Long Write The King (And Boy Does He Ever)

Last week as I was sailing through the Twitterverse in my DataCruiser Ultrathon 2000 I came upon a flurry of tweets clustered around a single topic. I turned the DCU2K around and swung back by to take a closer look at the landscape of this factoid planetoid. I peered out the porthole in shocked amazement at the news that had everyone gasping with excitement.



Stephen King had written a new book! Within only six months since his previous release the master of horror had crafted a work of almost a thousand pages.

My fellow tweeters were ecstatic. To their minds this news was the greatest thing possibly since the creation of the Twitterverse itself. To think of it: a thousand pages in only six months!

But I did not join in their frivolities. I sat back in the captain’s chair of the DCU2K and pondered within myself what it all might mean. It was tempting, very tempting to join in the chorus of shocked wonderment that such a long work had been completed in such a short amount of time, but something held me back.

This is the problem. I have read some Stephen King novels. Not all. But some. Some of them were good. Some of them I would go so far as to say they were great. But some were not.

Now before I go any further I want to make one thing clear. This is not, “Pick on Stephen King because he’s the biggest target around day.” I have a fantastic amount of respect for Mr. King. In some respects I could even say he has inspired me. His short stories in particular completely rewired the way I think about written language.

But.  Some of his novels meander on and on circling the idea of cohesion like buzzards circling a dead mule in the desert. And the reason I think this is a problem for Stephen King is because he’s a lot like me.

Hey, you in the back there, stop rolling your eyes. I’m not saying I’m as good as him; I’m saying from what I’ve read the way we think about writing is very similar.

Stephen King loves words. He does not love to outline.

And it shows. The way he says things is incredible. But what he says often is not. Sometimes he manages to meander his way into a fairly well structured story, but even then he’s got tangents and side-plots out the whazoo.

The thing that gives me pause is the hulabaloo about the length of his work. But the simple truth is that long books are not better books. They aren’t worse books either. They’re just longer.

The Old Man and the Sea is exactly as long as it needs to be. Can the same be said for King’s latest work? I don’t know.

It may be that every single one of those thousand pages contains vital words, words working in cohesion together toward a synergistic whole. But my suspicion is that some of those pages are fluff, uninspired tangents King penned while trying to figure out exactly where the story was going.

Maybe I’m nitpicking here, tearing down an idol to make myself feel better. After all, I’ve been known to suffer from *ahem* “length envy” when it comes to fiction. I do not naturally write long stories. My longest work so far is a 90,000 word book called In the Shadow of Doubt. It’s a story about a holy war in a tribe of anthropomorphic squirrels who live in a giant tree that fills the world. No. I am not making that up.

So maybe I’m out of line here. Maybe this is all the result of some subconscious jealousy. But all I really want is to be the best writer I can be. I want to understand what works for others and what doesn’t work.

There isn’t any core lesson to this blog, no deep moral to my ramble. I’m just trying to spark a little thought.

Stephen King wrote a giant book in six months. Is this a good thing?

31 responses to “Long Write The King (And Boy Does He Ever)

  1. I do not understand why you try to live up to Stephen King. He is not really the most sophisticated literature around in my opinion. Tolkien wrote a couple thousand pages, Shakespeare did, and it took them way more than 6 months. Isn`t it rather quality than quantity.

    Just write, what you write, it´s good!

    • I’m not necessarily trying to “live up to” Stephen King. But I do admire the way he writes. Something about it resonates with me in the same way that I want to resonate with others and I’d be a fool to ignore that.
      I am not trying to become like another writer, but I think I can learn from other writers to be the best writer I can be. Take the best, leave the rest.

  2. Some of King’s *writing* is wonderful, particularly his characters. His *stories* aren’t always that great. From my tiny store of experience, I have to say that, for someone with King’s long years of professional writing, 1,000 pages in six months is probably close to a walk in the park. The question, as you said, is whether all of those 1,000 pages are necessary.

    No one seems to remember that several years back, he said he was through writing novels. He might have been temporarily burned out, or he might have run out of ideas worth developing. Or maybe he was really past his prime. But he’s still writing. Not having read any of his more recent books, I can’t judge.

    • I didn’t know that he said that. I know Stephen King really loves short stories (as do I) and maybe he was hoping to focus on that area of his writing. But I haven’t been too impressed with his short stories and novella’s lately. Full Dark, No Stars was…meh. And Just After Sunset was mostly forgettable except for the short story “N.”
      I don’t know if he’s past his prime, but it does seem like he’s lost his connection to what he truly loves about writing. Maybe. What do I know?

  3. *Squeeeee* I love Stephen King! Well..I actually love his mind. I’m wondering what book this is. I just discovered his website – yes I know I’m a typical fan- and there was no mention of a new book, just one out in November…this year..I think .
    As for what you said..I get you..some of his really long books do seem as if its sort of meandering off some where, but for me, I don’t mind it because I love the way he writes, you know? The words he uses to describe things. It gives me time, as he wanders off somewhere in the novel, to sort of process the good stuff (am I making sense??)

