Tag Archives: Stephen King

My rethink on not writing for money

While writing the review of On Writing by Stephen King I wrote this:

Then Stephen King asks, do you write for money or for the sheer pleasure of writing? He provides a very clichéd answer. He says that no good writer writes for money. I don’t think this is true. Although you should love your craft and you should work on it for the love of it, eventually earning money matters. Many famous authors like JK Rowling, and even Stephen Hawking, desperately needed money when they started working on their books and making money was a big reason why they were writing.

You can read the remaining portion in the above-linked blog post, but I just had a rethink on the entire issue and I find myself inclined towards thinking that yes, you shouldn’t write for money, and there is a solid reason behind that.

Writing can be a grueling exercise. You may have to write for years before people begin to notice you and then some publisher agrees to publish your novel or book. You may have to write multiple books without a single one getting published. The same goes for short stories. You may keep on sending stories and they may keep on coming back to you with rejection slips. In such cases, what is a writer supposed to do?

What about fame and recognition? The same argument can be applied here also. The moment you begin to crave for something in lieu of your writing you put yourself in a vulnerable position. Rejection is more devastating if your life depends on it. Write for the sheer sake of writing. Keep on submitting manuscripts when you feel they are completed and when they get published, it’s a bonus. If they don’t, well, at least you get to do something that you love.

If you don’t want to write without money or recognition, then maybe it’s not writing you seek, it’s money and fame and this you can get many ways. You should then try something else. When you write without any compulsion, without seeking any compensation, only then you will be able to be true to yourself. I get the point now.

Book Review: On Writing

On Writing is a semi-autobiographical as well as a “how-to write well” book written by Stephen King, the writer of many horror books. On the web you come across the name of this book so many times that it is hard to miss it. Recommending this book has become a fad. Since I don’t like self-help books, especially on writing, I resisted buying On Writing but when I seriously started working on a book I thought, well, no harm in getting advice from an author who has written so many books, although in a genre I am not a big fan of.

The semi-autobiographical part gives you the right context and it also gives you a glimpse into what hardships and difficulties an average writer has to go through before he or she becomes famous and people begin to think that he or she is “lucky”. Before becoming successful, Stephen King was living a hand-to-mouth existence and he used to work in the laundry where he needed to take salt pills due to excessive sweating. There is a very touching incident; his baby daughter is very sick, burning with fever and they cannot afford the medicine that can provide her comfort. They live in a trailer. Totally dejected and ready to give up, when they reach home, he finds a check of $500 sent from a magazine where he had submitted one of his stories. Although he hasn’t directly mentioned it, but I am sure it must be the most valuable check he has ever received.

More than 30% of the book is covered with the description of his struggle as a writer and as a citizen trying to make a decent living despite poverty and hardship. Then when he is done with the “on writing” part he describes how once he got hit by a blue van and almost died. This, again, he does extremely well.

The only problem with the book is with the kernel – when he deals with the real subject. Frankly, it sounds clichéd. And when you think that there is some advice that you can actually use, you can find this advice in The Elements of Style. Whether you decide to read On Writing or not is your own prerogative, but I definitely advise you to go through The Elements of Style. Even Stephen King says that.

Please bear in mind that when I say most of his advice seems clichéd, I write as an experienced writer. I may have not been published as a fiction writer, I have been providing professional writing services for more than a decade now and I know how to structure sentences and how NOT to get carried away by esoteric words and expressions.

There is one advise though that the immediately started implementing after reading the book, and that is, keep your sentences short. This makes your writing crisp and easy to read. I use shorter, crisper sentences when I’m writing business content for my clients, but when it comes to fiction, one tends to get carried away by the beauty of the words. This is not the point. Long and complex sentences may bore your readers.

Another good advise is to strike a balance between describing less and describing more. For instance, one of your characters enters a restaurant. How much detail are you going to provide? Are you going to tell how many chairs are there and how many customers are sitting? Are you going to talk about the material used to lay down the floor? Are you going to use one or two sentences to describe the lighting ambience? Attention to details is good, but it should not be overdone. Classical novels like Moby Dick tend to go overboard and end up boring the reader.

