Veronique Darwin

Posts Tagged ‘Stephen King’

Scary Writing

In Inspiration, Language, My Writing, Teaching on October 30, 2013 at 10:15 pm

In grade six I did my first act of plagiarism. I entered a poetry contest with a Halloween poem that my sister had written seven years ago, when she was in elementary school. It was a terrifying poem that took place in what I imagined was the backyard of my house. It scared me so much I thought it was excellent. It was excellent. But it wasn’t mine.

I don’t know why I did it. I loved writing. My sister was the artist; I was the writer. She wrote too; I drew too. But that poem had affected me in such an important way the first time I read it years ago that I wanted other people to feel the same way I did. And I couldn’t write something that good. So I submitted it to my teacher and she submitted it (maybe) to a poetry contest we never heard back from.

I remember that English teacher so well, just like every other English teacher I’ve had. I was so receptive in those classes, so hungry to learn. I remember she once wrote “plausible” on the board and we insisted that she had gotten the word “possible” wrong. I remember she had us write journals and I told her everything. I remember the thing about how she never sent in our Halloween poems.

I had my students write Halloween poems this month. I thought I would let them freestyle it until I found this, a poem by Neil Gaiman called “Instructions.” So the students each wrote their own instructions. Everyone’s poem was incredible. Everyone’s poem was frightening. It’s amazing what foolproof, creative productions can be made from copying a poetic form. I believe now in haiku, in sonnet, in a way I hadn’t before. I understand the merit in mimicking.

But why did I just take the poem as it was? Why didn’t I play around with it and make it my own? What I remember clearest is the feeling of getting away with something, which I soon after realized was not something anyone cared about. It was the opportunity I missed. I never wrote a scary poem.

I just read The Mist by Stephen King after being haunted by the movie version for two years. The book version is less awful because of a different ending. But it’s also more terrifying because it’s written in words and words are what move me. It struck me in both that novella and the poems of my students that what is scary lies in the detail. It is the image that frightens, not the idea.

the-mist-2007

Maybe I was scared to write the poem. I’ve always been afraid of lights off in the bathroom – being in the presence of a mirror when I can’t see myself in it. I’ve always been afraid of ghosts and witches, things behind me in the dark and in front of me when I open my eyes from sleep. I’ve always been afraid of the moment where I set my feet on the ground off the side of my bed, always been afraid of stairwells and the backseat and empty houses. But those are all just ideas until you place them in a poem, until you give them life through the power of a verb, the tint of an adjective, the smile of properly placed punctuation. And that’s when the chills run up the spine. That’s when poems come to life. That’s when you become so manipulated by the magic of words at the age of 12 that you do something you know in your gut is the wrong thing, all for the sake of literature.

Writing Time

In My Writing on May 19, 2012 at 11:47 pm

What time spent writing is writing time?

Back when I said “I want to be a writer,” I used to try to come up with ways to motivate myself to write more regularly than just every time I felt like it. I knew that to be a writer, I had to sit down whether I wanted to or not. I would make up goals that seemed lofty, unattainable: one hour a day, and I would not make it past the first day.

(photo credit bigother.com)

Then I graduated from university. I decided to set a page goal for myself to start the first draft of my novel, a story that had been coming along in “every time I felt like it” stops and starts. I set a goal of five pages of single-spaced writing per weekday. This worked out to about 15,000 words per week. I got the first draft of my first novel done in just under two months.

Since that time, I’ve tried to set other quotas for myself: 5 of this, 5 of that, 3 of this. I’ve also tried to set a goal each night for the next day, dependent on what my day looked like. Three hours a day became normal. Four hours is an excellent day. One hour is not a great try. Five hours has never happened.

When I read how long writers spend writing each day, I again feel like someone who is only thinking of one day becoming a writer. I remember listening to Esi Edugyan, author of Half Blood Blues, say casually in an interview on the CBC that she writes for eight hours a day, six days a week. Oh, sometimes twelve hours when I’m really into a novel. When you’re really into a novel? What else are you writing?

(photo credit amazon.ca)

Stephen King, in his book On Writing, says he writes every day of the week, at least 2,000 words a day. But on top of this, he spends all evening reading. He says he gets through 70 to 80 books a year, and considers this a fundamental part of his writing.

Now, I read a lot. Should I be putting this toward my hours? I write a blog. That takes time. Other things I read and write are in some way contributing to my novel, but how do I quantify them?

It seems that when I really think about it, and stop posing questions into the void, or at you, the idea of setting aside writing time is what is important here. If I’m going to read anyway, then I shouldn’t bother scheduling it in. But if I want to read more, to help improve my writing, then that can become a part of my writing time.

