First off, let me confess right here that I have read one and only one Stephen King book: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I know. I could promise you that I will change my ways, and pick up Carrie or maybe the epic, The Stand. But I’m not about to make a promise I know I won’t keep. Time is short and my TBR is a leaning tower that grows taller by the day.

While it’s been a while since I read On Writing for a grad school class, one scene from King’s craft memoir sticks out in my mind. It features a young King up after the rest of his family is asleep in their trailer, using a washing machine as a writing desk. I can picture him hunkered over it, writing his horror-inducing, future-bestselling heart out.

Now that scene stands as a sort of gritty yet romantic image of the aspiring novelist who will stop at nothing to write–everyday–no matter what.

And, it’s an image that can serve us writers well–and ill.

Because, hear me out, there’s more to writing than the writing part. Novelist Lauren Groff put it better than I could on Twitter several days ago, and she went on to explain herself in a thread. But the initial tweet rang true for me, and maybe it will for you, too:

I don’t know who needs to hear this today (I do), but the vast majority of the time one spends writing a book isn’t spent in writing the book, but rather reading, dreaming, running, walking, experimenting, restarting, writing things that gradually bring you closer to the book.

Lauren Groff via Twitter

Something like 3.5 thousand retweets of Groff’s tweet later, and let’s assume quite a few writers needed to hear those words.

Boiled down: a lot of writing a book isn’t. It’s researching, reading a ton, writing around it, writing “off the book,” as they say–even if there’s no book yet.

And I’m going to venture: a lot of writing a book is about living with the idea of the book for a little while.

I was writing in the spring, even as my pandemic-anxiety shifted into gear (and sometimes overdrive). I wasn’t writing the book, but I was writing short reflections here at the blog that–from a distance–I can see thematically inform my book. I was reading–a lot–and connecting with writers I admire through interviews and reviews. I participated in a couple writing workshops, and even wrote a little “poetry” (note the quotes). (If you’re really paying close attention, my little guy’s buckteeth haven’t been fixed yet. “Soon and very soon,” as the hymn goes.)

Over the summer, which is not over quite yet, I lived, albeit safely and distanced–that’s my boys’ sailing class above, each kid to their own boat. I swam and ate Lake Erie perch and Maryland blue crabs and read and laughed and sang and read some more. Finnish author Tove Jansson is my current read-around-the-book obsession, and I’m loving her The Summer Book!

Reader, my tank is full, and so is my plate.

It’s my busy season as a development writer by day, but I’m writing the book: not 1,000 words a day, but it’s coming, because I was ready to write the book.

What are you reading this week? What are you writing? Are you a write-everyday-no-matter-what-writer? I admire you! #nextlifegoals

Interested in Rust Belt author interviews, book reviews, essays, and more? Check out my handy-dandy categories, above. Are we social? Find me at FB and on Twitter and IG @MoonRuark

52 thoughts on “On *Not* Writing

  1. Ok. Let ME confess something right here. I have never been able to get more than a few pages into a King book. I actually (Sacrilege!) think he’s a pretty lousy writer. A great storyteller, without a doubt. But writer? From a technical standpoint, there are many things that I think he, as a writer, falls short on (although I have read more than a few bits of “On Writing” and actually quite enjoyed it.) and it all honestly stacks up into a big ol’ pile of “I can’t possibly muddle through this.” But then, I’m kind of a stickler for the technical parts and probably (apparently, obviously?) more-so than the average American reader. I guess this makes me a snob. Oh, well. I can’t really stand Tarantino as a director either. For pretty much the same types of reasons. So……I would say, “Don’t waste your time.” There are plenty of other authors who are both great storytellers AND technically proficient writers.

    A aspire to write every day, but lately, my energies have been too scattered (probably an easy excuse, but I blame our current living circumstances). I will say that I have found that a daily writing practice is one of the best things you can do. Do you know “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg? This practice (freewriting is one term for it–I’m sure you’re familiar) is what that book is all about. I’ve also heard it called “composting” (in that book? Can’t remember….it’s been years since I read it). When I have done it consistently–every day, 10-15 minutes a day–it has GREATLY improved both the quantity and quality of the rest of my writing. I like the term “composting” as it gives a feel for the organic nature of what’s happening in the brain/mind through this process. I set a timer, sit down and type. Don’t stop. Don’t think. Don’t edit. Don’t correct spelling or grammar or syntax or anything. Just GO! Sometimes this does mean typing “I don’t know what to write” a few times or a few dozen times but after doing this practice long enough (days, weeks)…..better things just start to come. Almost without trying. My best writing period happened when I woke up at 5:30 and immediately went to the keyboard. Or meditated/did Taiji and then went to the keyboard. Consistently for about a year or two.

    Kind of like sneaking out the back door of the conscious mind while it’s still busy making breakfast.

    I have not come close to that state in years but I kind of feel like now, at least, I know the way. Now I just have to get off my rear-end and do it…….

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I don’t feel so guilty, then. Thank you—and I guess, we can both take our rightful places in the snob club, ha! There’s just so much to read, and recently I’ve gotten more into translations. Really, there’s a whole world for us to read!

