Sunday, September 15, 2013

5 Key Life Lessons From the King of Horror (With Some Help From Project Runway)

A Better Life
A Better Life (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Stacey Curnow

I've been reading Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft lately.

And although I picked it up expecting to get some good pointers about writing, I was surprised to find how much good sense King - whose grim visions aren't always the most cheerful things to encounter on the page - had to offer about life, and how much of what he had to say about the process of writing was also good for other undertakings in life.

Here are the top five lessons I learned:

Construct your own toolbox

King tells the story of the toolbox his grandfather constructed for himself. It was massive - 4 levels filled with every tool imaginable - and very heavy.

He writes, "I want to suggest that to write to your best abilities, it behooves you to construct your own toolbox and then build up enough muscles so you can carry it with you. Instead of looking at a hard job and getting discouraged, you will perhaps seize the correct tool and get immediately to work."

Just as writing requires skills that King wants aspiring writers to master, living requires a set of skills - not taking things personally, looking for meanings, and taking care of yourself, to name a few - that will expand your life and help you make fewer mistakes. And they're not things you have to learn entirely on your own, either.

King recommends Strunk and White's Elements of Style for writers who want to master grammar. For people who want to get better at living I recommend Byron Katie among others, and you probably have your own mentors.

Whether they're present in your life or just on your bookshelf, you must recognize their wisdom and get used to identifying the tools they have to offer.

Grit is part of the process

We don't have TV and there's only one show I watch when I can get my hands on the DVD - Project Runway, a program that shows fashion designers competing as they create a "piece" by the end of each episode.

I'm one of the least "fashionable" people I know, but I love Project Runway because it spends the bulk of the hour showing the "messiness" of the creative process. Over half of the show is spent in the workroom with fabric, trim and assorted notions scattered everywhere.

But somehow the designers always manage (after freaking out a bit), in the inimitable words of mentor Tim Gunn, to "make it work" and pull together a cohesive outfit.

I've seen a number of clients, however, who are afraid of messes. They're unwilling to disturb their ordered but unfulfilling lives, and no matter what waits for them on the other side of disorder, they're afraid of creative messes.

King says that messes don't hurt a work in progress and may actually help in some ways. He writes, "It is, after all, the grit that seeps into an oyster's shell that makes the pearl, not pearl-making seminars with other oysters."

So recognize that grit is a part of the process - an unavoidable and necessary part - and embrace the mess involved in making your life a masterpiece.

Do Something

On Writing is a slim volume and King explains why. "I'll be brief ... the hours we spend talking about writing is ... time we don't spend doing it."

Why do we tend to spend so much more time thinking or talking about something, rather than doing the thing itself? Are we so afraid of doing the wrong thing that we don't do anything at all?

The Project Runway designers may not create the most attractive or well-executed garment in the timeframe they have, but it's always done. Even though many designers doubt themselves and their ability to finish on time, no one has ever sent a naked model down the runway.

I think it helps that they have a finite amount of time to produce a work. I try to establish deadlines for myself, even if it's what I call the "15-minute sprint" - If I'm feeling particularly blocked and despondent, I'll set my timer for 15 minutes and write, even if it's what writer Anne Lamott lovingly refers to as the "shitty first draft."

Obviously, doing something goes hand in hand with not being afraid to make a mess, though it's possible a mess isn't required.

But you'll never find out what the process does require unless you actually start the process. I guarantee you that doing is a lot easier, once you get started, than just thinking.

Murder your darlings

Getting something on the page seems to reassure that part of my psyche that says, "You'll never work in this town again!" Luckily I've been working in this town long enough to know that even if I don't produce something stellar, there will always be more work.

Getting something on the page gives you the way forward. King quotes Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch who once said, "Murder your darlings." Writing the shitty first draft gives you a jumping off point to start negotiations about which line takes a bullet first.

If something's not working in your life, get rid of it. It may seem unpleasant, but that's simply the way the creative process (and life) works. It seems best to acknowledge this and then get on with it.

Participate in the miracle

What if, after a bit of unpleasantness, the reward for all the work were nothing short of a miracle? Makes the choice a little clearer, and motivation a little easier to find, right?

In On Writing, King explains how, when a writer hits her target - when she connects with her readers - she delights us much the way we're delighted when we meet an old friend in a crowd of strangers.

When that happens, King says, "I think writer and reader are participating in a kind of miracle. Maybe that's drawing it a little strong, but yeah - it's what I believe."

Einstein once said, "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."

If you get your tools ready, get started, and understand that whatever comes, the important thing is to do something and keep doing something, you'll have a good shot at seeing the miracle in everything - and especially in your own life.

Yeah - that's what I believe. What about you?

Stacey is a purpose and success coach who helps you give birth to your BIG dreams. To find your purpose and passion, check out her FREE eBook, The Purpose and Passion Guidebook. Link:

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