Tag Archives: stephen king

To Kill a Mocking Adverb (and Other Killables)

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Benjamin Dreyer has some advice for both aspiring and established writers (and something Stephen King — who once wrote “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs” — would wholeheartedly embrace): “Go a week without writing ‘very,’ ‘rather,’ ‘really,’ ‘quite,’ and ‘in fact.’ ” (“Feel free to go the rest of your life without another ‘actually,’ [too.]”)

In his book Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style, Mr. Dreyer has penned what his publisher calls “A witty, informative guide to writing “good English” from Random House’s longtime copy chief and one of Twitter’s leading enforcers of proper grammar — a twenty-first-century Elements of Style.

I think Messrs. King and Dreyer would agree that instead of going into overkill mode with your adverbs when writing, stretch your noodle to think of more appropriate/creative adjectives, metaphors or similes.


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Insomnia: The Silent Killer

I am one of the roughly 70 million North Americans who suffer from insomnia. Not bad sleeps or broken sleeps or light sleeps – insomnia. There is no grey area with this condition, and let me tell you something: It sucks big rhino horn.

Recently, I overcame my latest bout of what the dictionary defines as “habitual sleeplessness; inability to sleep.” In truth, it is so much more – and worse than that.

Per an NPR article:

Scientists know relatively little about how chronic sleeplessness works or why it disproportionately affects women and people over the age of 65. Roughly 60 million Americans are affected by the sleep disorder each year, and scientists disagree on the best ways to treat it.

In Stephen King’s novel Insomnia, he has one of his characters experience insomnia, and per a Wiki summary, this is part of what it had to say:

As his insomnia develops, Ralph begins to see things that are invisible and intangible to others: colorful manifestations of life-force surrounding people (auras), and diminutive white-coated beings he calls “little bald doctors”, based on their appearance, and gradually comes to believe these are genuinely present on a different level of reality

Good for Mr. King on getting this right. Not sure if he suffers from insomnia (wouldn’t surprise me…how else do you write 20 books a year?), but he’s captured one important element which I’ll return to shortly.

For those lucky enough not to suffer from insomnia, I have gone through it so many times that I can pretty much give you a day-by-day breakdown should you ever fall prey to its viciousness.

After one night of sleeplessness (24 hrs.), you may feel groggy or even energized. Weird how that works.

After a second night (48 hrs.), you can most certainly function at a relatively high level, especially with lots of coffee.

After the third night (72 hrs.), this is where things start to get dicey. My advice is if you reach the 72-hour mark, see your GP at once and talk about proper sleep aids. In my experience, every OTC sleep aid is a piece of crap. This is where you ask your doctor for  zopiclone, a non-benzo sleep aid that works magic. (From what I’ve been told, zopiclone is safe to use without fear of addiction for up to 20 days, but my GP never gives me more than a week’s worth.)

By that 72-hour mark, you might begin to hear voices and sounds and music playing randomly in your head at all times of day and night, especially when you try to sleep.

If you reach the fourth night without sleep (96 hrs.) this is where things begin to get dangerous. Like Stephen King’s character above, you will likely see auras, apparitions and perhaps even ghosts. You will startle easily; loud, sudden noises will send a jolt of electricity through you. Your eyes may start swelling and you’ll have trouble focusing.

The U.S. Army defines 96 hours as the breaking point for sleep deprivation torture (coupled with loud music and flood lights of course), but even without the lights and music it’s torture. The first time I hit the 96-hour mark I found myself talking out loud a lot, both in public and when I was by myself. If it sounds frightening that’s because it is.

Now, up until this last bout, I’d only reached 96 hours, but last week I hit 125 hours and discovered something I’d never experienced: my body actually began to fall apart by that fifth night. My sense of balance was screwed up, I lost the ability to walk more than a few feet, and my whole upper body felt like it was shutting down.

That’s when I went straight to my GP without passing Go, got some zopiclone, and started sleeping that same night. Like I said, if you hit the 48-hour mark, be safe and proactive and get in to see your family doctor ASAP. I was an idiot this last time around and paid the price; even with the zopiclone, it took me three days of sleep to begin readjusting once again. Never again, says I.

During my first rodeo with insomnia, I got scared because I knew nothing about the condition and so headed straight to a hospital ER. Bad idea. You’ll have a psych team evaluate you for hours as they try and decide whether you have mental health problems or are simply suffering from insomnia.

To repeat, see your family doctor ASAP, before you hit the 72-hour mark, and let them guide you through this scary process in a safe, practical way.

On that note, happy sleeping!


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Quote of the Day

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(I selflessly volunteered for this photo shoot, but forgot to put on any clothes at the last minute. Much and many apologies – Ed.)

“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”

– Stephen King

I can’t think of anyone more deserving to make such a statement than Stephen King. Not only is he uber talented, but the guy works like a racehorse on ‘roids. Even after his near-fatal accident in which he was hit by a vehicle while walking along Maine State Route 5 in 1999 – and subsequently suffered through five surgeries in 10 days – King was back at it and typing away the same month he was discharged from the hospital (ironically enough, he was writing On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft at the time).

This particular quote stuck out to me this morning because, for the first time in a long time, I am back at the creative process. I’m writing a new book called The Lilacs of Spring – and it’s grueling. What those involved in the film and publishing industry understand only too well is that the amount of time spent on the “non-content process” (for lack of a better term), such as conceptualizing, planning, editing, designing, proofreading, promoting, advertising, etc., is much longer in terms of the number of hours you and a whole team put into the final product; the difference with the creative process is that it requires long bouts of intense, sometimes agonizing, concentration. Kind of like, I don’t know, pushing a massive boulder up a mountain in all your birthday suit glory. For writers, especially novelists, that often means early, early, early morning hours.

In my own case, I now wake up at 3 a.m. five days a week and 4 or 5 a.m. two days a week. The goal is to write 20 pages a day (which I believe is Mr. King’s daily aim as well), but I rarely accomplish that for one reason or another. Still, it’s important to have the goal in place, otherwise it’s easy to procrastinate, dilly-dally, and basically f*** the dog while the hours wither away and you have but a single paragraph done by the time the sun sets to show for all your “hard work.”

Anyway, if you haven’t read On Writing and you’re thinking about penning your own book, starting a literary career, or simply have a curiosity as to how the mind of an artistic genius like Stephen King ticks, do go and get that special little gem. You won’t be disappointed.

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Crack for the (Literary) Soul

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When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.

(Therefore, I read Sidney Sheldon with reckless abandon.)

When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

(Ergo, I switched over to Lee Child.)

Thank godness (sic) for Corinthians! Like many readers, I have fond memories of reading as a youngster. When I wasn’t dining on chicken noodle soup to fortify my soul, I was either playing hockey or video games, reading, or volunteering my time at one of 23 nursing homes/shelters/soup kitchens in the pre-GTA (i.e. Toronto Toronto).

I read Watership Down, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, the Hardy Boys, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and…get ready…Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. (“Hey, Mom,” I’d later say, “I thought a period ended a sentence.”)

But it was Sidney Sheldon whom I fell in love with as a young teen and consumed like cotton candy dipped in a sumptuous 151 proof rum & crack sauce. (“Whoa,” I’d later think – but not verbalize because it sounded sacrilegious, “You can put creams down there to do that?!?!?)

As I grew older, school MADE ME read novels about boring subjects like communism and totalitarianism as seen through the eyes of farm animals, orphans who like hanging around graveyards, and teenagers in a pre-Survivor scenario who kill instead of show off their naked upper bodies, etc.

