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Dream Gates

Dream Gates

Read a lot, write a lot, dream a lot: Stephen King on writing

I don’t read many books on writing, but Stephen King’s On Writing, by a consummate practitioner of the craft, is one I return to.

I warm to his insistence that stories are “found objects” that must be excavated with care, like archaeological finds, rather than schemes to be brainstormed and constructed through formula plotting. He describes how Carrie, the story that put him on the map, was born through the intersection of two life experiences: discovering what a girls’ shower room looks like while working a temporary janitor’s job, and remembering an old Life article on telekinesis.

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Writers write, and King reminds us that we need to make daily space for the practice, and let our muse know when and where we are available. For him, this has meant sitting down every morning of the year in a room where he can close the door and bang out a couple of thousand words while playing hard rock or heavy metal

He riffs on the familiar theme, write what you know – with the important clarification that “what you know” is not confined to physical experience: write from what you know in your heart and imagination and especially, in your dreams.

“Read a lot and write a lot,” he counsels. Yes. But his own example suggests that we add the phrase “dream a lot.” Consider King’s account of how he came to write Misery. On a flight to London, he dozed off and dreamed that a popular author was being held captive by a psychotic fan who had named a pig after his main character. Waking, he jotted down a couple of lines on an airline cocktail napkin.

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That night, at the venerable  Brown’s hotel in London, round the corner from my old office, he couldn’t sleep. He went downstairs and asked the concierge if there was a quiet space where he could write. He was directed to a cherrywood desk on the second floor that had once belonged to Rudyard Kipling, another prolific author inspired by dreams who wrote The Jungle Book while staying at Brown’s. At Kipling’s desk, wrote a 16-page mini-version of what became Misery.

When he thanked the concierge for the use of the desk, he was informed that Kipling died from a stroke while writing at that same desk. When the characters of Misery came alive, they changed King’s projected ending; the writer in the novel  proved more resourceful than the author of the novel had anticipated. If you are writing fiction, that’s how you know that it’s coming together:  the characters come to life and change the script.

Kipling’s former suite at Brown’s Hotel in London

 

 

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Diane

    Thanks for noting King’s wonderful book. My old copy was lent to a friend and who lent it to a friend . . . and there it went. That made me happy, to see it disappear in that way, to a stranger and non-writer. But I want to reread the book

    You remind me that in addition to all of its other virtues, King’s writing provides a marvelous “energy model,” which–to me, just now– is more important than providing information. I could not put it down.

    Please remind me: does King talk about a conscious sense of “calling” in this book?

    • http://www.mossdreams.com Robert Moss

      Diane – Clearly Stephen King has a tremendous sense of calling. Any writer who decides that seven of his novels are merely one book within a “metanovel” is driven by a vast and mobilizing sense of purpose. I don’t recall him using the word “calling” in his book On Writing but will look again when I take a break from my own current book writing.

  • http://sothismedias.com Justin Patrick Moore

    It’s interesting that in some of King’s fiction, particularly the Dark Tower cycle and it’s related books, that King distinguishes between big dreams and little dreams. I also find it fascinating that Robert Browning wrote “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” after dreaming it, and that this poem haunted King’s imagination, forming the basis for his multi-volume epic. Now he claims that those seven books are just one novel of a vast metanovel…. the plot thickens of its own accord, and in my own experience outlines seldom help.

    • http://www.mossdreams.com Robert Moss

      Justin – Thanks for underscoring how the secret committee of dreams operates in the lives of creative writers.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment diane bonds

    Robert–

    Thanks for your comment on “calling.” I plan to buy (my third) copy of King’s book and reread.

    Thanks, Diane

  • Pingback: Dreams: great fodder for fiction | I am a writer ... dangit.

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