marlohe), an older French woman.

They begin dating during the specific times of five o’clock to seven o’clock because it’s the only time Arielle is available.

*SPOILERS*

Arielle is married, and Brian is taken back. But he is even more surprised when Arielle’s husband, Valery (Lambert Wilson) is aware of this affair and allows it. Like most western men, Brian is uneasy about this but after an all-too splendid dinner date with the couple and their family, he is acquainted to the rules.

It turns out, even Valery is having an affair with Jane (Olivia Thirlby), who is also much

younger than him and an American, like Brian.

This is a turning point to Brian’s life as he soon meets Jane’s boss, Jonathan (Eric Stoltz) who agrees to publish a novel for Brian after having read his earlier work.

Everything is going great. Brian has everything a writer could need: a beautiful muse, a publisher, and the love of his life. Except this wasn’t enough for Brian.

He breaks the rules.

Brian asks for Arielle’s hand in marriage. Shocked, Arielle accepts. And despite everyone’s disapproval including Jane’s, Brian’s parent’s, and of course, Valery’s himself, they go through with it.

But at the last moment, Arielle instead ends her relationship with Brian and reaffirms her marriage with Valery choosing to honour her commitment.

Heartbroken, Brian becomes forlorn and later finds out through Jane that Valery also ended his relationship with her.

Inspired by his breakup, Brian writes and publishes his first novel, “The Mermaid”.

Years pass. and the two cross paths again. Brian, now a successful author, is married with a child and Arielle is still with Valery.

Just as the film ends, Arielle secretly shows Brian that she is wearing the ring he gave her when he proposed.

*END SPOILERS*

Reviewing 5 to 7: Beautifully Flawed, Sentimentally Delivered

It’s one of those films that I would put on my all-time favourite lists but not on the “all-time greatest”. I can’t recommend this movie to everyone. But if you want to trigger me, just take a dump on the movie. I hold this movie close to my heart.

But right from the start, you can tell the film was inspired by true events and written by an idealistic person. The characters, the premise, and the themes are something most movie watchers may fantasize about but won’t be able to relate.

It works seamlessly as a wish fulfillment in most cases but as a movie that talks about the harsh realities of romance and affairs, it’s a bit childish. But you can’t separate this quality from an idyllic film.

Much like hopeless romanticism, the film plays through rose-shaded lens with a magnetic chemistry between the two leads, witty dialogue that aspiring writers like myself should take note of, and charming performances from the entire cast.

Even when the film attempts to deliver a heartbreaking moral lesson, it does so in romantic fashion and is sure to tug at your heartstrings unless you’re a skeptic or a monster (sometimes I confuse the two).

It is as inspiring as it is heartbreaking.

In what would be the most pragmatic aspect of the film, it comes to terms with the reality that two people, no matter how much they love each other, will not end up together.

In bittersweet fashion, they were able to enjoy their relationship it in its purity. It never got the chance to grow and mature and really test them.

But their love stayed pure and will live with them for the rest of their lives, never to be adulterated, depreciated, or destroyed.

What Hollywood and Hopeless Romantics Get Wrong

The poignant conclusion makes the film stand out because it manages to capture the feeling of a “Hollywood ending” without degenerating into the usual tropes.

As an older millennial, most of the mainstream stories focus on a happy ending: the guy and the girl fall in love and live happily ever after. People are tired of it and don’t believe in it anymore.

We now live in an era of skepticism where both older and younger millennials are having more difficult times finding or maintaining a long-lasting relationship.

Hollywood and the media has given us this idea that the best part about love is the falling in love phase. It’s about the thrill. Could this be why there are so many instances of people being so good at starting relationships but so bad at keeping them?

Hopeless romanticism isn’t about love but about falling in love. It’s about the thrill and the chase.

This movie is more Hollywood in this sense because it preserves the romantic feelings of starting a new love interest and gives an idea that in some cultures like the French relationship represented her, you can maintain a stable long-term relationship while reliving the ecstasies of falling in love all over again.

But the more mature aspect of the film shows that despite Arielle’s intense new feelings for Brian, she sacrifices it to rededicate herself to her husband. This is the love aspect ultimately “winning” over the falling in love part.

It’s what sets apart the hopeless romantics from those who have successfully propagated a long-term relationship. The formers are focused on falling in love, but the latter is dedicated to staying in love.

And this isn’t an either/or dichotomy. Hopeless romantics can keep the flame burning or even to save a relationship that may not have that spark anymore.

But it’s important for them to understand that their feelings, no matter how immaculate they were in their amorousness, is unsustainable. Only by accepting this can hopeless romantics develop a more grounded sense of love.

 About Soulmates and the Idea of Eternal Love

For a second, forget everything I just wrote about above and think about the idea of “soulmates”. This is another take you can get from the movie.

Brian and Arielle are soulmates even if they don’t end up as life mates.

The movie beautifully expresses the idea that two people can fall in love despite being in committed relationships and it doesn’t devalue or tarnish their relationship at all.

I’m not a big believer in soulmates and I don’t have any clue as to what it is, but it reminds me of the relationship I have with my best friend. While we have a deep, almost psychic-like bond, we agreed to not go beyond friendship.

The love we feel for each other feels purer. It feels less selfish.

I want her happiness like she wants mine. She hugs me, caresses me and soothes me with all the affection I could ever ask for in a woman and yet I am not left feeling like I need more like an addict going through withdrawal.

Love is, after all, not something you can control.

It’s not something you can quantify or put stipulations on.

It just happens.

We have this flawed idea that our love is like a container and we can only fit so much.

But the film expresses that our love is more flexible and will grow as we find more people to love.

5 to 7 is a personal favourite because of the themes hitting me right in the feels as both a writer and a hopeless romantic.

For hopeless romantics, and this is a message I tell myself, let love happen. Have no expectations. Embrace the idea that whatever preconceived notions we have about it, aren’t always what they seem.

“The world will surprise you with its grace if you let it”.

What NaNoWriMo Taught Me – Taking a Leap of Faith

What NaNoWriMo Taught Me - Taking a Leap of Faith Go Paolo

Follow your dreams. This is what NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) taught me in many ways and sometimes you must go for it, no ifs and buts.

For the record, I hated this advice. It’s this crap that makes me squeamish for its naivety. But after years of misery, working bullshit jobs, and forming bullshit friendships, I was surprised how difficult it was to follow.

My life has been a three-star Yelp review. It’s serviceable but doesn’t stand out and will most likely be avoided by everyone because every high-standard wannabe wants five stars everything. If you’re late for a second or screw up they give your restaurant a one-star review and ruin it.

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What my average life looks like

But I digress. I’m not bitter. But I’m also not the happiest guy.

I’m not rich and not yet successful, and in my early 30s, should be trying to chase money, buying property, and finding a partner of crime. But I’m not.

The studies can go screw themselves because despite what millennials say or do, my friends can attest they still plan to “settle down” and start a family.

Instead, what I’m doing is taking the biggest risk of my life. Because I’m an idiot, a glutton for punishment, and because I am a writer and if I didn’t feel a degree of self-loathing and suffocating self-doubt then I wouldn’t be one.

I’m pursuing a childhood dream: to be a published novelist. And I’m using NaNoWriMo as a kickstart to 2018 where I’ll have something off a manuscript finished. I call it: “NaNoWriYay”.

 What is NaNoWriMo?

Short for “National Novel Writing Month”, NaNoWriMo is a challenge that takes place during November in which participants try to write a book or a “50,000-word manuscript”.

It started in 1999 when freelancer Chris Baty began the project with 21 participants. It has since blown up to have as many as 400,000 participants in the previous year.

