I don't read his books as often now, but I do love the man and his works for how much they mean to me. I never regretted reading any of them (even ones I may not have finished). I'm glad he doesn't regret writing them either.
Favorite quote from that piece that I think applies to many of us, in any creative field:
> But I also understand that life is short, and that in the end, none of us is prolific. The creative spark dims, and then death puts it out. William Shakespeare, for instance, hasn’t produced a new play for 400 years. That, my friends, is a long dry spell.
Edit: Another fun fact, many of King's non-Dark Tower books tie into the same universe, check out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiverse_(Stephen_King)
bad works don't diminish great works, but it feels like authors who only produce works of great quality and nothing else have a special feel for their craft, it seems like they are so confident in what they have to say that they'd be repulsed by just putting anything out that isn't remarkable, and that at least to me makes them special.
It's like comparing Daniel Day-Lewis and Jim Carrey. The former has taken on roles in remarkably few films, but pretty much every role is amazing and that's what's stuck in my mind when I see him in a film.
Carrey also has participated in films like the Truman show but then I'm also reminded of the Grinch and the Mask, which just ruins it for me a little bit.
I'd be more interested on your thoughts on, say Gary Oldman's performance quality (credited with 90 acting roles on IMDB) in comparison.
Personally, I think we should focus on something like the best seven years of a player. I don’t believe that someone sticking around too long and underperforming hurts what they did before.
Carry, like King, seems plagued by personal demons. Both have immense talent, but also seem to be prone to these kinds of problems.
And don't we all take people who speak sparingly and choose their words carefully more seriously?
"Tom Clancy" books are still coming out, even though he died years ago.
A while back, a friend and I both bought a copy of the complete works of Lovecraft; a single volume. It's a pretty thick book, but I was surprised it was just one book. For all the influence he had, all the diverse tales of horror, it all fit in one volume... with a reasonably large font-size at that. I remarked to my friend about this. Call him influential, but I'm not sure I'd call Lovecraft "prolific".
I'd liken it to trying to read a book written in calligraphy. Here's an example of what to expect:
>In youth he had felt the hidden beauty and ecstasy of things, and had been a poet; but poverty and sorrow and exile had turned his gaze in darker directions, and he had thrilled at the imputations of evil in the world around. Daily life had for him come to be a phantasmagoria of macabre shadow-studies; now glittering and leering with concealed rottenness as in Beardsley's best manner, now hinting terrors behind the commonest shapes and objects as in the subtler and less obvious work of Gustave Dore. He would often regard it as merciful that most persons of high Intelligence jeer at the inmost mysteries; for, he argued, if superior minds were ever placed in fullest contact with the secrets preserved by ancient and lowly cults, the resultant abnormalities would soon not only wreck the world, but threaten the very integrity of the universe. All this reflection was no doubt morbid, but keen logic and a deep sense of humour ably offset it. Malone was satisfied to let his notions remain as half-spied and forbidden visions to be lightly played with; and hysteria came only when duty flung him into a hell of revelation too sudden and insidious to escape.
(It does raise the question of to what extent good writing relates to the author trying to write well. E.g. I found the "author's preferred text" of American Gods verbose and meandering, and suspect that the original release was superior, even though Gaiman regards it as having been excessively edited for commercial reasons)
Here are my (crappy) notes:
* The golden rule: read a lot, write a lot.
* Have a place for only writing and concentrating. Do nothing else there.
* Everyone has an innate talent ceiling. A good writer won't progress beyond being a merely good writer.
* Story > plot. Stories can 'write themselves,' it's hard to plan up front.
* He doesn't write for symbolism or metaphor directly, but may notice it as he's writing and fold some in.
* Let the first draft age for a while before revisiting. His ideal time is 6 weeks.
* "Kill your darlings." Aka be willing let a concept go even if it seems great.
* Have an ideal audience in mind when writing. He says that his is 1 person - his wife. He says it should be 1 person.
* 2nd draft = 1st draft - 10%
* He's not a fan of adverbs
* Research is inevitable for backstory. He wanted to write a story that took place in a specific location, so he went there to see how it was so he wouldn't get things too wrong. He doesn't worry about it too much though, unlike a writer like Tom Clancy.
* He writes because he likes to, ostensibly not for money or anything else
* He gets a TON of angry letters and criticisms, particularly for his use of vulgarity.
* A lot of characters are based on people or stereotypes he encountered in his working class upbringing.
One thing that struck me is how much he reads. He had a list of suggested books to read in the back page, and there were probably hundreds
Obviously not all of the points apply to all types of writing, his list is very King-centric. If you've ever read him then the points will make more sense in context. For example, story > plot is definitely a "king-ism" since his stories are off the cuff and meandering. I couldn't even get through half of the Dark Tower series since it seemed like the plot wasn't going anywhere. In any case, I don't think you'll get very far writing software without identifying some of the "plot" up front.