      I write every day, though not always for me, unfortunately. I can say my work in communications and marketing has made me a better creative writer, though—working within tight word counts, especially.

      I LOVE the concept of and term: composting. I have heard of but haven’t read Writing Down the Bones, but it sounds like a good one. I do think there’s a real something to freewriting at the crack of dawn before the conscious mind starts correcting things, when you’re able to achieve a state of flow. How do you stop after 15 minutes, though? I always just want to keep going for hours, that state is so wonderful when it happens. And I think you’re right—if you know the way, for your mind and your writing practice, you can find the way back. I always enjoy your writing and your photography—they complement each other so well—and am thankful you stopped by here!

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  2. A terrific post…no matter how much we want to write, life will get in the way, but guess what? The words will always be there! Now, just a point to make: your first two Stephen King books should be “Salem’s Lot” then “The Stand.” Everything follows…

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  3. Bravo! We are not all the same nor should we be. Writing is more complex than a formula and differs between individuals. I believe that the “getting there” which is expounded in this is an area which isn’t rolled out into the sunlight very often and is a great gray area to reflect on. A wonderful post:)

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    1. Many thanks for being here! (And I look forward to visiting your blog in turn.) You’re right–I think there are probably as many ways of getting to the writing as there are writers. But it can feel like a mystery for new writers. And while the “getting there” can feel murky–am I going in the right direction?–it’s all enjoyable. I love the act of writing but I also love to read (maybe too much) and research and study what others have written on a subject. As a poet, I’m sure you understand this fully. Poets might put comparatively few words on a page, but the “getting there” can take a long time.

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      1. Well said! I wish I could write prose. It’s such a gift. But yes, the thinking about what to write and then the reflection on what (and why) you wrote is all enjoyable. It’s so interesting! I wonder if all writers are huge readers?! I certainly fall in that category as well… hmmm. I welcome you to my humble poetry blog:)

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  4. I think you’re right, John, about the intrusiveness of life (but then, what would we write about?) and the words. Don’t know how those super prolific authors do it though! As for those King books–in a quick search I found _The Stand_ featured in a dissertation, so I figured that’s a good one!–I will add them to my post-retirement TBR. Got to reach that finish line first though, ha!

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  5. I’m with those who think King the author is meah. I’m from a long line of snobs though so that might explain it.
    Now I’m retired I have the space to write daily and rarely fail too, though my plans to work on my current novel daily often find themselves disrupted by some other idea. I never enjoyed free writing though. Churning out gobbledegook in the name of just writing seems a waste of my time. I may be fortunate in that i have always had tonnes of story ideas so if my free writing is to give oxygen to an idea by putting it on the page. But, hey, we all go through hell writing and as Dotty Parker said, i think it was her, when going through hell keep going. If that means free writing, go for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love that–keep going, indeed. Who wants to linger in hell? I have found free writing opens me up to ideas I didn’t know I had. I have tried free writing to work on an already-formed idea and that didn’t work at all–for me. We’re all our own weird writer. Glad to know I’m among good snob company, and thank you for commenting. I always enjoy your stories!

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  6. I think it’s ok to give us some slack. Like you highlighted, thinking and dreaming time is important too. Yes you need to sit down and do the hard work, but I think you also need to live to write.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. After I wrote my 2nd memoir, I put it away for about a year. I had it edited and read by readers, etc, I did what I thought I was supposed to do, but I was never happy with it so it continued to sit. Lately though, I’m re-writing it. It is SUCH a process, but I heard from Margaret Atwood that writing is problem solving – and that rang some bells in the ‘ol noggin. Also, David Sedaris says, writing is rewriting (and I know many say that too) but what struck me was the confession that he’ll go through 12-15 edits and re-writes. Suddenly I felt so much better… xo

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    1. 12-15 rewrites–that is comforting to hear. Re-writing is a bigger deal, for me anyway, than the initial drafting. The initial drafting has the delight of invention or novelty of putting down something new and exciting. Rewriting is the slog. I wish you luck–and hope to read this memoir when you’re “finished!” (Are we ever finished?) Thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks. I agree, editing and rewriting are slog-fests. Over time I’ve been broken down and now just do it. 😛

        But so far, I’m enjoying the rewrite, maybe it’s because I took a long break from it? 🙂

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    1. I hope so too! Your words don’t read as babbling to me–but if we’re talking tea and cakes, babble on, sister! Btw, loving your new blog design. The colors are so fab! You’ve inspired me to refresh mine, maybe even make it more of a writer site with a blog (rather than a blog with an about page). Eek–need some more time for that!

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  8. Totally agree with that assessment of the different activities that make up writing, Rebecca. A lot of pride seems to go into writers’ wordcounts on platforms like Twitter, but it’s never been that straightforward for me. So much of writing is made up of research, planning, editing, that wordcount seems like quite a clumsy reference tool to me. ‘On Writing’ really is fantastic, btw!

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    1. Yeah, I see that on Twitter, too. “2K words today!” I think, because I don’t write from an outline, it has to come more organically, so some days it’s going to flow and other days I’m working it out in my head. I need to revisit ON WRITING–it’s been a long time. I do remember feeling very inspired, which is worth a lot to me. Checking out your latest over at your blog now. Hope you’re well, and thanks for being here!

