So this video on YouTube caught my attention.
It’s a great hour of TV where Stephen King and George RR Martin talk about their books, their lives and their work in general.
The time flies by and the interview (no audience participation here, just a conversation between these two guys) reveals a healthy amount of information.
But it’s the final question from Martin that captures my attention the most.
Martin – “How the fuck do you write so many books so fast?”
King’s response is perfect and probably underlines why, compared to Martin, he is so prolific.
It essentially boils down to a strong work ethic.
King reveals that he targets 6 pages a day. He’ll work for 3 to 4 hours every day and get those pages done and ‘clean’. I reckon clean means there’s little to go back on and play around with. He’s happy with the writing and the tone.
So, as King himself outlines, a 360 page manuscript would take him around 2 months.
60 days, 6 pages a day = 360 pages.
I wanted to think about this a little more.
6 pages could well be as much as 1,500 words.
You really have to know a) your craft and b) your characters and plot to achieve this to a high standard.
My follow up question to Stephen King here would be ‘how much time do you typically invest in research and planning for a 360 page novel?’
A generalised question, for sure, but one that may yield an answer worthy of repetition.
I’m currently reading Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s a few years old just now but reveals a huge amount about the man, his life and his love for his craft.
King is clearly an accomplished and gifted writer. But lordy he struggled early on. But persist, he did. And that persistence paid off. Once Carrie had landed things took off. But things also took a dive.
Drinking and a healthy amount of leaf intervened. The guy was off his box throughout the writing of Cujo, for example. As he himself confesses he pretty much doesn’t recall writing it.
Misery was written right around the time he was drinking and smoking morning, noon and night. Kathy Bates’ character (for the movie followers) a handy metaphor for the effects it was having on the writer.
But despite this King continued to hone his craft and create some memorable fiction.
What I glean from all of this is that Stephen King takes his inspiration from anywhere – his own life, somebody else’s life, a snippet of knowledge, something he’s seen – and crafts a story out of it.
Carrie is still my favourite. The payoff in the prom hall is not just exquisite prose but lent itself beautifully to the big screen. Both versions.
The key to the story was in King’s learning that sanitary towels are offered free to vend in the girl’s locker rooms in high school. That pivotal passage where the girls taunt Carrie White during her first period with the unforgettable ‘plug it up’ as they hurl tampons at her, was forged from that one snippet of information offered by his wife back in the early 1970s.
He used that knowledge to write a massively important part of a superb story. Crucially he’d defined with some clarity at least four of his key characters.
Carrie, the vulnerable, naive victim.
Chris, the vile ringleader and primary antagonist.
Sue, the popular but apparently human cheerleader and friend of Chris.
Rita, the gym teacher who empathises with Carrie and casts out Chris.
You just can’t sit and write this stuff on a whim. King absorbs knowledge and appears to let it sit in his head long enough for it to stick and mean something. If it’s a strong idea it’s too big to fall through the sieve with all the other tiny, rotten ideas.
My own writing has no discipline compared to what I’ve learned from Stephen King. Something I want to address.
I keep notes and snippets of information everywhere. I’ve probably lost or forgotten most of them.
But you know what, the good ideas, the ones I really give a damn about, they’re still there in the forefront of my mind. I can recall them and probably spend a good few hours fleshing them out.
With enough preparation I could probably write a couple of pages worth. Maybe 3 or 4. Do I really need to keep so many notes?
Just use my imagination, think a lot, think big, think different, see new stuff, stimulate the brain, experience shit (literally the shitty stuff) and remember it.