    As for is it a good thing that he wrote a long book in a short time, I don’t know. What if you had an idea that grew and grew and became clearer and clearer. One day you decide I gotta get this out of my head now before I explode! And it all comes out, pouring out and before you know it, it’s 6 months down the line and you’ve got a 1000 page book staring at you?

    Then again, I’m just guessing and a wanna be, so I might be completely wrong!!! 🙂

    • I also love the way King uses words.
      As to what you said about a thousand pages just pouring out…yes and no. At least from my experience the inspiration to write can be like that, but once you’re into the actual writing it turns into something very much like work. King is good at what he’s good at, and it’s not the first time he’s churned out a tome like this in record time, but…well we’ll see. I may end up loving it.

  4. Well, if you do the math it comes out to only 5 and a half pages a day, which is normal. What will be the deciding factor is if it’s any good. I love his books so (for me anyway) it’s a good thing.

    • Five and a half pages a day if all you do is write. Where’s the planning? I’m sure if I buckled down I could produce a rough draft of a thousand pages in six months, but he’s talking like he’s ready to send it off to the editors (unless I missed something).
      Even my shorter works work better when I give them time to sit, and come back to look at them for a rewrite after a month or two or three. I imagine that “cooling off” period would help Mr. King as well. But like I said, maybe I’m missing something.

      • If you are talking about 11/22/63 the new 1000 page book, I was right, it’s only coming out in November this year…so maybe it’s not completely finished?

  5. I think one reason his long books meander so is that this is the style he prefers for storytelling, and his editors are not about to get in the way of that. His unexpurgated The Stand is not better than the original, just different. Also King is a writer who is always stretching himself, experimenting. He wrote four pretty awful novels one after the other trying to master telling a story in a woman’s voice. I think he gets credit for trying.

    And yes he announced his retirement a few years back and has only managed to write Duma Key, Under the Dome, Blockade Billy, Full Dark, No Stars, and God knows what else during this horrible writer’s block.

    Stephen King has never made a secret about his writing style. He does not outline. We call this style “writing for discovery” which means only that we, as writers are writing for the same reason you are reading: to see what happens. Some writers rely on outlines, and the argument against them is that they become constrictive, discouraging the writer from exploring subconscious tangents which may contain better ideas. In the world of pro-writer jargon, King is a “loose” writer whereas Elmore Leonard is a “tight” writer. No wasted words whatsoever. As Elmore has said, “I leave out the parts people skip over.”

    Personally, I do both. I know that sometimes I write and I am the one writing and I know everything that is going to happen. Sometimes I write and I forget I am there and I have to go back later to see what was written. The guy writing that stuff, the discovered stuff, is not me-writing but rather the writer-inside-me. He is an accident for which I take no pride or credit. And unfortunately, he is a lot better than me. The older I get, the harder it becomes to get him to come out. And when he is not here I miss him sooooo much.

    • I have no problem with “writing for discovery” except for the fact that some of the stuff you discover is complete crap. Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, King’s editors need to do their job and edit. He is not infallible.
      And now it sounds like I’m being mean, which I’m trying not to be. But every writer needs outside direction and advice. You may be able to get along without it, but that doesn’t mean your work couldn’t be improved with a second (or third or fourth) opinion.

      • I don’t think you’re being mean. I also agree that many of King’s books would have been better (It for instance) with a much tighter editorial hand. But that simply isn’t going to happen. King is going to be indulged because, a) his sales justify it to the publisher, and b) most editors don’t have enough time to edit properly anymore anyway. Most pro writers welcome that second and third look. They recognize that editors don’t wake up saying, “I wonder if I can make that book worse.” Everyone is trying to make it as good as it can be. I’m just saying that the argument gets made that this is the style his fans like, it is one of the things about him that they prefer.The presumption is they like to wallow in a messy story. If so, more power to them. No matter how bad the rest of his books turn out to be, he will still have written Misery and that’s good enough for me.

        So now you’ve dissed Stephanie and Stephen. I hope they don’t send their punks over to beat you up.

      • Oh, I surely hope it doesn’t come off as a diss. King is good, but none of us are perfect. If I ever get to the top I can only hope some punk blogger will be down here in the trenches picking apart my work and trying to improve himself by its mistakes.

  6. Atlantis, read it, all they way through and am still not sure. Needful Things…tried to read it, too much meandering. What a perfect description and great teaching example of why an outline is important. At least if you have a path with edges you can see how far off you get when you wander away! 🙂
    I have read my share of great King books, and do him saying he was done with novels. Maybe this is a short story compilation again. I think The Green Mile was very well done and has inspried my series of children’s books as well as a couple of novels I am thinking of publishing as short story series instead.
    Great post as always…thanks and have a good weekend all!!!

    • Oh please, yes. Let it be a book of short stories. I fell in love with King through his short stories. Only much later did I move on to his longer works. Short fiction is where he really shines.

