‘On Writing’ … Or Not Writing

I was recently listening to the latest two-part series from the Losers’ Club, a Stephen King podcast, about King’s 2000 nonfiction book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, and the discussion left me with much to think about it. For starters, that On Writing was perhaps the second book of King’s I ever read? Which is an interesting way to get into King. I believe the first of his I read was 2006’s Cell. Again, another interesting first selection, given the classics that would await me later down the road.

A Creative Commons photo of Stephen King.

At the time of reading On Writing, I was a teenager full of himself and ready to learn from one of the masters to further elevate my writing to the next level. By full of myself, I mean that at around 14 or 15, I thought I knew mostly everything there was to know about writing. I arrogantly thought that you either could write or not. You couldn’t teach someone to write. So, by that logic, my teachers in high school and later on in college would have nothing to teach me.

Of course, I was mistaken. My college professors in particular had a lot to teach me, and I had a lot of growing to do as a writer. Still, at the time, I had hopes of publishing a book before I turned 18, to give you an idea of where my mindset was. Womp womp on that, huh?

But as it turns out, King’s book is ostensibly about one thing (the craft of writing), but is really about another thing (him). The “him” part of the book is far more interesting than the craft of writing part, and besides, learning about him does inform an understanding of his approach to the craft of writing. I’m not saying I dismiss the purely craft parts of the book, as I still think about not using adverbs because of him, as one example.

The Losers’ Club podcast (which I highly recommend if you’re a King fan, as they cover his books, movie adaptations and everything in between) makes me want to re-read the book now that I’m older, more humble and hopefully more wise, but it got me to thinking about writing naturally. For starters, it’s bewildering, if true, that King typically writes a first draft of a novel within three months. What?! Given how big some of his novels are … Wow.

But that’s not exactly what I want to talk about today, but it’s related. What I want to talk about today is productivity and how often one writes and how much when doing so. As the podcast peeps discussed, King’s productivity and prolific abilities seem supernatural and I think they are right that it’s not common among writers, famous or otherwise, especially to keep up that pace of productivity well into old age. He is 74-years-old, after all.

I forget what metric King went by, but it was something like, you ought to write 2,000-3,000 words every day. However one achieves that. If you need to take breaks. If you need to go for a walk. If you need to read some to break-it up (he definitely recommends reading a lot to become a good writer, which is common advice these days). Do whatever you need to do, but ideally, you’re hitting 2,000-3,000 words every day.

Now, I’m going to venture a guess that many of us aren’t writing for a living — writing novels, that is. I write professionally for a living as a journalist at a newspaper. I’m sure others have writing jobs of other kinds, or perhaps a job completely outside of creative pursuits. I don’t have kids, but others might. On and on. So, the idea of writing every day and writing 2,000-3,000 words every day doesn’t seem practical or feasible for most writers, who are most likely trying to fit in their writing and creative pursuits on the side.

In any given week, if you were to add in the professional writing I do, I am probably hitting 10,000 words, given or take. Sometimes more. Sometimes less. Just this past Tuesday for work, on two stories alone, I hit more than 2,000 words, respectively. My past editors, if you’re reading this, I’m so sorry. (They would have had me slash those articles down to at least 700-words, if not shorter, and they would be right in so ordering.)

Another contribution to that “more or less” 10,000 words mark is this blog, where I write a post every day, or at least try to, and so far I’m almost at 100 straight days! Generally, I write until I don’t have anything further to say on what I’m writing about, so that could be 500 words or it could be 2,000 words. It just depends. Generally, I like a blog post to be more than 500 words unless it’s one of my poems.

Finally, there are the creative pursuits beyond the blog posts and the poems and the professional writing I do. That kind of writing is far more sporadic. In the last couple of months, I’ve written two new pieces of creative nonfiction: one I’ve sent out to online literary magazines (and was rejected so far by two places and am waiting on a third); and one I submitted to a local library contest. In addition, I wrote a new fiction piece, which I submitted to a contest and received a “close-but-no-cigar” shout-out. I’ve submitted that piece to a literary magazine thereafter, so we shall see.

Prior to those three new pieces of writing, you’d probably have to go back to November 2019 for my last original piece of writing that wasn’t work-related, poetry, or a blog post. This isn’t to discount the work and the writing in my work, poetry and blog posts, but there is something substantially different about writing a creative nonfiction and/or fiction piece, and as it pertains to the relevance of King’s On Writing.

So, yeah, on that front, I’m decidedly not hitting 2,000-3,000 words every day. I personally find it hard to balance professional writing with blog post writing with creative nonfiction/fiction writing, along with my other pursuits (like wanting to read more, as King suggests!) and you know, vegging out and watching Saved by the Bell. On that front, I’m also not a workaholic in the same way King and others are.

Would it be different if I wasn’t doing the professional writing and/or the blog posting? Perhaps. I get a lot of satisfaction out of blog posting, though. It’s my catharsis, even when I’m doing silly food reviews. And if I had a nonwriting job, I’m sure I’d still be as eager to “veg out.”

What do your writing look like on a regular basis? Or other creative pursuits? Are you hitting that vaunted 2,000-3,000-word mark?

2 thoughts

  1. Oh yeah, as someone who writes for a living, I too don’t include my work into my daily word count. And it is a challenge indeed to write for myself after an entire day of writing for work. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    Liked by 2 people

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