Friday, May 20, 2011

Counterpoint on King's Advice

I read recently that Stephen King said (and I'm seriously paraphrasin') Don't write down idea's because IF they are good idea's you will remember them anyway-and if you don't remember them-they weren't good idea's.


And here's why.

YOU as the writer won't/don't/can't know what is going to resonate with the reader and move them.

Sure, sometimes you'll think, hey this will work or that will work--but other times a little aside that has little conscious meaning to you as the writer will strike a nerve and move someone-it will resonate and rock their perception and the readers perception of your story is the readers reality.

I know because I have done it. Small tweaks in stories have changed characters into some readers favorites-and that would not have happened if I wasn't taking notes and later perusing them and putting that stuff into the book. I call it Tetrising things in.

It's all well and good for King to throw out that particular advice but the reality is we all forget things and will continue to forget things and at King's age - How many things has he already forgotten? How many sparkling gems has he potentially trod over? I suggest it isn't even a potential-its absolutely already happened countless times.

So I advise, in contrast to a million dollar writer (because he is wrong), take notes because YOU will forget.

The Muse can be fickle, don't ignore her, don't think she'll call back later with the same message, and don't forget to map the journey she is asking you to travel on.


  1. I honestly believe King sometimes forgets what it's like to be a starting writer. Or, given that he was producing his own printed stories even as a child, perhaps he has always been a writing savant.

    King can say this because he probably has one hundred ideas tearing through his brain at any given moment. He can afford to forget most of them . He's at a point where he'll still have a handful of good ones he won't forget - because he's been doing it all his life.

    I believe in 'On Writing' he had no use for outlines. That's fine. Some people *do* need outlines. And, really - he's probably outlining in his head--unconsciously or by rote. 'Salem's Lot' is divide into three "books" (acts) if I remember correctly!

    Anyway, writing advice usually ends up being a mish-mash of what works for *you*. If you find your mind hangs onto good ideas, fine. If not - write 'em down!

  2. Thanks Paul, you're absolutely right-advice is abased on what works for "You". I don't personally write much of an outline myself (if any) but I am outlining in my head-I almost always know what the end is roughly gonna be, even if I don't know and "discovery" my way there.

  3. I am a chronic non-outliner and non-notetaker. And it has gotten me nowhere. So, I am attemtping to start doing both more often and see if that gets me more success.

  4. David; I usually I outline, but it's very sparse. Just a skeleton of main events.

    Like you though, I often know how the story will end - the last scene. I find having at least *that* much can keep you from getting pulled on tangents.

    Works in short stories. I suspect when I tackle "the great American novel", I will need a more detailed outline - for *me*.

  5. All the best Tom. I believe you will have more success with a road map of sorts. I am usually good to go just discovery writing BUT I always have an end in sight to keep me on track. Notes I think help keep me focused.

    I still look forward to reading your stuff Paul since I know I love your influences.

  6. Tom, I laughed out loud at your post:

    "I am a chronic non-outliner and non-notetaker. And it has gotten me nowhere."

    Sounds like it's time to change tactics. =)

    Good luck!

  7. I have a friend that swares that King is all things when it comes to writing. It's nice to know even the successful writers can be, well, a bit out there.

    Not write down ideas? Maybe if I was a full time author and wasn't getting pulled in a million different directions this would be good advice.

    As for outlines, I've done basic ones, but none as complete as what I put together for my current novel, The Mirror Of The Soul, based on the song of the same name as well as the other works of musician Chris de Burgh. Why did I do such a complete outline? Well, because Mr. de Burgh needed to agree to it (which he did!).

    What did I find along the way? A good outline has made the writing of the novel much easier.

  8. Jason, I don't care if you are a full time writer-I am convinced we need to keep track of all the ideas we can-they'll come in useful someday.

    I do not mock (even tiny) inspiration that comes from the muse.

  9. I recently read that Woody Allen goes back to a drawer full of ideas and jokes when he starts a new piece of writing. That his new movie came from an idea he wrote down way a log time ago and it's being considered his best movie in years. (And maybe that's because he wrote down a good idea back when he still had good ideas.)

  10. Love the line about don't assume the Muse will call back later with the same message :) I agree--even if an idea is a good one, it might slip through the cracks. By all means, write it down!

  11. I love that Brent (back when he had good ideas)

    Thanks Stephanie.

  12. David, this actually reminds me of an old story I heard in an interview of Donna Summer.

    She was in a fancy hotel and saw how hard a maid was working when some song lyrics popped into her head.

    There was no paper nearby, so she grabbed some toilet paper from the bathroom and scribbled the chorus of what became a hit song: "She works hard for the money."

    I always thought that was a neat anecdote.