Erin J. Bernard, EJB Writing Studio, Stephen King, On Writing

Truth Is Its Own Reward: The Stephen King Attribution Error

Erin J. Bernard, EJB Writing Studio, Stephen King, On WritingPoor Stephen King.

He’s written 2,000 words a day for decades upon decades, secreting himself away in writerly enclaves throughout Maine and Florida and wherever else in the world. He’s published 50 novels. He’s generously positioned himself as a steady, nurturing voice of reason and advice for countless would-be writers struggling to get square with the nuances of the craft.

But all of these gifts are apparently not enough for Mr. King’s fans (of which I am one), judging by their compulsive tendencies to attribute just about every single well-loved writing maxim in existence to him, whether or not he actually said it.

 Who said, “Murder your darlings”?

Oh! That was Stephen King!

Who said, “Writing is its own reward?”

Pretty sure it was Stephen King.

What about, “Writing’s easy – just open your veins and bleed.”

King. Definitely King.

Did King actually coin any of these axioms? I hate to break it to you, but … No. No, he did not. The true authors, in chronological order: Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, Henry Miller and Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith.

At best, perhaps, Mr. King referenced them in his own writings on writing, but that is most definitely not the same thing.

I’m not trying to pick on anyone. In fact, I think that this tic for compulsively attributing clever and useful writing maxims to Stephen King reveals two key, endearing qualities of writers who love to read: one, it demonstrates our high respect for Mr. King – not only for his body of work, but also for his no-nonsense approach to writing, his humility and humanity, his adeptness at handily identifying and describing the processes that have worked for him over his almost fifty-year career and making them accessible to a less-polished scribe. What a gift!

Second, and less optimistically, it hints at our unfortunate tendency to snatch at the lowest-hanging fruits whenever we find ourselves in need of a little writerly inspiration: Stephen King. Anne Lamott. Rachel Goldberg. Ray Bradbury. Wash, rinse, repeat.

My advice, as a reverent King fan, and as a writing coach, and as a writer, and as a human being who prizes broad frames of reference: Expand! Go back to that well of inspiration and drop your gimmie bucket just a little further down.

Explore new blogs. Explore the blogrolls of the blogs you already read – they’re often populated with links to websites covering similar topics.

Take a chance on an author you’ve never heard of. Plumb the incredibly prolific and often underrated world of self-publishing authors and see what bubbles up. Go to a book reading, and during the Q&A, ditch the “wheredoyougetyourideas” saw and ask the author, instead, who he or she is currently reading. Tap literary friends for suggestions. You never know who’s bobbing around in those neglected depths, just raring to pack your pail full of gorgeous gems.

Erin J. Bernard / EJB Writing Studio

Have You? – Erin J. Bernard

And, for the love of Cujo, enough with the compulsive Stephen King invocations! He did not say what you think you heard him say. Not even a little bit.

His name does sorta befit him, I guess. Heavy is the head that wears that warped and dented crown – our mad eloquent emperor, a once-and-future sage hacking clear the path for those huddled literary masses who scurry along behind, seeking out sound-byte breadcrumbs.

Poor devils. Poor, poor Mr. King.

Annnnnnd, I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend to you, now, a few writing blogs I’m currently digging:

Wise, Wise wisdom for freelancers is available at contently

Get broad-spectrum advice about writing craft and business at Live to Write – Write to Live

Tap into a steady stream of no-nonsense practical advice at The Write Life

You’re welcome!

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7 thoughts on “Truth Is Its Own Reward: The Stephen King Attribution Error

  1. thrive2inspire says:

    You are spot on that is exactly what he attribution error and you actually explained it better than my text book lol I have actually been judged by a manager due to attribution error. I was constantly late and he thought I hated my job but I had other things going on

  2. erinjbernard says:

    Oh, really? I’d love to hear more about what you’re learning. My rudimentary understanding of The Attribution Error: when we make a mistake, it’s because of circumstances beyond our control; when others make mistakes, it’s due to a deficit of character. Is that right, or is there more to it??

  3. thrive2inspire says:

    This was a very interesting post. In my MBA graduate studies we are talking about the attribution error.

  4. Laissez Faire says:

    Have you ever seen that Twilight Zone episode where the guy with the really thick, coke-bottle glasses survives a global destruction and finally has the time to read everything he wants, and then breaks his glasses! Now that’s horror.

  5. erinjbernard says:

    I have heard that about babies! And I may be finding it out for myself rather soon, here! I’ve noticed that I cycle in and out of being a voracious reader and then needing a break, whether due to life circumstances or other hobbies or restlessness or whatever. I try not to be too hard on myself about it, but life is so short and there are just so many books to read!

  6. Laissez Faire says:

    I was 8 or 9 years old when I read Cujo (snuck it off my mom’s shelf). I’m a big fan, but I haven’t read him in ages. I think the last thing I read was Ur and I didn’t even finish it, and before that probably the last one was maybe the Tommyknockers. I don’t think I ever attributed a saying to him, though, I do need to get back to reading more. Good to be reminded. For a while, even a short magazine was putting me to sleep (babies do that to you)!

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