* Learn to ignore your inner critic.
The way you write Six Pages a Day No Matter What, as King does, is by not caring all that much whether they are six awesome pages or six mediocre pages. If you've got talent and you exercise it faithfully enough, then sometimes your Six Pages will, indeed, be awesome, and nobody will even remember the rest.
None of the other points he lists in his books and advice columns matter anywhere near as much as that one. Unfortunately, what that means is that what works for King will not necessarily work for everyone else.
On the other hand, this also reminds me of what William Staford answered when asked how he was able to write a poem every day: "I lower my standards."
Hemingway worked ever single morning, even if he was half dead from a hangover.
> Everyone has an innate talent ceiling. A good writer probably won't progress beyond being a merely good writer.
That reasoning was actually the same reasoning that convinced me to enter tech. I always hated the "follow your passion" thing people say about careers. So even though I was really into politics and debate, I knew I could only ever be mediocre at best in that field. Meanwhile this tech stuff always came naturally. Even now at a much higher level it seems I'm able to get stuff faster and do more than my peers. It's rewarding in many ways.
I think it's mostly bimodal. Either you read obsessively, or you barely read at all.
I tried to do 500 books about 2 / 3 a week with some taking 2 weeks. Mostly history/biographical. Made it to about 350 over a couple years. My ebook reader died and could not get the same ( old Alaratek 6") and lost interest.
I never read a novel now. Trying to watch every tv series I've missed. Getting through a series in a week or less. I've always had the ability to torrent these shows but streaming services have made it so easy.
I watched that interview linked elsewhere ( https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17307920 ) and also thought this could very much apply to software development, especially for me when tackling new stacks.
Here's the list, from the ebook I have at least:
- Abrahams, Peter: A Perfect Crime
- Abrahams, Peter: Lights Out
- Abrahams, Peter: Pressure Drop
- Abrahams, Peter: Revolution #9
- Agee, James: A Death in the Family
- Bakis, Kirsten: Lives of the Monster Dogs
- Barker, Pat: Regeneration
- Barker, Pat: The Eye in the Door
- Barker, Pat: The Ghost Road
- Bausch, Richard: In the Night Season
- Blauner, Peter: The Intruder
- Bowles, Paul: The Sheltering Sky
- Boyle, T. Coraghessan: The Tortilla Curtain
- Bryson, Bill: A Walk in the Woods
- Buckley, Christopher: Thank You for Smoking
- Carver, Raymond: Where I’m Calling From
- Chabon, Michael: Werewolves in Their Youth
- Chorlton, Windsor: Latitude Zero
- Connelly, Michael: The Poet
- Conrad, Joseph: Heart of Darkness
- Constantine, K. C.: Family Values
- DeLillo, Don: Underworld
- DeMille, Nelson: Cathedral
- DeMille, Nelson: The Gold Coast
- Dickens, Charles: Oliver Twist
- Dobyns, Stephen: Common Carnage
- Dobyns, Stephen: The Church of Dead Girls
- Doyle, Roddy: The Woman Who Walked into Doors
- Elkin, Stanley: The Dick Gibson Show
- Faulkner, William: As I Lay Dying
- Garland, Alex: The Beach
- George, Elizabeth: Deception on His Mind
- Gerritsen, Tess: Gravity
- Golding, William: Lord of the Flies
- Gray, Muriel: Furnace
- Greene, Graham: A Gun for Sale (aka This Gun for Hire)
- Greene, Graham: Our Man in Havana
- Halberstam, David: The Fifties
- Hamill, Pete: Why Sinatra Matters
- Harris, Thomas: Hannibal
- Haruf, Kent: Plainsong
- Hoeg, Peter: Smilla’s Sense of Snow
- Hunter, Stephen: Dirty White Boys
- Ignatius, David: A Firing Offense
- Irving, John: A Widow for One Year
- Joyce, Graham: The Tooth Fairy
- Judd, Alan: The Devil’s Own Work
- Kahn, Roger: Good Enough to Dream
- Karr, Mary: The Liars’ Club
- Ketchum, Jack: Right to Life
- King, Tabitha: Survivor
- King, Tabitha: The Sky in the Water (unpublished)
- Kingsolver, Barbara: The Poisonwood Bible
- Krakauer, Jon: Into Thin Air
- Lee, Harper: To Kill a Mockingbird
- Lefkowitz, Bernard: Our Guys
- Little, Bentley: The Ignored
- Maclean, Norman: A River Runs Through It and Other Stories
- Maugham, W. Somerset: The Moon and Sixpence
- McCarthy, Cormac: Cities of the Plain
- McCarthy, Cormac: The Crossing
- McCourt, Frank: Angela’s Ashes
- McDermott, Alice: Charming Billy
- McDevitt, Jack: Ancient Shores
- McEwan, Ian: Enduring Love
- McEwan, Ian: The Cement Garden
- McMurtry, Larry: Dead Man’s Walk
- McMurtry, Larry, and Diana Ossana: Zeke and Ned
- Miller, Walter M.: A Canticle for Leibowitz
- Oates, Joyce Carol: Zombie
- O’Brien, Tim: In the Lake of the Woods
- O’Nan, Stewart: The Speed Queen
- Ondaatje, Michael: The English Patient
