On “On Writing” by Stephen King

I wish I had read Stephen King’s “On Writing” before now.

I made the mistake of believing that I understood his principles because he has been quoted so many times. “Kill adjectives! Kill adverbs! Kill your darlings!” He said. It made sense to me. Quoting E.B. White he said “Eliminate unnecessary words.” And so on. I thought I understood.

I bought “On Writing” expecting to find lists of dos and don’ts. I felt I had purchased a text book and my mindset was academic when I broke the spine. What happened next transformed my view of Mr. King. Over the first hundred or so pages, I got to know the man behind the legend. There is no talk of dangling participles or reflexive verbs, just King’s resume, written with great clarity and honesty. I didn’t know the extent of his drinking problem. I didn’t realize that he may have been operating outside of his faculties at the time when the world first embraced him as a favourite son. I didn’t know how hard he worked.

In the second half of “On Writing” King delivers on his promise to provide some guidance to would-be authors but there are no lists and no short cuts. The only formula that works for King is hard work and he’s very clear in his belief that there are no substitutes for talent and effort. Unlike lists, this full-length discussion of style gives him time to explain why and how his approach to writing produces superior work. It doesn’t feel like a lecture. It feels like the kind of conversation you might have with a successful but modest Uncle over lunch or a round of golf. But this Uncle is very clear about one thing: If you aren’t prepared to read and write a lot, you can probably find better things to do than writing novels or trying to become a professional content writer.

Should you read “On Writing”?

If you’re a fan of Stephen King, yes, of course. This is a humble and honest biography. You’re likely to put it down and be a bigger fan than you were. If you’re a reader, “On Writing” will help you become a more discerning one. If your job requires you to communicate with people in writing (most of us), it’s almost guaranteed that your style could be improved and your effectiveness quadrupled as a result. If your job is to create content in any form (video, web copy, editorial, social media, print) than you absolutely need to read it. If none of these apply to you, take a pass and rent the movies. You don’t have to read “On Writing” to love the work of Stephen King. But if you do, you’ll probably love him a little more.

If you can’t afford Stephen King, or he isn’t interested in the kind of content you need, you can always hire John the Writer.

 

Powerful street art

Companionship, hope and art

One of my favourite days in London included two hours hiking through Shoreditch, observing the ever-changing gallery of graffiti art. My guide was a member of the tour group Street Art London. Here is its tribute to the street artist John Dolan (reprinted with the hope that they won’t mind because this post is solely intended to inform my readers and promote this fabulous tour in London).

Street Art London is pleased to be supporting notorious Shoreditch artist John Dolan’s return to Howard Griffin Gallery with a landmark exhibition entitled John and George. John Dolan is east London’s most notorious artist. For three years, he sat every day with his dog George on Shoreditch High Street. In the past, Dolan had been in and out of prison and often found himself homeless. Sitting on the street every day and watching the world go by, he became part of the community, speaking to passers by about his life, his experiences and George. Dolan began to draw the buildings on the street to document his day, elevating the old, decrepit buildings that are so often ignored and under appreciated. He also drew portraits of George as he sat beside him, and began to sell his drawings to the people he saw walk up and down Shoreditch High Street every day.

Howard Griffin Gallery met John Dolan a year ago. His debut exhibition in September 2013 focused on his unique cityscapes, and saw Dolan collaborate with some of the world’s biggest street artists, including ROA, Thierry Noir, RUN, Steve ESPO Powers, Know Hope, Pablo Delgado and many others. His next exhibition, John and George, moves away from his documentation of the street and turns inward, centring on the unique relationship between the artist and George.

The story of John and George is one of companionship and hope. Dolan was on the streets when he was given George in exchange for the price of a strong can of lager. Since that time, George has been Dolan’s most loyal companion, ultimately enabling him to change his life. With George at his side, Dolan managed to escape a twenty year cycle of homelessness and prison, establishing himself as one of east London’s most recognisable artists.