Writing time is the time spent writing in which I wouldn’t have otherwise been writing. It’s the time where I sit at the same spot and I take out the same things and I sit there whether I feel inspired or not and I leave only something ridiculous like six hours later. The point is I need more of this. This writing time must become my top priority.

Goodbye, day job.

Goodbye, night life.

Writing, you’ve been pencilled in!

3 Things I am Reading

In Book Club, Literature on May 15, 2012 at 11:38 pm

The Cellist of Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway

“He used to take his wife and son to Vraca for picnics in the summer. From there you could see most of the city, a fact that had taken on a whole new significance in recent months.”

I saw Steven Galloway speak at an SFU World Literature event a couple years ago and was struck by how funny he is. This book, despite its title and cover page, isnot funny. I just read through a joke and even that wasn’t funny ha-ha:

“A woman has a friend come to visit … The friend comes in, and the woman asks if she would like a coffee. ‘No,’ the friend says, ‘thanks, I’m fine.’ The woman says ‘Great, now I can take a shower.’ “

The joke (if you didn’t get it) is about the lack of water during the siege of Sarajevo. The book provides an intense immersion into the streets of the city during the war, but doesn’t provide much of the context surrounding it. I like when novels stay novels: I’m reading this to learn about what characters might do in this type of situation. I’m not reading to learn about this type of situation.

I have so far been exposed to four characters’ points of view. No one is happy. Some are dealing better than others, but all are dealing so well. This is another thing novels can do: use stronger than life characters. There is a cellist who brings his cello out into the street, where he will most likely get killed by a sniper, in order to play the same adaggio every day. There’s a reason we root for the musicians in Titanic: beauty in the depths of horror is almost more beautiful than beauty alone.

On Writing, by Stephen King

“My mother said it was good enough to be a book. Nothing anyone has said to me since has made me feel any happier.”

Having never read a Stephen King novel, I asked myself, what does he have to tell me about writing? He claims in his three forewords that he doesn’t want to tell me anything about writing but instead about himself, and how he came to writing. Good, because I don’t know anything about Stephen King.

King is a household name in my mind’s household because I see a new book of his on the shelves every month. I couldn’t possibly read Stephen King as fast as he writes Stephen King, so I haven’t started. I imagined King to be a mix of Goosebumps* and John Grisham, though I’m not sure why.

I can tell you Stephen King is chatty. He is a wonderful storyteller. I am reading through his childhood anecdotes eagerly waiting for the punchline, the climax, knowing I am in the hands of someone who has done this before.

My favourite part of the book so far is the page before the title page. It is an excerpt of a story written by King as a child. It was printed on a typewriter so there are letters missing every once in a while. The prodigious parts that stick out to me are the way King is able to break paragraphs at the right spot, and make short, perfect sentences like “Robert Steppes was a compulsive jumper.” Perhaps this says something about my current insecurities, that I feel I don’t break paragraphs up as well as King did in primary school.

La Petite Fille de Monsieur Linh, by Philippe Claudel

“‘Tao-lai,’ dit Monsieur Linh, selon la formule de politesse qu’on utilise dans la langue du pays natal pour dire bonjour à quelqu’un. ‘Eh bien, bonjour Monsieur Tao-lai,’ dit l’homme en lui souriant.”

I think it’s embarrassing that I often can’t follow stories in French, for I should be (and am) able to speak and read French fluently. It’s something about the story shape that gets lost to me when reading words that aren’t English. I understand most words, and most sentences, and most pages, but the story itself feels like parts have been taken out, like characters have merged. Maybe I fall asleep when I’m reading in French.

Philippe Claudel does a fine job of telling a story – this confusion is my fault entirely. The book reads like a parable, like an everyman story, perhaps because of its size, or  because of the distance between the reader and Monsieur Linh. We know who he is and what he’s doing and why he’s doing it, but he feels a bit like a foreigner in the book, just like he is in the new country to which he is emigrating: he doesn’t communicate with the reader directly; we don’t know his first name.

Sometimes short books seem bigger than themselves, whereas big books bring in so much that they can’t help but be confined to their size. I love little stories, because I can read them so quickly and I can also read them so slowly. As you can see by my frequency of “3 Things I am Reading” posts, I only read them quickly!

Again, I will read the first book someone suggests for me in the Comments section below, and will write about it soon in a “3 Things I am Reading.”

*Don’t click on the Goosebumps link: it’s terrifying!

%d bloggers like this: