Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson
Blog, Leadership, Life Issues

Advice from Stephen King…and Others

The writer Hemingway once said of writing, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

I’m not sure where that leaves me. I have been away for two months working on a book on global leadership, Missing Voices. I know there has been serious loss of blood. Not to a degree sufficient to cause death. But close.

The reality is that most writers acknowledge that good writing starts with terrible first efforts. It is comforting to know that the best, like Anne Dillard, confess that early manuscripts reveal the usual signs of struggle—“bloodstains, teeth marks, gashes, and burns.” I will avoid describing the condition of my study.

“The challenge of writing

Is to see your horribleness on page.

To see your terribleness

And then go to bed.

And wake up the next day

And take that horribleness and that terribleness,

And refine it…and do it again…and then one more time….and maybe you get to good” -Coates

There have been occasional guests up to our cabin, but I have discovered that I cannot be away for too long. A work in process, as Dillard put it, soon becomes feral, reverting to a wild state overnight. If you skip a day, it might be dangerous to enter the room.

I keep in front of me a list of rules that keep expanding. They come from Dillard, King, Lamott, Evans, Bell, Benson, and others. When I follow them, it stems some of the bleeding—

-read aloud-it helps strip the veneer from sentences that look polished in print

-avoid passive verbs—only the timid use them. Vigorous writing demands sentences with muscle

-ration adjectives-they don’t enhance. They enfeeble

-question adverbs-the road to hell is paved with adverbs. It is the voice of little boys wearing shoe polish mustaches. It says a writer is afraid to express himself. Strong verbs can stand on their own

-cut the fat-respect each word-less is more

-don’t bore-use suspense, intrigue

-careful with jargon-you know what I mean?

-get to the point-and stay there

-make powerful, unexpected shifts

-create movement-set up/build up/pay off

-play the edges-this is where the exhilaration is

-if you hit the wall, keep writing

-be careful what you read-this is what you will write

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