John and George will present viewers with an immersive microcosm of the street in which visitors will be surrounded by hundreds of drawings of George. The repetition in Dolan’s work stems from the years of working on the street where each drawing he made of George marked the passing of another day and George’s presence was the one thing in Dolan’s life which he could rely on totally. In the chaotic world in which we live, Dolan uses repetition to encourage viewers to take a moment and see things in a different way. The subtle variations in each drawing tell a story and document a quiet and unassuming friendship that for one month will be shared with visitors to the gallery.

 

Hello, who just joined Ellisism

Me and my dog feel you need to see and hear this

We’ll be here, on mute, if you need us.

We’ve all been here. Nuff said.

Born Weird – not a confession

If you have siblings, this won’t seem so Weird

Andrew Kaufman’s novel “Born Weird” was nominated for the Steven Leacock Award in 2013. It’s the most recent book selection at the Wheatsheaf Literary Society – the oldest, established, permanently floating, men’s book club in Toronto. I’m one of 7 children and I found the sibling relationships well developed, pretty indicative of life in a large family and a little familiar in places.

I recommend this novel as a highly entertaining work of fiction with a happy ending although it has been dogged by a few lukewarm reviews. The Quill & Quire offers a nicely balanced review that shouldn’t prevent you from supporting Mr. Kaufman and his weirdness. He seems like a funny and talented guy. You can read the Quill & Quire review or just buy the book. The Wheatsheaf Literary Society will be interrogating this work on humour in mid-March. I may revisit this post with an update.

Totally compelling content

How often do you thank a brand?

Thank you GoPro for making this kind of content available. Watch this on a big, hi-def screen and imagine yourself making this kind of leap.

The meaning of happiness – for busy people

Too busy to read? Flickr to the rescue.

You could read all of ‘The Cossacks‘ by Leo Tolstoy or you could  just search the Web for the book’s real meaning. If you opt for the second, easier, lazier alternative, you could end up on this dude’s Flickr page. He’s scanned the one page that sums up the nature of happiness for Olenin, the “wealthy, disaffected Muscovite who joins the Russian army and travels to the untamed frontier of the Caucasus in search of a more authentic life.” Let’s hear it for the Internet!

What’s really funny is that this dude (in a rush to wisdom) was in too big of a hurry to generate a decent scan.

Now – what to do with all the time you’ll save by not reading all those old Russian novels?

BTW – Anna throws herself in front of a train. You can skip that one too.

Pretend you read it.

Amazing tech at the Cleveland Museum of Art

So long bicep cramps

If you’ve suffered from the bicep cramp that sets in after you’ve wandered through a gallery or museum while holding an old-fashioned audio guide, you’ll love what the cats at the Cleveland Museum of Art – Gallery One – are doing with fantastic interactive technology. Having just toured the new Toronto aquarium with kids in tow in Toronto, I’m convinced that interaction is the key to getting kids turned on to art.

Great read. All Quiet on the Western Front

100 years later and little has changed

This month the Wheatsheaf Literary Society is tackling the war classic “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque. Advertised as The Greatest War Novel of All Time, this is an account of a young soldier’s struggle to understand why he should be killing other young men who are just like himself at the request of an administration. These ideas are as poignant today as they were  in 1933, when it was published and during WW1, in which it is set.

With so many wars being fought on the ground today, I have to imagine that many young soldiers struggle with the same issues. Remarque’s young character Paul Baumer could be a combatant in any army, anywhere on earth, right now.

This is a powerful, well written account of humanity. Certainly worth the read.

 

For lighter fare, check my portfolio of not so heartbreaking material at Hire John the Writer.

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Breaking news. Or not.

Some ads try to trick us. That’s OK. People trick people all the time. However…

It’s not breaking news. It’s just “Breaking:

It’s a New Program (according to the headline).

But wait, the Program Expires This Month (according to the big yellow box).

Hire a writer who refuses to do this kind of work. Hire John the Writer.

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