Aside from a few girly rags in between during this academic period of my life (Hey, man, Stephen King publishes in Playboy! So does Margaret Atwood, Murakami Haruki, Norman Mailer and Ray Bradbury – so back off!), I didn’t have much of a chance to read anything except what was prescribed to me by all my Doctors of Literature.

Once I got out of school, though, I started reading what I wanted to read once again, and soon my literary boundaries began growing in leaps and bounds. I started my first book club in 2004 and my current one in 2009. Whether fiction or non-fiction, whether written in English or translated, whether a male or female/young or old author – I didn’t care. Soon I was slurping away on literature like a kid attacking a Slush Puppy after a hockey game. (Or Alberto Manguel walking around a library with a grocery cart big enough to hold all the books of Alexandria.)

Although I tend to read more serious literature these days most of the time (because I lost my sense of humour somewhere around Yonge and Lawrence a while ago, I’m told), I still succumb to the Lee Child virus every now and then. Which is what I did last week. Which is why I feel a bit lighter in the brain, but a bit sturdier in the happiness index.

I don’t read a lot of thrillers, but something about Mr. Don’t-Call-Me-a-Child, Asshole! resonates with me like, oh, I don’t know, how certain people feel upon getting a little blue box from Tiffany’s for Christmas or someone else being handed the keys to a muscle car and told to drive it hard into the ground.

Jack Reacher is not remotely human, a perfect soul in many ways yet has no sense of commitment. But still.

But still I can’t get enough of him. If you’ve only seen the recent Tom Cruise Jack Reacher series movies, do yourself a favour. Go to a hospital and get a brain scrub. Have those memories completely erased from your brain and then start at square one: pick up ANY Jack Reacher novel (there’s no real thread through them except the brother who comes and goes and a few other small details), find a comfortable place to read, and strap yourself in for a wild ride. You won’t regret it.

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Quote of the Day

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Today’s sage words come from what may very well be the most prolific fiction writer in the English language, His Majesty Stephen King. From his treatise on the craft that launched him to stratospheric heights, On Writing, ironically enough this quote comes from page 101.

“Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”

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Keys to Increasing Creativity

Larry Kim wrote a very direct and useful guide for ways in which to increase your creativity. Essentially, he reminds us that the brain is a muscle. Ergo, treat it like your bis, tris, delts, quads, etc. Work it out on a daily basis and aim to make it stronger by constantly pushing it to its limits.

His piece is directed as much at artists as it is at scientists and business people. You can read the full article here, but I’ll summarize his nine points below.

1. Learn through Collaboration

Talk to and learn from others, especially when you get stuck being innovative and creative. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it also leads to creativity.

2. Do Something You Love

As Einstein once wrote to his son about playing the piano, “That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.”

Love and creativity are one and the same.

3. Find Inspiration from Other Industries

Don’t imitate, innovate. Finding that elusive je ne sais quoi can sometimes be found in a completely different field or area of industry.

4. Unplug (Or Just Do Nothing)

Bestselling author Alan Cohen (Why Your Life Sucks) once wrote, “There is virtue in work and there is virtue in rest. Use both and overlook neither.”

5. Walk

Research shows that walking heightens creativity. Stephen King has long known that (which is also how he got hit by a car and nearly died), but today major business leaders will hold “walking meetings” because they realize the value of this simple yet healthy way to flex that muscle between your ears.

6. Set the Right Mood

Listen to music. Personally, I listen to music when I write, edit, translate, send emails or do anything connected to work.

As the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once said, “The inexpressible depth of music, so easy to understand and yet so inexplicable, is due to the fact that it reproduces all the emotions of our innermost being, but entirely without reality and remote from its pain… Music expresses only the quintessence of life and its events, never these themselves.”

7. Use the Six Thinking Hats Technique

As Larry Kim put it, “Sometimes you just need to start over. Forget everything and begin anew with a blank slate — break it down using six different colored ‘thinking hats’.

