Breathing One Word At a Time

Posted: March 23, 2012 by ajbrown in Writing
Tags: , , ,

You may have heard of this writer I’ve liked since I was a kid. His name is King. Stephen King. He’s written a handful of novels that you may have heard of and he’s also penned a couple to a few short stories.

If you haven’t heard of this guy, Stephen King, you may want to look him up.

King is one of the most prolific writers, dare I say, ever. His novels have sold millions. He has inspired thousands of people to give writing a try, myself included.

Unlike most, it’s not King’s novels that inspired me, but his short stories. I love his short stories, his novellas. I devour them. Since I’m a slow reader, you have to understand my version of devour is more like nibbling on a candy bar you want to savor.

What’s this all about, you ask? Is this another article about Stephen King?

Absolutely and absolutely not.

King has been quoted as saying:

When asked, “How do you write?” I invariably answer, “One word at a time.”

That’s a good idea. One word at a time. So often, we as writers, think about the big picture without really thinking in context of how we paint the big picture. Well, if you’re going all literal, then you get your canvas out and your paints and brushes and you paint one brush stroke at a time. But when using writing to paint that picture it starts with the first word and ends with the last one. And those words come one after another–one word at a time.

Remember that next time you sit down to write. You can’t create a story if you don’t write the first word of the first line. And you can’t end a story until you’ve put a period after that last word.

Too often we bog ourselves down because we want our writing to sound intelligent or to beautifully worded, instead of just writing word after word after word. For me, it kills the process when I try to be all pretty with my writing. I’m not a pretty person and I choose not to write prettily on purpose. It’s just not me. Yes, I know I used pretty about four hundred times just now.

I prefer to let my stories breathe, to let them tell themselves and I just ride along in the passenger’s seat. It’s a lot more fun that way. I’ve often called this The Breathing Method.

That brings me to King.

In his novella collection, Different Season, he has a story called, yes, that’s right, The Breathing Method. Granted the two aren’t really related, other than titles, but in the story King writes something very important, that I think holds true to all stories:

The arch was broken in the center by a keystone which jutted out slightly. It was just on the level of my eyes, and although the light was dim, I could read the legend engraved on that stone with no trouble: IT IS THE TALE, NOT HE WHO TELLS IT.

The important part of that passage is the last sentence:

It is the tale, not he who tells it.

We all have our favorite writers. Mine has always been King and I like most everything he has written. There have been portions of books I didn’t care much for, but the way his words go together so effortlessly, so smoothly, brings me back for more every time. It makes his one word at a time statement feel real. It makes his tales feel real.

That’s how we should write. One word at a time.

Writing is easy. Writing well is difficult. But one word at a time… one word at a time is simple and effective and as long as we write that way, we will reach the end of our stories.

Ah, but wait a second. What about this Breathing Method I speak of?

Simple: if you get out the way and let the story tell itself, the story breathes and lives and develops. It may not go in the direction you wanted, but I find most of the time, that’s a good thing. At least with my writing.

I’ll back this up a little with something King said in his book, On Writing:

I often have an idea of what the outcome may be, but I have never demanded of characters that they do things my way. On the contrary, I want them to do things their way. In some instances, the outcome is what I visualized. In most, however, it’s something I never expected. For a suspense novelist, this is a great thing. I am, after all, not just the novel’s creator but its first reader. And if I’m not able to guess with any accuracy how the… thing is going to turn out… I can be pretty sure of keeping the reader in a state of page-turning anxiety.

When I read that the first time I’m sure my face lit up. That is what I’ve always thought about writing and characters and stories. If I let the characters dictate the direction of the stories, then the stories will turn out the way the characters want them to. That’s a good thing.

So, one word at a time and the Breathing Method go together. And, as writers, we just need to get out the way. It’s not about us, but the story.

Until we meet again, my friends…

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Comments
  1. John Miller says:

    Awesome ideas that I’ve heard you say before, AJ, but ideas that need to be brought out and expounded upon from time to time.

  2. Bob Eccles says:

    King’s “Just After Sunset” collection of short stories is what prompted me to try my hand at writing.

  3. peggy says:

    Mittens says, yeppers…

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