- Patterson, Richard North: No Safe Place
- Price, Richard: Freedomland
- Proulx, Annie: Close Range: Wyoming Stories
- Proulx, Annie: The Shipping News
- Quindlen, Anna: One True Thing
- Rendell, Ruth: A Sight for Sore Eyes
- Robinson, Frank M.: Waiting
- Rowling, J. K.: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
- Rowling, J. K.: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azakaban
- Rowling, J. K.: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
- Russo, Richard: Mohawk
- Schwartz, John Burnham: Reservation Road
- Seth, Vikram: A Suitable Boy
- Shaw, Irwin: The Young Lions
- Slotkin, Richard: The Crater
- Smith, Dinitia: The Illusionist
- Spencer, Scott: Men in Black
- Stegner, Wallace: Joe Hill
- Tartt, Donna: The Secret History
- Tyler, Anne: A Patchwork Planet
- Vonnegut, Kurt: Hocus Pocus
- Waugh, Evelyn: Brideshead Revisited
- Westlake, Donald E.: The Ax
Reserve a time. For that time you do nothing but write. No internet, no phone, no people, nothing. Just you and your writing. Same time every day like clockwork. Yes, every day. Defend this time viciously.
I find that having a few sidchas one of the most important life practices and that naming things makes them easier to instantiate.
I think in On Writing, he claims to have almost no recollection of writing Cujo.
Seriously, though, reading On Writing or Danse Macabre is fun. His style, as I recall is come up with a premise and characters, amd tell the story they lead you to. His experiments with more formal planning and plotting he feels are weaker.
I'm not saying art should exist purely for the sake of entertainment. But, ultimately, if I'm investing the time to read a book, I need to get something out of the experience from moment to moment, and generally I find I get more from reading a bad writer with fun ideas than an expert stylist who makes no concessions to enjoyment.
"Some books you read for the story. Don't be like the snobs who won't read a book for the story. Some books you read for the words. Don't be the kind of person who won't read a book for the words either. But when you find a book that you read for the words and the story... treasure that book".
I certainly agree with your assessment that one wouldn't read a King book for the words, but as someone who really likes the scifi-fantasy genre, that's not a standard to which I can afford to hold the authors I read...
I would argue that the best certainly write more than most. Maybe there's a difference between churning out book after book, and rewriting one book again and again until it becomes good. I think the latter is the one that makes one great. The first one offers little feedback, since three books further the author probably forgot most of the details of the first one. So maybe the problem is that "writing a lot" is measured in books rather than in words typed (and then deleted, to be typed again, in a different form and structure).
Just reading this comment you will probably find a few errors that I will never see, because I won't rewrite it. Let that be an example of my theory.
OT, but what does that even mean? Recovered maybe, recovering, no. He is just someone that hasn't been an alcoholic for 2+ decades...
It's like saying "I'm recovering from a broken ankle, I had my surgery in 1983 and have had no pain at all, and no fractures either, and been running ultra-marathons and doing base jumping ever since 1986".
Your own analogy doesn't hold up because by that logic then a recovered alcoholic would be 'fit' to have a drink again
It's a AA/12-step inspired prejudice that you're "always recovering" and that having the occasional drink will be fatal to regress into alcoholism. What we call an Americanism.
There are tons of people who once were alcoholics, quitted, and can enjoy a beer or glass or wine or two now and again, without becoming alcoholics again, and being able to go for weeks or months without drinking (just like any regular non-alcoholic person). It's a matter of character and willpower and life's circumstances, not some physical law or physiological necessity.
Unfortunately, many folks think that once an addict, always one. While this is true for some folks, it certainly isn't true for everyone. You really can be "fit" to drink again.
If they don't get treatment, were they ever properly diagnosed? As I understand it, "drinking (way) too much" is something a good number of people in their 20s do, then they cut down without any particular problems. That isn't alcoholism, it's just drinking too much. Even the urge to grab a glass of wine to relax, when it's just a habit, isn't an addiction.
If they had trouble quitting, such as withdrawal symptoms, and only managed to do so after hard attempts, then they don't really need to be diagnosed.
