A Life of Words
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A Life of Words

How Stephen King Wrote His First Best-Selling Novel

Hint: He wasn’t drinking a $10 Latte Macchiato at Starbucks.

Photo by Emily Chung on Unsplash

Before I start, let me ask you something:

What do you need to put your words down on paper?

What are the conditions you need to fulfill before you can say, “All right, it’s time to write”?

Perhaps you can only write on a specific app like Scrivener, Microsoft Word, or Bear. Otherwise, it might not work for you.

Perhaps you can only write at home, where you feel comfortable and free of distractions. Otherwise, when you attempt to write in alien environments or with people chatting around you now and then, the ball doesn’t roll.

My point here is: you can make up any optimal environment you want.

I can only write when X and Z, or I only get creative when I do A and B.

You can seek refuge in this comfort zone of productivity, only getting things done when your brain tells you there is no danger around you.

And do you know the truth about it?

It is bullsh**.

Writing doesn’t require the perfect conditions

Writing is a job.

And like any job, you can’t expect to get it done only when your psychological stars align. Think about a surgeon who has to remove a tumor from a patient after a 36-hour shift. They can’t just tell themselves that the situation isn’t optimal and call it a day. They can’t run away.

All right, hardly your writing will decide someone’s life in a matter of minutes or hours — at least I hope not — but my point here is simple: roll up your sleeves and go to work, even if you think you can’t.

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

And I tell you all this because it is a classical situation of been there, done that.

In 2015, I was in Dundee, the fourth largest city in Scotland. Never heard of it? No problem — I was clueless about its existence too.

In Dundee, I wrote a 12,000-word thesis that got published in Science & Justice, a scientific journal of the Elsevier publishing company.

But the beginning of the writing process was a nightmare. I had to be at home, facing my notebook, with the right playlist, with a cup of coffee sitting on the desk.

I created pseudo-excuses for blatant procrastination: I could ONLY write if… and if… and if…

Needless to say, I got stuck.

Even when I prepared the supposedly ideal environment for my pretentious writing habits, I could not get the work done. I was creating a snowball of procrastination; I was lying to myself that I only could write at the right time and place.

Until something changed.

It was no epiphany, no divine inspiration, no life-and-death situation.

It was, actually, a YouTube video.

British author Neil Gaiman said a few words in this interview that moved me. They were:

For me, inspiration comes from a bunch of places: desperation, deadlines…

— Neil Gaiman

Desperation and deadlines.

Neil Gaiman is a human being just like the rest of us, I realized.

If one of my favorite authors only got his writing done when he was up to the neck with deadlines, what the heck was I doing?

I looked at it all: my pretentious ritual of constructing the perfect conditions to write, my excuses for procrastination… and got over it.

I created pseudo-excuses for blatant procrastination: I could ONLY write if… and if... and if…

Lessons from the King

Let’s look, now, at Stephen King’s example.

In his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King described how he wrote the 1973 Carrie first draft: at a makeshift desk in the laundry of his trailer.

No MacBook Air. No expensive cup of coffee. No Spotify playlist. Not even enough room for his legs, I assume.

So, this is how Stephen King did it: sitting down and getting the job done, even if reality around him was far distant from that of a romanticized storyteller.

This is, too, how Neil Gaiman ends up meeting his deadlines.

And this, I assume, is how most successful writers face the writing process:

With the seriousness of a job to be done.




Making life (and a living) out of our words.

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Morton Newberry

Morton Newberry

Interactive fiction and horror writer based in Germany. Check out The Vampire Regent: https://www.choiceofgames.com/user-contributed/vampire-regent

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