The website offers a great deal of many benefits for writers. It has pep talks to inspire, forums to connect with other aspiring writers, and even a shop so you can externally validate your pursuit.

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via the official NaNoWriMo website

Why do NaNoWriMo? For various reasons. I started it because I’ve always wanted to write a book and never really focused on it. The point of this whole project was to dedicate one entire month to just doing this.

Granted, most participants probably didn’t quit their day jobs or abandoned their families. If someone has, I’d love to talk to this person.

But every person, writer or not, has at one point probably thought of writing a book or a similar creative project that involves telling a story. Since none of us are like David Henry Thoreau who literally just took days off to enjoy the fine countryside and write his thoughts down, we never get around to doing it.

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NaNoWriMo isn’t just about trying to write a book. It’s about following your passion and doing something just for the love of it.

As a professional writer, I’ve become detached from most of what I write because it’s just a way of life for me now. Not that I don’t enjoy writing anymore, but it’s become like muscle memory. Going through the motions.

NaNoWriMo is also a chance to connect with other writers and form a network. Contrary to popular belief, writing is a “team sport” and the more writers you know, the better. November is one of the best times to build a network.

 Why Writing is a Terrifying Passion

Studies suggest most people make the brunt of their income between their 30s and 50s but with how competitive the job markets are, most people start early.

So here I am in my 30s and looking to pursue a dream that will likely:

  • Not make me any money and cost me money
  • Take time away from meeting potential partners
  • Push me deeper into the rabbit hole of my mind
  • Cause me a lot of frustration, misery, and madness

Trust me when I say writing is a passion project. Nobody willingly gets into this because they think they can make a lot of money. Technical writers make six figures but if any of those sods wake up all excited about writing instruction manuals then I’ll stick my dick in a fire ant hole and sing Despacito all day.

What makes this terrifying is how you can dedicate your life to a craft and end up with nothing. No rewards, no money, not even any kind of recognition. It’s solely for love. And it makes me wonder what makes it so different from an addiction.

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But I don’t want to do anything else.

At least NaNoWriMo is a beacon that there are other crazy fucks like myself who feel narcissistic or delusional enough to pursue their love.

All that time I have just been distracting myself from the one thing I had to do: write a novel.

Most novelists don’t make money. You think about your J.K. Rowlings and Stephen Kings and for every one of them, there are countless others who are working full-time jobs because nobody gives a shit about the books they write.

And it’s not even because their books suck. It’s simply because the damn Internet is so cluttered with crap that it’s hard to find a good book.

That’s the terrifying aspect of this all. That your “success” is almost always not determined by your skill or your hard work but by goddamn luck and marketing.

Write About What You Want to Write About

I guarantee you if you look up all kinds of writing tips, most so-called experts will advise you to do a lot of things that aren’t related to writing.

They’ll talk about the market, about what’s selling, about being specific on your genre, about the structure of stories, blah blah blah. Some might even go as far as incorporating blogging things like keywords, search engine optimization (SEO), and social media marketing.

But the fact of the matter is, what sells could easily be something you do not give two hoots about.

And with countless stories online and thousands popping up every day, the Internet is becoming a crowded place with way too many people all writing about the same thing and copying off each other.

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Write about what YOU want to write about.

This is your story, the one thing you can make that is you (not counting babies but even with that you need a partner for).

This is your legacy.

It might be naïve to simply think you can block out the world and write about your story because you need to care about all those things I mentioned earlier. But it doesn’t matter.

A great story will always be a great story no matter what age we live in.

Maybe I’m being overly pessimistic when I say that I feel like my life is coming to an end or it’s about to start going down.

But I like to think of it as motivation to start writing now.

Life has been great. Almost too great. I have my own schedule and I write for a living. If I don’t start writing my novel now, then, when will I?

But even for those who may not have the same flexibility, NaNoWriMo could be your own staycation.

NaNoWriMo is about taking that big leap of faith and dedicating yourself to produce something you can be proud of.