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May 16, 2024

Stephen King and I: Two workaholic dweebs

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Suspense, in books or movies, is not really my thing. Why seek extra tension when my body is already over stuffed with anxiety?

All this to say, Stephen King is not my first pick for reading material. But, in an effort to embrace my prolificness, I found myself reading his memoir, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. (affiliate link)

Stephen’s written 83 books when you include fiction of all sizes, non-fiction, and books under his pen names. Truly an icon for folks like me who can’t help but put things out into the world.

Beyond his advice for improving your fiction writing, which honestly applies to every kind of writing, I have two takeaways from the only book of his I’ll ever read:

commitment to progress and commitment to the craft.

These takeaways are the kind of thing you can flick your wrist at and think, “I know this already.”

Of course you do. But how present, really, are these themes in your work life or your creative practice?

Commitment to progress

Stephen King tries to write 10 pages a day, every day, when he’s working on a book. That’s about 2,000 words. It’s equal parts discipline and devotion. I get the sense that this man can’t help but write.

I used to tell interviewers that I wrote every day except for Christmas, the Fourth of July, and my birthday. That was a lie. I told them that because if you agree to an interview you have to say something, and it plays better if it’s something at least half-clever. Also, I didn’t want to sound like a workaholic dweeb (just a workaholic, I guess). The truth is that when I’m writing, I write every day, workaholic dweeb or not. That includes Christmas, the Fourth, and my birthday (at my age you try to ignore your goddamn birthday anyway). And when I’m not working, I’m not working at all, although during those periods of full stop I usually feel at loose ends with myself and have trouble sleeping. For me, not working is the real work.

As you see from the above, it’s the commitment to taking time off that’s most difficult for Stephen.

Stephen has a particular way of committing to the bit. He defines the big picture project. In his case, it’s normally a book. But I’m writing this piece today because I committed to writing 15,000 words in a month as part of a writing challenge hosted by Bailey Lang of The Writing Desk. He defines a doable amount of progress he’ll make every day—a smart strategy for avoiding burnout—and he makes very few exceptions.

I don’t think this approach will work for everyone, but versions of this approach have worked for me in the past. Stephen’s commitment challenges me to better define both my projects and what a sustainable amount of progress looks like. Gentle reminder: daily progress isn’t the only option.

Commitment to the craft

I initially breezed over the sub-title, A Memoir of the Craft, but the concept of craft stuck with me most. To craft something is to do it with skill.

Stephen’s developed his craft by writing far more than the average person. He also reads like his creative life depends on it.

”You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you…Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.”

He’s not the first to say that writers are readers, but he got me thinking: What is the equivalent of reading for other skill sets? What does it look like to be committed to a practice as a craft?

When I posed this question to a group of coaches, it didn’t take long for them to compile a list:

  • Don’t go too long without experiencing coaching yourself
  • Reflect after your sessions. What do you wish you’d done differently? What other questions or tools could you have used?
  • Record some of your sessions to level up your reflection
  • Revisit past training materials and seek new opportunities for development
  • Be in community with other coaches

The list came easily. We knew what being committed to the craft of coaching meant to us, but we realized there were places where each of us could do better. We need a follow-up question: Am I as committed as I’d like to be?

I keep circling around these questions for other crafts in my life. Facilitation. Art. Music.

What is the equivalent of reading for this skill?

What does it look like to be committed to this practice as a craft?

Am I as committed as I’d like to be?

I expected On Writing to inspire me to be prolific, and it delivered. More than that, it inspired me to be committed to the crafts I love, even if it makes me look like a workaholic dweeb.

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