I recently read a ten-year old, timeless book, On Writing, by Stephen King. I am not the first to say what a first-class book it is. I like his approach (not the alcohol and drug use)(in that regard, I’m so boringly boring), but rather his idea that if you have a good “situation” or idea, the plot and characters will write themselves. We all know it isn’t quite that easy, but I follow that dogma much more readily than John Grisham’s well-defined plot outlines that he stretches into a pre-determined novel. I’ve written two novels now, and they both ended in completely different places than I thought they would because they grew organically after my daily intake of strong, black coffee. I love that feeling when my fingers take over, my brain gets out of the way, and something totally unexpected results.
But back to Stephen King. He writes in Chapter Two of the On Writing section about the productivity levels of various authors. He compares (among others) “John Creasey, a British mystery novelist, (who) wrote five hundred books under ten different names” to Harper Lee (author of To Kill a Mockingbird) who wrote only one book. King wonders: How long did it take (Lee and other less prolific authors) to write the books they did write, and what they did with the rest of their time? He asks, “If God gives you something you can do, why in God’s name wouldn’t you do it?”
Obviously, Stephen King was never a stay-at-home mother.
Today, I sit in my favorite Eames lounge chair, feet propped up on the ottoman, CNBC quietly keeping me abreast of the daily market fluctuations (Dow up 142 pts., at the moment), dog at my side, rain dribbling down the window over my left shoulder, clouds above obscuring the dreamy blue skies that I know are out there somewhere. Off to my right? Five muscular workmen remodeling my kitchen and bathroom. They have power drills, shop-vacs, radios, and cell phones at such a level that there is no way I could concentrate on Left On Blue, my new novel. I can’t even concentrate on the delicious novel I’m reading, The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer. (I’m only 200 pages in, and I highly recommend it.) Would Stephen King have been able to concentrate in this chaos? Would he have gotten in his self-imposed 1000 words today?
As the person in charge of all things “household” in my family, it’s my job to sit here amid the clutter, dust, commotion, and whispered swearing in case there’s a problem or question. But writing? Not today. Reading? Sporadically. Eating? Standing up, out of a wrapper. Blogging? Ah, yes!
The best part, is of course, the workmen. Not in the way you might think, but in a writer’s people-who-are-fabulous-to-watch sort of way. The tattoos, for instance, they have several great examples to observe. And the clothing, ripped under the arm, stained from paint, torn at the neck. One guy has on a gray t-shirt with a skull as large as his extra-large abdomen, in RED, no less. Another man, is covered in sweat, I mean soaked clear through his t-shirt and his shorts. I comment on all this, not judgmentally, but as a seer of truth, a beacon of reality. Left On Blue takes place largely in Wyoming. I am positive that the workmen in Wyoming aren’t that different from the workmen in my kitchen. This is good stuff, man.
Will someone please tell Stephen King that just because I didn’t get my 1000 words in today, I’m still working here.