Then Stephen King asks, do you write for money or for the sheer pleasure of writing? He provides a very clichéd answer. He says that no good writer writes for money. I don’t think this is true. Although you should love your craft and you should work on it for the love of it, eventually earning money matters. Many famous authors like JK Rowling, and even Stephen Hawking, desperately needed money when they started working on their books and making money was a big reason why they were writing.

Why do many writers say that you shouldn’t write for money? There is a logic behind it. Writing is easier. Becoming a successful writer can be grueling. If you’re constantly obsessing about money, creativity takes a backseat. There are many artists who say do what you love, and if you also get paid for it, well, it’s a bonus. What I know is, Vincent van Gogh blew his head off because no one was buying his paintings and he was desperately poor and dejected. “Starving artist” is a common term.

So money matters? Yes it does. Write for money, or for whatever reason. What matters is, you should know your craft, you should be ready to work your ass off, and you should have confidence in yourself.

On Writing is a good read, one of the very few help books that I have actually read to the last. The last book I remember was The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

Do you read multiple books?

These days I am reading multiple books. This is the 1st time I’m doing that because otherwise I used to be very particular about just sticking to a single book. I don’t plan to do it always, but it just happened by chance.

During the weekends I started reading an Amritlal Nagar novel as I completely wanted to shut off my digital consumption. But then I try to read every day these days so I downloaded JK Rowling’s latest crime thriller The Cuckoo’s Calling. A couple of years ago I decided to read On Writing by Stephen King and since I’m working on my own book, I thought, what would be a better time to read this book than now (I am so glad I started reading this book). So I also started reading this. Therefore, I am reading 3 books.

Am I getting mixed up? I am not. It’s not that I’m reading all the 3 books in a single day. For instance, I haven’t read the crime thriller for almost a week because I’m focusing on reading the Stephen King book as well as working on my own book.

In fact there are a few more books that I had stopped reading midway either because I got bored or I thought they were a complete waste of time, for example Moby Dick. Although it is a highly acclaimed book somehow I found it very boring. Having said that, I may again start reading it one of these days, but after finishing at least one of the books I’m currently reading.

Talking about vocabulary

These days I am reading On Writing by Stephen King. Like any other contemporary writer he advises aspiring writers not to go overboard with difficult words and you don’t need a comprehensive vocabulary in order to write a great book. I totally agree with him despite the fact that I love reading and using words that are not used in day-to-day interactions.

But yes, you can easily make out if a writer is simply being superfluous or he or she actually means to use a particular word. It also depends on your general style and your audience. You don’t need to tone down your language just because some people won’t be able to understand it. If painters started worrying about whether people will be able to decipher their paintings or not, they won’t be able to paint at all, especially the exponents of modern art. The empty paper or the blank screen in front of you is your canvas, the words are your brush and paints, and your sentence formations are the strokes that you use to create your masterpiece. In case they complain that you are hard to read, you should either change the way you write, or you should target a different audience.

I have no problem if occasionally I have to use a dictionary in order to understand what a writer is trying to convey. I don’t hold this against him or her. In fact I love learning new words so much that I consider it my own drawback if, while reading a book, I have to refer to a dictionary repeatedly.

Language is a tool and you use this tool to make an impact. While writing you should keep this in mind. What is your objective? Is your message important or the words you use to convey your message? Of course a certain degree of erudition is important because when it comes to dumbing down, there is no stopping to it. The language you use for the college going audience, or even banking professionals, is going to be quite different than the language you use for 5th graders.

For me, and I’m sure there are many people like me, good literature is like classical music. In order to appreciate it, you have to spend some time to understand it. You cannot appreciate Dhrupad without knowing its intricacies. Similarly, simple text devoid of captivating words can be a drab experience.

Can you express complex thoughts in simple words? Yes, you definitely can. Read Milan Kundera to experience that.

There was a time when I used to use a thesaurus a lot. My main aim was to find alternative words, not necessarily difficult, but that sounded good to me. Even these days I occasionally use a thesaurus, but not in order to find words that I don’t know, but in order to find words I’m somehow unable to come up with. For instance, all of a sudden I cannot remember a word I would like to use to express something, but I know a similar, related word. So I start with that word – and thanks to hypertext thesaurus tools these days – I start drilling down until I come across the word I want to use.

Somewhere in the book Stephen King says, “Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes.”

While I totally agree, sometimes when you simply appear in your undergarments, it becomes a bit odd.