Using this process could help you look at things in a different way. It gives you the option to look at things in a “just the facts” manner (white hat); where things could go wrong (black hat); and possibilities, alternatives, and new ideas (green hat), for example.”

8. Ask For Advice or Feedback

Ditch the insecurity. If you’re insulted or scared to ask for advice or suggestions from peers/friends/colleagues/family members, follow Australian comedian Chopper Reid’s advice and harden the **** up.

9. Pick a Terrible Idea

Larry Kim explains: “Step away from whatever idea you’re stuck on for a few minutes. What’s the most useless idea you can imagine? Make a list of the worst ideas you can think up.

Now the real challenge to stretch your creativity: What are the best features of these terrible ideas?”

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Does Alcohol + Writing = Genius x Calamity ÷ The X Factor?

What do Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Hunter S. Thompson, Edgar Allan Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, Tennessee Williams, Raymond Chandler, and O. Henry all share in common?

They were all alcoholics at one time, many of them for life, some of whom actually died as a direct result of their affliction.

Frighteningly enough, the above list only represents some of the greatest names in English literature over the past 150 years. This raises another alarming question: Is a grossly unhealthy dependence on alcohol necessary to become a great and prolific writer? Should writers follow Hemingway’s advice when he once mused, “Write drunk; edit sober”? While a humorous, pithy, and catchy suggestion, was Papa onto something?

Fortunately, the answer is a resounding NO!

Just ask Stephen King, who since quitting drugs and drinking has produced arguably his best work; David Mitchell, who’s an insanely responsible person and health nut; Murakami Haruki, who quit smoking and left his heavy whiskey-drinking days behind long ago at his former Tokyo bar and now takes solace in jogging, not the bottle. I’m pretty sure Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje are on the straight and narrow, too. Then there’s Isaac Asimov, Anne Rice, and Stephenie Meyer, each famous as a writer for different reasons, but all of whom are teetotalers (abstinent from alcohol).

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been binge-watching Intervention Canada, an intense documentary that spends a few days following drug and/or alcohol addicts (and by “addict” I mean so far gone in most cases that it’s actually difficult to watch sometimes) before facilitating an intervention and offering treatment at many of Canada’s top treatment facilities. (Sidebar here: is it just me or are all the best rehab centres in Canada located in British Columbia?)

While watching an episode of IC a few days ago, I was struck by the courage one young woman summoned up when coming to grips with her demons, so I decided to write it down:

“I do not know what it is to be brave. And I do not know what the word bravery means to other people. What I do know is that strength is brought about by confidence. What I do know is that hardship fosters understanding. I believe kindness and thoughtfulness are the keys to ensuring a successful life. As I move forward, and embark on a new life, a life free of alcohol, free of pain, a life free of poison, I take to heart what the word bravery might actually mean.”

Scientists and philosophers have long tried to determine what exactly leads to genius. I think the only thing people can agree upon is that there is most definitely a biological factor; some people are simply blessed with a formidable brain. But it’s not all nature, I think. There is most certainly a nurture component – hard work, dedication, and a passion for a particular field of knowledge. At the same time, I feel equally confident saying that crutches like OxyCoton, meth, heroin, crack, whiskey, gin, beer, etc. (ad infinitum) will get a person nowhere, especially an artist like a writer, who already spends enough time alone and possibly dredging up memories and emotions that could sink even the strongest person if not handled with extreme cerebral care.

So if you’re interested in getting started on that story you know you have in you, or perhaps you’re brash enough to want to become a professional writer (ha ha ha ha ha…that’s just dumb and dumbly), do so with a cup of Joe or a mug of herbal tea, preferably in the hours before the sun rises, and you (and your liver) will be grateful for the decision in the years to come.

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Thought of the Day: Writer’s Block

I dislike the term “writer’s block.” So does Stephen King. I like this particular quote because it can easily be changed to reflect your day-to-day circumstances: Stopping your life just because it’s hard either emotionally or imaginatively is a bad idea.

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