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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writers

Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writers

Originally published in  Open Culture 

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stephen king writing tips

In one of my favorite Stephen King interviews, for The Atlantic, he talks at length about the vital importance of a good opening line. “There are all sorts of theories,” he says, “it’s a tricky thing.” “But there’s one thing” he’s sure about: “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.” King’s discussion of opening lines is compelling because of his dual focus as an avid reader and a prodigious writer of fiction—he doesn’t lose sight of either perspective:
We’ve talked so much about the reader, but you can’t forget that the opening line is important to the writer, too. To the person who’s actually boots-on-the-ground. Because it’s not just the reader’s way in, it’s the writer’s way in also, and you’ve got to find a doorway that fits us both.
This is excellent advice. As you orient your reader, so you orient yourself, pointing your work in the direction it needs to go. Now King admits that he doesn’t think much about the opening line as he writes, in a first draft, at least. That perfectly crafted and inviting opening sentence is something that emerges in revision, which can be where the bulk of a writer’s work happens.
Revision in the second draft, “one of them, anyway,” may “necessitate some big changes” says King in his 2000 memoir slash writing guide On Writing. And yet, it is an essential process, and one that “hardly ever fails.” Below, we bring you King’s top twenty rules from On Writing. About half of these relate directly to revision. The other half cover the intangibles—attitude, discipline, work habits. A number of these suggestions reliably pop up in every writer’s guide. But quite a few of them were born of Stephen King’s many decades of trial and error and—writes the Barnes & Noble book blog—“over 350 million copies” sold, “like them or loathe them.”
1. First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience. “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that arenot the story.”
2. Don’t use passive voice. “Timid writers like passive verbs for the same reason that timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe.”
3. Avoid adverbs. “The adverb is not your friend.”
4. Avoid adverbs, especially after “he said” and “she said.”
5. But don’t obsess over perfect grammar. “The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story.”
6. The magic is in you. “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.”
7. Read, read, read. ”If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”
8. Don’t worry about making other people happy. “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”
9. Turn off the TV. “TV—while working out or anywhere else—really is about the last thing an aspiring writer needs.”
10. You have three months. “The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”
11. There are two secrets to success. “I stayed physical healthy, and I stayed married.”
12. Write one word at a time. “Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ the work is always accomplished one word at a time.”
13. Eliminate distraction. “There’s should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with.”
14. Stick to your own style. “One cannot imitate a writer’s approach to a particular genre, no matter how simple what that writer is doing may seem.”
15. Dig. “Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.”
16. Take a break. “You’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience.”
17. Leave out the boring parts and kill your darlings. “(kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.)”
18. The research shouldn’t overshadow the story.“Remember that word back. That’s where the research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it.”
19. You become a writer simply by reading and writing.“You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”
20. Writing is about getting happy. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”
See a fuller exposition of King’s writing wisdom at Barnes & Noble’s blog.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Read Every Day: A Healthy Prescription For Your Child

Read Every Day: A Healthy Prescription For Your Child

originally posted in HUFF POST PARENTS 

"Read Every Day."
It's a simple phrase with a powerful message, one that I've repeated time and again to the young children and parents I've seen over the years I've spent in pediatric medicine: How important is it? It may be the single, most important prescription I hand to you in your child's early years.
Health? How in the world would reading have a positive impact on health? That piece of advice can make the difference between a child who succeeds in school and one who struggles.Succeeding in school and having an education, which leads to a satisfying career, opens up endless possibilities. On the other hand, one in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers.
"Read Every Day." Three little words that, if taken seriously, can change the outcome of a life. The first three to five years of life represent a critical window for learning, with rapid brain development that does not occur at any other time. By age 3, a child's brain growsbillions of cells and hundreds of trillions of connections, or synapses, between these cells during this time. Everything a child soaks up during these years helps to set the stage for future learning; these years are truly the foundation on which the rest of life sits.
I am far from the only one. More than 12,000 of my colleagues say this to families across the country daily. Through Reach Out and Read, these medical providers arm more than 4 million families with books and knowledge about the importance reading to children beginning in infancy.
The research, including 15 peer-reviewed studies about the effectiveness of Reach Out and Read, shows us that books in the home, and involved parents make a world of difference in a child's school, and overall life success. During the preschool years, children served by Reach Out and Read score three to six months ahead of their non-Reach Out and Read peers on vocabulary tests, preparing them to start school on target.

Unfortunately, many children, especially from low-income families, are not read to in these years. The disparity in reading resources is staggering. According to the New York Times, a study found a ratio of one book for sale for every 300 children in low-income neighborhoods; however, another study found the ratio was 13 books to every one child in middle-income neighborhoods. Children who grow up without sufficient exposure to language often struggle with reading in early grades. An APA study shows that only 20 percent of 4-year-olds in poverty can recognize all 26 letters, compared with 37 percent of their peers at or above the poverty level. When they start off behind, chances are they will stay behind, never achieving their full potential.
Reading aloud to your child every day, beginning at birth, can prevent your child from being part of this startling statistic. Reading builds motivation, curiosity and memory. It nurtures children and encourages them to form a positive association with books and reading later in life. If you read aloud to your children there's a strong chance they'll become good readers and in turn, develop a love of reading that will carry them through school, work and beyond.

Earlier this month, Scholastic unveiled a stunning artwork collection by 13 children's book illustrators who created their personal interpretation of the message "Read Every Day. Lead a Better Life" (#ReadEveryDay). This campaign provides a call-to-action for you to embody this credo in your own home - and also help other families, especially those without easy access to books for their children, to connect with the message in their homes. More than ever, it takes a village to help a child succeed.

So, pick up a book and read with the children in your life. Create a community, explore, imagine and, together, we can create a new generation of readers and a rich set of futures.
Dr Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD

Dr Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD is the medical director of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin. He is also an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Director of the UW Pediatric Early Literacy Projects, and Director of the MD-MPH Dual-Degree Program. Find him on Twitter @navsaria.

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