Wednesdays on Writing: Start at the Tail

February 2nd, 2011

I recently listened to Stephen King’s book On Writing. If you haven’t read or heard it yet, I recommend you get to it. King himself narrates the audio version, and that Maine accent makes his very practical advice seem all the more straightforward and brass tacks. I loved it. The one caveat I’d offer is that most masters of their craft can veer into the didactic when it comes to method. Because something works for them, they assume they have found the way, the truth and the light for the rest of us. King is no different. But unless you’ve already come up with something better, you probably ought to take him on faith.

I agreed with just about all of it, especially his debunking of the commonly held belief that there is a vast conspiracy within the book industry to keep the unknown and unconnected writer locked out. It’s very tempting to buy into that when you are the unknown and unconnected writer, as I very well remember. There was a time when I would play Six Degrees of Separation whenever I heard of someone getting a juicy book deal, connecting the dots until I figured out how they knew who. I’m not going to tell you it doesn’t matter who you know (or more, accurately, who knows about you). But it doesn’t matter in the way I thought it did. What matters is that someone in publishing is convinced they can sell your book. It’s really that simple, and King does a great job of illustrating how a writer, starting out with no connections or publishing credits (or reality show), goes about the process of accumulating them.

Over on Writer UnBoxed, debut novelist Eleanor Brown covers the same topic, using her own career path as an example. It reminds me of the Shel Silverstein poem, Melinda Mae:

Have you heard of tiny Melinda Mae,
Who ate a monstrous whale?
She thought she could,
She said she would,
So she started in right at the tail…

The thing is, starting in at the tail takes commitment and action. For some, it’s easier to imagine there’s a way to get the whole whale into your belly without all that chewing.

No Responses to “Wednesdays on Writing: Start at the Tail”

  1. Funny you should mention his book, I’m rereading it after having gone through it a few years ago and it makes more sense to me now. Having blogged for almost three years, I am finally mailing things out looking to publish. No good nibbles yet, but I’m writing everyday and things are going out the door. I plan to be ready if an opportunity presents and I’m actively pitching ideas and working on others when I should be sleeping.

  2. Cid says:

    I have that book on my shelf and have never cracked the cover but I will do so now. No more excuses for not writing, right?

  3. misty says:

    thanks for the tip. I’ve had it on my wishlist forever… Time to take the plunge! There are so many writing books and several from main stream authors. It’s hard to know who is worth it and who isn’t…

  4. Chris says:

    It’s so easy to play the “Six Degrees of Separation” game to rationalize a person’s success. Seems to be prevalent with small, local publishers. I haven’t read “On Writing” but it’s been recommended a few times. I’m sold. : )

  5. Stephen says:

    First of all, I’m currently in the middle of reading this same book… though I’m not a writer. I’m just a HUGE King fan. The book is fantastic so far…

    Mainly however, I wanted to write and let you know that your blog has been selected as the Blog of the Week on the Newfoundland Labrador Blogroll for this week. Hopefully it helps find you some additional readers to your site.

    Best wishes!

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