Bit of rain and rainbows here on Kauai. I’ve been reading Stephen King’s On Writing. Specific, clear, candid, no baloney. (He would use another word.) This is simple but beautiful advice for writers — hard-won ideas, attitudes and daily work-systems that can in many cases be effectively applied by visual artists. My daughter Sara and I write in the margins of our books. Here’s what I wrote in the margins of this one:
A lousy upbringing doesn’t curse you for life.
Having a distasteful job can be used to fire ambition.
Find a place where you can comfortably work.
Have a work-room door and the willingness to close it.
Have a window with no view.
Make your attainable daily quota come rain or shine.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Value your core personal relationship. Play loud music while working.
A challenge works better than mollycoddling.
Good lessons are learned from busy professionals.
The most valuable lessons are the ones you teach yourself.
Quality work doesn’t come from “out there.”
Marathon so motifs and inspiration don’t become stale.
Pay little or no attention to chronic naysayers.
Value fellowship; brotherhood and sisterhood.
That which you can conceive, you can do.
You can move objects just by thinking about them.
Finish the job at hand, then get on with the next.
Do not come lightly to the blank page.
Keep the tools of your trade close and ready.
Be particular, even obsessed, with your craft.
Be aware of poor quality work: yours, and others.
Let your work come out of what you know and feel.
Look around at the end. See if you can add another layer.
Figure it out for yourself.
Live in your head.
Do it your way.
And also, by self-management, focusing and knowing where you’re going, it’s possible to be highly successful by working four hours a day.
PS: “It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster’s shell that makes the pearl, not pearl-making seminars with other oysters.” (Stephen King)
Esoterica: If you’re interested I’ve copied twenty-seven more of my marginal notes from King’s book. Please go to the current clickback and scroll down to “Stephen King’s Creative Ideas.” There were too many to include in a normal-sized letter.
The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thank you for writing.
Words on the paper
by Fae Redding, Topeka, KS, USA
Stephen King’s writing ideas were just what I needed today. I’ve been sitting at my desk with several wanderings through the house. I need juice. I need to do my nails. I need to throw laundry in the dryer. No, I need to throw down some words on the paper!
by Irene Thomas
I have just finished a book titled, Writer’s Dreaming, by Naomi Epel. Naomi drove writers to their engagements here in the San Francisco Bay Area and got to know many of them quite well. Her book relates conversations with famous authors, including Stephen King, about how they have used their dreams in connection with their writing. Haven’t we all wondered what Stephen King dreams?
Naomi also has a set of cards and book to help writers, called the Observation Deck. This is a tool kit for writers, containing a deck of cards saying, for instance, “explore the underside.” Then one would reach for the book, look up that phrase in the contents and read about “examining the realm that lies beneath the surface.” Or an exercise card that says, “Write a scene, show the goodness of your bad guy, the badness of the one that seems so good.” Another one is “Take a look at the actual underside of an object. Notice the worms and sowbugs” or ” What is hidden in the closet of a character?” As you can see, each card’s subject is filled with creative ideas for anyone with reference to important author’s thoughts. My friend and I pick a card every few weeks and write using that. Loads of fun, and can be used also in any creative process.
(RG note) Stephen King in On Writing also makes reference to systems for determining plot changes and the random entry of fresh ideas. Comic-strip and gag artists have used similar I-Ching-like systems (often self-designed) for years. Plotting or painting, it all has to do with the question “What if?” A lot of us keep these cards in our heads.
More books that work
by Marilyn Lemon, Vancouver. B.C., Canada
Thanks for the Stephen King book suggestion. I haven’t read it yet, but I have it on hold at the library now. I’ve found writers on the art of writing to be a source of inspiration for painting before this. Two of my favorites have been Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott.
by Kim Wyatt, San Diego, CA, USA
I have always been inspired by Stephen King’s writings. It’s strange. I really enjoy scary books. My bookcase is full of King, Poe, Rice, Straub, Koontz and other horror writers. But I personally prefer to make art that retains senses of peace, harmony and innocence. You won’t find blood, guts and gore in my art, but you will find it in my choices for reading books and movies.
by Joe Blodgett
Your gisting of the creative ideas of Stephen King is an example of one sensitive and passionate person getting to the heart of another. In The Journey, a 90-minute documentary film, Eric Saperston set out in a VW bus to interview anyone he could in order to find out “the secret”. Practically everybody turned him down but the ones he spoke to were useful: Ken Kesey; “Follow your bliss.” Billy Crystal; “Don’t give up your power.” Henry Winkler; “Your inner voice, your instinct, knows everything.” Donald Keough; “What separates those who achieve from those who do not is in direct proportion to one’s ability to ask for help.”
by Elsha Leventis, Princeton, MA, USA
Sounds from that long list of thoughts, that you took your Inner Critic, Driver, Super Achiever and Perfectionist along to Hawaii, instead of leaving them behind. A neat book to read to counterbalance Stephen King is Embracing Your Selves. The point is balance. You have to live in your head and listen to all these slave-driver selves to achieve a certain level of success, but the longest and most important journey we ever make is the one from our head to our heart.
by Rachelle Krieger
Once again, you have made me think about my work process. I have always rejected the idea of a quota, but now I have found myself in a slump and think that maybe this will be a good kick in the pants. Or, would it just be a waste of paint? I guess I won’t know if I don’t try it. I am wondering how other artists divide their time between painting and art business. I am finding that the business stuff can easily seep into my creative time. Do most others set hours for their creative time? Have you had any clickbacks for these type of questions and thoughts?
(RG note) When I scan clickbacks over the last two years, it seems that one of our main concerns has been balancing and how to do it. Many successful artists have made a contribution to this resource. It also seems if you don’t get it right you might turn out to be one of the frequently mentioned unhappy campers. With regard to “business stuff” I have always referred to it as “avoidance stuff.” If you can, delegate. As wildlife artist Robert Bateman says, “This is, and should be, my least favourite activity.”
Visa or Mastercard?
I have a business question to ask all those artists who sell work from their own studios. Do they have a Visa or Mastercard hookup to facilitate buyers using their credit cards? If not, what do they do? Most people don’t travel with cash.
(RG note) I know this may sound nuts to some artists, but I don’t believe in “facilitating” buyers in your own studio, particularly with credit cards. I prefer to appear to be not particularly in business in the studio. This is not only because my main livelihood is with galleries. When someone wants to come over and look around I make a point not to change my clothes, look smart, serve tea, or have a Visa machine. I make it a privilege for them to enter the non-commercial working space of an artist. When I welcome them, brush in hand in my spotted and torn uniform they practically always say “we don’t want to bother you for long, Mr. Genn,” and they don’t. Sometime they make up their minds in five minutes, which is much faster than gallery averages. They practically always pay by check or promise to send one later. Sometimes they ask for delayed or installment payment. I bend over backwards to let them do what they want. I don’t believe it helps an artist to look too smart. Funny, yes, but not too smart. It comes naturally with me. But I have to say that I have never, never had any money-collecting troubles with anyone I allowed into my private creative space.
Perhaps other artists would care to write Audrey and tell her differently. Better still, you can publish your findings here.
Contributed by Diane Middleton:
1. Verbs HAS to agree with their subjects.
2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
3. And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.
4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
5. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They’re old hat)
6. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.
7. Be more or less specific.
8. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.
9. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
10. No sentence fragments.
11. Contractions aren’t necessary and shouldn’t be used.
12. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
13. Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
14. One should NEVER generalize.
15. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
16. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
17. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
18. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
19. The passive voice is to be ignored.
20. Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.
21. Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.
22. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
23. Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth-shaking ideas.
24. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”
25. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times:
26. Puns are for children, not groan readers.
27. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
28. Even IF a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
29. Who needs rhetorical questions?
30. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
31. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.
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