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    1. You’re “reading” the book of young motherhood–and it’s all-consuming. I remember (vaguely) those days, and I’m sure I didn’t read a thing, except for maybe a Baby Center post once in a while, just to make myself worry about something kid-related I didn’t really need to worry about. Eventually you will find time to read, I’m sure. Hope you’re well, and I’m glad you’re keeping up the blog–need to go check out your latest!

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  9. I love how you can so eloquently write about not writing and still move me in the direction of never wanting to give in to giving up on writing. I love that SK book, I’ve read others and was afraid that book would be too weird to read. Instead, I really liked it and even remember vividly the scene you referenced above. I can’t imagine being a mom, wife, author, homeschool teacher, and a writer all at the same time. The writing material you’re banking in the creative vault has to be quite abundant! 😉 Thanks for the book recommendation – my TBR list is growing and I love your recommendations!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Shelley–you’re too kind. And you’re right, that Stephen King book was decidedly not weird, but very helpful. I hope I’m banking good writing material–and that I can retrieve it from the vault. I know some famous writer (can’t remember who!) said that we have our material by the time we’re 5 years old, but I certainly didn’t! And, yes, there’s just soooo much to read. But I have to remember that if I’m always reading, I’m not writing–a balancing act. Keep up the good blogging and photography, Shelley. It’s always a treat for me!

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      1. You’re welcome. LOL – by the age of 5 …? Hmm, I’ll ponder that for a while, I agree with you I certainly didn’t have all my material by then. I’m lucky to just deal with what happened yesterday.
        Happy writing and blogging to you – I sure enjoy reading your thoughts.

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  10. You are so right! Writing isn’t just about sitting down and putting the pen to paper or the keystrokes to screen. LOL! There’s so much more to it. Research and editing turn your rough draft into a glittering jewel. 🙂 At least, that’s what I’m hoping any way. We writers can’t get bogged down in just writing 1000 words a day. We need to live, too. To experience all the emotions so we can put them down on paper for our characters. Awesome post!

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  11. I’m writing my sixth book (seventh?) and getting ready to query my second. I agree about the time taken away from writing. It’s important. I’ve been hyper-focused on three projects lately — I know! — and have been in a writer-aholic state. I was about to edit another fifty pages last night when my husband asked me to play tennis. Whoa. I used to play all the time. It felt good to run after shots on the court instead of searching for the perfect word in my brain. LOL!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re a workhorse, I know that–so impressively prolific! Are you doing #PitMad tomorrow? It’s hard to balance it all–writing and life–but I do think the balance is important, for relationships with others and ourselves, and for our pages. I hope your tennis was invigorating. You’re probably writing up a storm today!

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      1. Yes! Pitmad is on Thursday.

        I have no balance. LOL! It was fun to hit balls. I used to play competitively. Tennis was my main focus before I started writing.

        Yep, I knocked out a blog post. I find the book and blog balance hard too. Now, I’m onto editing and since it’s shockingly cool today, a bike ride!

        Liked by 1 person

  12. So so true that much of the real writing happens without pen, pencil, tablet, keypad … whatever. Walking the dog, taking a shower, falling asleep, cooking dinner. I’ve never believed in the “X number of words per day” formula. Just the “X thoughts a day” formula!

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  13. Rebecca, what you said about the process of writing being drawn from experiences away from the desk rings true in so many ways. I am a nonfiction personal development writer, and I plan everything I write in moderate detail. When I write, though, it will be from adventures both recent and long ago. To answer one of your questions, I find myself keeping my reading time more on blog posts and less on published authors for some reason. The irony of it is, the people I read about recommend authors worth looking at.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s tough to find the reading time, for sure! And there are a lot of great blogs out there to be read. I resisted audio books for a long time, because I think silence can be beneficial, not just for my writing but my mental health. However, I have a long drive to and from my kids’ school, which I’ve started to fill with audio book time–and it’s allowed me to “read” a lot more. Thank you for being here; I appreciate your comment!

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  14. I read King in my late teens and early twenties. I remember stopping after I had my son because I just couldn’t do horror anymore. One of my favorite writing quotes from On Writing is that you must read a lot and you must write a lot. Note that read comes before write. I used to have a problem with writing until I gave myself permission to write garbage. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg helped with that.

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    1. Yes, the reading must come first! Totally agree with that–and now I don’t feel so bad about missing King’s horror in my younger years. I was reading Tom Robbins (Skinny Legs and All, etc.) during those times. Maybe a little Vonnegut too. And I have to admit I’ve heard plenty of good things about that Goldberg book, but haven’t read it–yet! Thanks for your comment and recommendation, Jennifer!

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    1. I agree. The tricky part about storytelling, for me, has always been that I either had the time or the experiences. When I was young and had more time, I didn’t yet have the fruitful experiences to draw from. Now, I’ve got experience and heartbreak plenty–just not enough time to write what I’d like. Of course, I know I am far from alone in this struggle! Thank you for visiting, Damyanti. I’m so excited to follow your journey as a PitchWars mentor!

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