Other than that, the line between alcoholism and drinking too much is really blurry, if it exists at all. Some people manage to function perfectly and be OK while drinking heavily throughout their lives, and are not considered by others or consider themselves alcoholics.
Btw: "One of the most interesting findings, as far as I'm concerned, was that among remitted alcoholics (link is external) the average amount of drinking was around 1.3 drinks per day with a lot of variability, a little higher than that of moderate drinkers (0.8 drinks per day) but lower than that of heavy drinkers (4.0 drinks per day). I see this as a little more proof that people who met criteria for alcoholism at one point don't necessarily abstain forever and don't necessarily continue to have drinking problems (per Moderation Management (link is external), spontaneous remission (link is external), or some other means of stopping their alcoholic drinking)."
Besides, non-diagnosis happens all the time, and is more common when folks either can't afford healthcare of if using healthcare means they put their jobs at risk. People have depression and don't seek treatment, but that doesn't mean they aren't depressed. Folks break toes without treatment. People clean up from harder drugs and we don't question if they were really addicted or not most times. It doesn't mean their toe wasn't broken, simply that they didn't get it treated. Medical-based treatment is expensive and not everyone can afford to get a proper diagnosis.
Going to AA meetings isn't a diagnosis either: They don't require any of that. I can go into AA as an occasional drinker and simply lie about it. If I get in legal trouble during on of those occasional drinking sessions, I might be forced to go.
The uptake of treatment and a proper diagnosis doesn't mean someone isn't addicted, simply that they didn't have official treatment.
Contemporary publishing, with book tours and other publicity, can't really absorb more than a book a year or so from a single author.
And the book tours, etc, take up a lot of a writer's time.
Pynchon. DeLillo. McCarthy. Roth...
Edit: Morrison. Updike. Mailer...
DeLillo - Born 1936, published first short story in 1960, novel in 1971
McCarthy - Born 1933, first short story published 1959, novel 1965
Roth - Born 1933, won award for "Goodbye, Columbus" in 1959
Updike - Born 1932, first published in 50's and 60s
Morrison - Born 1931, first published in 1970
Mailer - Born 1923, first published in 1949
Remember that 50 years ago (from the time this was written) is 1965. Morrison is the only author you mentioned that doesn't have published works from before 50 years ago, and even then she still belongs to that same generation.
King wasn't trying to slight any of them. It's just really has been a very long time.
Edit: To compare, Tartt was born in 1963 and Franzen in 1959. I think this is really the generation he is referring to.
*edit: I didn’t read the quote carefully. Looks like he really is saying those two are the best American novelists, full stop. Bold and kind of interesting statement on King’s part.
It’s like serious literature has to eschew anything that would make it a good story, in case it got in the way of being good writing.
On the other hand, one could argue that if your works require elaborate setpieces and a fantastical setting then you're drawing attention away from an inability to write captivating stories. A plot summary of a Jonathan Franzen novel for example sounds incredibly boring but his writing is nearly impossible to tear yourself away from and will have your mind going for days or even weeks after you finish. It's perfectly fine to enjoy sci-fi/fantasy etc but there's no need to develop a victim complex about its position in the literary world.
I found Franzen terrible FWIW, but there is certainly excellent literary writing out there. Prosecraft is a skill, just as plotting and settings are - neither is superior to the other. And there is a real cultural disrespect for the things that SF does well. I wouldn't mind that if good SF was still allowed to continue in its own place, but lately even that seems under threat (e.g. the Hugo awards are lately dominated by literary prose at the expense of the classic SF virtues).
It's all a matter of personal opinion, much as some gatekeepers (like critics and academicians) would have you believe otherwise.
Those who have no interest in leaving their cave defend their sloth by claiming it's all a matter of personal opinion.
I'm all for "enjoy what you want" but to say that there is no objective difference in the writing of, say, Don DeLillo and Dan Brown, is ridiculous.
Clearly Dan Brown and Don DeLillo are different. They write different sorts of books that appeal to different sorts of readers. But I struggle to see how those differences make one "objectively" better than the other.
If there are objective criteria by which one could judge whether the one is better than the other, I'd like to know what they are.
It is all opinion, but there’s a difference between the opinion of Alan Kay and of someone who has two days of Python and a copy of Angry Birds.
I'm not sure I see your point.
We put more stock in the opinions of Alan Kay, because he has a better command of the relevant objective facts than does the newbie.
In 'pure literature', there are no such objective facts.
When he's gone, I'll miss his best fiction. But I won't miss his public rants, they've been an embarrassment to him.
My Google fu is weak today.
I don't think you're ever going to persuade a given HN user to stop posting content here. But to order 'we' to stop deeming content relevant and worthy for the rest of the community (by up-voting — which is what I think you meant) is rather laughable.
The community decides what it wants to make popular, not you or I alone...