  7. Personally, I don’t usually care for King’s short stories. I’ll be the first to admit that most of his recent books…haven’t been my favorites. The Stand (preferably the unabridged version) is, hands-down, my absolute favorite, and I usually read it every year. Sometimes he has moments, whole chapters even, of staggering genius. Sometimes…not so much. He can be pretty wordy at times, which is sometimes a good thing, sometimes not. Have you read On Writing? He talks quite a bit about his writing process in it, and he usually prefers to let his drafts sit for a while before revising. That book fascinates me, getting a glimpse into the writing process of one of the most popular writers of our time.

    • I have read On Writing, and I enjoyed it immensely. I’ve never read The Stand. I’ve heard a lot about it though so guess I should check it out. My favourite King book so far (other than his anthologies) is It. In spite of its flaws that book sucked me in and didn’t let me go. I also found Duma Key to be surprisingly engaging. I could tell King put a lot of his heart and soul into the parts about art and creativity and the power they can wield.

      • I’ve read On Writing several times, and got something new out of it each time. “It” is probably my second-favorite King book, even though it scared the crap out of me the first time I read it (and the second…). Those voices from the sink drains still haunt me, and to this day, I STILL won’t lean over an open drain….Please tell me why I won’t watch scary movies because of my overactive imagination, but I’ve read pretty much everything King has written?

        I enjoyed Duma Key a lot, too, although it wasn’t my favorite. Basically, since King got hit by that van 10 years or so ago, I’ve enjoyed his writing less (Are they connected?). But I’ll still read all his stuff, hoping that something will captivate me like The Stand or It did.

      • I would like to say I was incredibly disappointed in “On Writing.” Perhaps the only person to say that but it’s true.

        I’m often disappointed by things that “everybody” says is super-duper. I’m expecting something super-duper. It was not (for me). It was “fine” but super-duper? Nay.

  8. The way he says things is incredible. But what he says often is not.

    Perfectly said and well, I concur…so I suppose that’s why I liked it.

    As to your question, that depends on the author. Most? No. A great one? Perhaps, that depends on the novel.

  9. A perfectly worded post! I’m still haunted by transport trucks, I can’t remember the name of this short story but these trucks took over a small cafe, they had minds of their own, they destoryed everything. … mamma mia!
    My father and brother are die-hard King fans, I’ve read several of this books. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Stephen King. It almost seems a sacrilegious to speak ill of him. Okay. Not really. I do love SK. Some of the images from his stories linger with me many years after reading them. I think *deadlights* and I shiver. Storm drains freaking scare the crap out of me. Clowns always freaked me out, but now I think of Pennywise and I’m a billion times more freaked out. The Cell was deeply creepy (though it hasn’t stopped me from using a cell phone). And how can I forget “the man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed”? I find that I have mixed feelings with SK. Sometimes his work shines and sometimes I just go *meh* (first time I’ve used that word in a post or comment). I personally favor a tighter style but I think I tend to write looser. So, my rewrites are all about tightening it up. It’s hard to kill the darlings though…they tend to fight back.

    • You know the single more vivd emotional image King ever painted for me? The bully asphyxiating the dog in the freezer. I’m pretty difficult to unnerve; I can take all the clowns and sewers (though I do think differently about drains now) but that…that almost made me sick.

  11. I loved the conversation you stirred up, Albert! I’m not a huge Stephen King fan, but I did read It — which scared the living daylights out of me (sorry for the cliche). I loved On Writing, but it had its issues, too.


  12. Did he write the first line of the novel at the start of that sixth month period? My instinct says he didn’t . . . but then again my instinct could be dead wrong.

    I think King often pulls out old manuscripts and finishes/revises them. Well, maybe he doesn’t do it often, but that’s what he did with Under the Dome (Whoops. Fact checked and it seems he started in 1976, gave up, and tried again in 2007). And I’m sure he wrote somewhere that he leaves the first drafts of manuscripts for maybe months or years before he worked on it again.

    I’ve dug up my Dark Tower Book One (the new 2003 version) to find exactly where I heard that. He says in a foreward, “When my first of a novel is done, I put it away, warts and all to mellow. Some period of time later – six months, a year, two years, it doesn’t matter – I can come back to it with a cooler (but still loving) eye, and begin the task of revising.”

    So perhaps it took him six months to revise, rather than six months to write and revise? Unless I’m mistaken, you said it’s been six months since his latest release rather than it took him six months to write and finish?

    • I hope that is the case. And I know that oftentimes I’m working on more than one project at once, so he’s probably had this going with some other things for a while now. That process would make a lot more sense.
      The Twittertubes were all burning up with “Stephen King wrote a book in six months!” Maybe Twitter is not the best place to get my news from. (Not that that’s going to stop me.)

  13. I don’t know if anyone thought or said this, but how do you know he wasn’t working on this latest novel while he was working on the one before it? Does he work on more than one novel or short story at a time? I personally don’t know because I really don’t know anything about him. I am working on two novels right now, so I thought he might work on two or more as well.

    • Yes! This is what I tried to say (long-windedly) in the comment above yours. He may have started the latest novel before the publication of the book before that.

      I need to learn brevity.

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