On Writing

I wrote May’s Dated Essay of the Month in May of 1994. So clearly all the references are dated. Very dated. I do find that I’m fonder of The Stand than I used to be. And I did love that mini-series.

I must say that Stephen King is one of my favorite writers. Maybe my very favorite. I’ve read his work since I found Carrie in 1975, and have been hooked ever since.

I no longer think that good television is rare. Television has become excellent in the intervening 14 years. There are too many good shows now. I find myself recording hours and hours of TV, watching new stuff well into the summer.

But the methods mentioned in here are exactly the same. I watch TV, use music, and movies and all sorts of other things for inspiration. Dean and I no longer tell people to turn off the TV. We now tell our students to keep up with the culture. It’s as important as historical research.

Other than that, not many changes. I think this first appeared in The Report, but as usual, I don’t have the exact reference. I think I might have to start a non-fiction page to solve all of this.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Last week I spent 8 hours watching Stephen King’s The Stand on ABC. Now, I read The Stand when it appeared in 1977, and while I remembered much of it (and hence the book made an impression), I didn’t like it very much. I’m not fond of its simple religion nor do I like King’s English teacher joke: setting up an entire book with a legitimate deus ex machina ending. Still, when I read that King had done the script for the mini-series, I had to watch. I had to know how he cut that 1,000+ page monstrosity to a manageable length.

I expected to watch the first 2 hours and then quit. Imagine my surprise when I got hooked. The good vs. evil story still annoyed me, but less than it had when I was reading it. Instead, I found myself caught up in the imagery: the dead bodies scattered through four nights of opening credits, the detail in the post-apocalypse societies. Once again, King’s imagination sucked me in and didn’t let me go.

I found that very inspiring.

When Dean and I teach, we tell people to shut off the television and write. But I have a confession. I love television. Good television. And I find that it fuels the writing. Not in ideas (god forbid! television is usually behind the times), but in story-telling power. Good television (and I put The Stand in that category) grips and holds through the commercials. The problem is that good television is rare. We hunt and peck each season, finding series that hit the good mark two shows out of three. This year, it’s been Lois & Clark, both Treks, Northern Exposure, Roseanne (for sheer guts no one can beat her), and Picket Fences. In the past, we’ve sampled LA Law, and mourned the losses of Magnum P.I. , Quantum Leap, and Moonlighting. Not every episode hit. Some had bad seasons and lost us (L.A. Law, Moonlighting) but we always gained a bit of inspiration, a reminder that stories exist in many forms.

And I don’t find my inspiration just from television. I find it in music — lately The Crash Test Dummies, again for guts. (Can you see that I admire people on an edge?) I love musicals, symphonies, some country music and most hard rock. Buried in each is something that speaks to the artist in me.

To music and television, add movies. What better way to lose yourself for two hours than in the dark with a bunch of strangers, listening to an expert tell you a story. Dean and I watched Jaws again the other night, and let me tell you, Spielberg can teach Cussler how to mix characters with plot for the sake of suspense.

Then, of course, there are the more conventional means of inspiration. An excellent short story always spurs me on. I read a lot of history and even more biography because I love to find out how famous people became famous. Recently, I read an essay/short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald called “An Afternoon of An Author” about a writer attempting to write. Wonderful, backwards inspiration that showed even the masters had days where the writing was painful.

Novels help too, good and bad. The bad ones show me what I want to avoid or give me the exercise in how-would-I-have-plotted-that (and made it better)? I study the good ones, just to learn the techniques. Please, someone, read Scott Turow’s Pleading Guilty. I need to talk about his protagonist and the style Turow chose to tell the story. I finished that novel on Thursday and haven’t been able to start another novel since.

And conversations are wonderful, especially conversations I eavesdrop on. Like the Middle School students on the Water Polo team who hang out at Emerald Rec center whom I overheard on Friday. “I can’t gossip anymore,” one girl said. “I always have to go to detention.” “Detention? We’re not in school now,” the other girl said. “You can tell me.” “If I tell you, I’ll get in trouble,” the first girl said. “I always do.”

Detention for gossiping (not for talking but for the content of the conversation. Oh, I like that). It will find its way into something, I’m sure.

Finding inspiration is important to me because I have to write every day. Sometimes I have afternoons like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s where I wander through the house hoping that I can find my muse. Other days I need no help at all, because it feels as if my inspiration battery has been charged. Those eight hours last week were not a waste of time. In fact, if anything I have felt since then that my inspiration battery is an EverReady. The muse has been happily scheming in the back of my brain.

My search for inspiration never interferes with my walk to the computer. I need to work even if I am not inspired. Since even a drop of inspiration helps, though, I keep my mind open to it. When I finish writing for the day, I need something to get me going for the next session. And I find that inspiration in the coolest places.

Copyright 1994 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch