Writing it Out
How does one write well? How does an author find their voice? How does one write? These were some of the questions we set out to explore this week in the readings of Stephen King’s On Writing and Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. Both classified under the general literature genre and incorporating elements of psychology in their own ways, I found these two works to offer different perspectives to the art of writing. King, a well-known author having written over 60 novels in his career takes a clear stance that writing is a fluid process, one that can’t be forced, and that ultimately an author is formed, not made. Pressfield, also an author but one that has a larger variety including non-fiction, fiction, and screenplays, holds a stronger line that it is only through self-discipline, belief, and motivation that one can truly become an author. While they both would contest that this is a craft that requires dedication and work, I found that they approached the process and motivation behind it in such drastically different ways.
While I tend to err on the side of more practical applications, I found myself identifying with the critics of Pressfield’s work in that his stance, and perhaps tone, of a tough-love approach to the self is perhaps too unrealistic when it comes to this art form. While he discusses the difference in the life lived and the life unlived, similar to the theme of Walker’s front- and back-stag metaphors, I feel his definition of Resistance and the fight against it leaves little room for real growth to take place. Contrasting this view with King’s more lived through approach, On Writing spends much of the first section of the book highlighting prominent memories, mostly traumatic in nature, as evidence as to how he was shaped and molded into the writer he is today. For me, I found myself more trusting of the advice that King provided simply because I feel he offered a more genuine approach that incorporates real life into every step. Like Poole’s notions of practicing a skillset, both authors encourage the act of reading and writing as part of the process of writing. The contrast however comes when Pressfield approaches it as a self-discipline measure to fight Resistance and King encourages that it won’t be discipline if it’s truly something that is enjoyed.
In the exploration of how one writes, writes well, and finds their voice, I found myself thinking about the connection between a writer and dopamine. After King describes the interaction where his mother encouraged him to write his own comic book at a young age, he states, “there were more doors that one person could ever open in a lifetime, I thought (and still think).” I can see how this potential adventure and thrill of anticipation in the unknown an author sees and feels reinforces what Lieberman describes of dopamine in that “it narrates no less than the story of human behavior.” Diving further into King’s personal struggles with alcohol and drug addition while still being full functioning raises questions for me as to the relationship between different art forms and addiction. Is creativity fueled by the addiction? Is the addiction providing a cause & effect relationship to the art form? Does the fear of loss of creativity keep artists in bondage to the drug of choice? What addictive tendencies in me fuel my own seeking of dopamine, even if not as an author?
While not anticipating identifying with anything specific in either of these books as I do not have aspirations of becoming an author, I was struck with one sentence near the end of Kings book. He just detailed the circumstances surrounding being hit by the vehicle, the surgeries, and long recovery process, when he thinks about returning to his writing. Expecting his wife to encourage rest, she instead sets up a space for him to resume that accommodates the new normal of his physical needs. He says that his wife, “knows when I’m working too hard, but she also knows that sometimes it’s the work that bails me out.” Given my present circumstances, it’s been assumed by many around me that I would step back from the pursuit of this doctoral degree during this season. And yet, it’s never been an option in my mind unless I find myself simply physically unable to once infusions begin later this spring. But I think like King, I need this work right now – perhaps for the dopamine that it provides, but likely, more so for the need to keep any semblance of pre-cancer normal that I can hold onto.
 King, 145, 150.
 Lieberman & Long, Molecule of More, xvii.
 King, 267.
12 responses to “Writing it Out”
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Kayli, I so appreciate your vulnerability in your posts, and this post in particular. And beautiful inclusion of Lieberman’s work on dopamine. I’d love to read more of what you wrote about at the end. From the perspective of the interplay between dopamine and H&Ns, what is this program providing you during this season?
If I were to boil it down, I think the dopamine hit is found in that this program still offers me an adventure of the unknown. So much of the cancer journey ahead of me is known in terms of the scheduled appointments, lab work, infusions every few weeks. Having something new to read, write, and discuss allows my brain not to get stagnant in the hard, but gives me some fuel as I walk through the hard.
Kayli, you wrote that you don’t envision yourself as an author. I believe you should reconsider that – you write so well! I like how many connections you made in this post to other readings. I was struck by this question you asked: “Is the addiction providing a cause & effect relationship to the art form?” Do you believe that question and its dynamics apply to people in ministry who wind up losing their work to moral failures? Recent falls by high-profile leaders have led me to try to understand how that happens. I never considered what, I believe, you are asking about in that question. Also, appreciate the fact that you’ve continued in this program after your diagnosis. #Respect
Roy: you are kind, but your suggestion of me as an author made me laugh out loud. But you never know… I told myself I was done with school after my BA and now here we are.
I think the question can really apply to so many sectors in life but at the same time, it is so individualized to the person and how they are wired, family of origin, generational addictions, etc. For those in ministry that have moral failures, I think it can be traced back to similar cause & effect roots — there’s some correlation being developed in the brain (I take drugs and write better; I become more well known/fame and more people are attracted to me) and when it goes unchecked, without accountability, destruction for the self and others is not too far off. I think we can also have it tie back to Augustine and how/why the heart wants what it does. I think this is at the core of Mt. 26:41 — be alert as to not fall into/enter into/give in to temptation…
A long time ago, when a friend told me that ministry was in my future, I LOL’ed! So…I’ll expect a signed copy of your book. 🙂
Kayli: Interesting connection between writing well and dopamine. I hadn’t thought of that. We are both in a academic program that requires a lot of work from us– reading and writing–and King’s book was helpful to understand the craft of writing as well as the mental state it takes to try and be creative. Do you feel a jolt of dopamine at times when you write? For me, when I am on a good run of writing, I do feel energized. It is akin to a runner’s high. I love the process and King’s and Pressfield’s book both were helpful to me.
I feel as if I tend to approach an assignment in terms of just needing to get it done, but once I’m actually engaged in it, it’s hard to stop. I think it also helps when the work we have in front of us is very applicable and customized towards what we are passionate about which always helps. The writing that is hard for me is when it is simply not in my wheelhouse — the historical readings and writing I have found the most challenging in this process.
Kayli, great post and interacting with the texts. You raise some interesting questions regarding creativity and addicitons… maybe there is something there! I also appreciated the genuineness of King. While our worldviews are different, I respect that he knows where he stands and is willing to be transparent, and in his words, honest. I actually noted in my book, “Why is it non-Christians seem to demonstrate vulnerability better than Christians?”
In light to that, THANK YOU for your transparency. I pray this be a season of tremendous growth and joy, despite the many challenges. Thank you for modeling joyous suffering well.
Such a good question, Eric. It’s as if some non-Christians have a better grasp of the reality of imperfection as a part of the human condition that some Christians.
I want to be more like you when I grow up. I can’t imagine how you are managing all of this. You are an inspiration.
I think I battle the dopamine hit of the creative process and adventure. I love new challenges, often getting bored if I do not have them in my work and life. Now, a little clarity, I do not mean conflict. I love creating new ministry initiatives and nuancing existing ones. I love to try new activities and explore new places. Okay, call me a creative addict.
Kayli I appreciate your honest reflection on these books. As I read through your blog I wondered what ways resistance is part of the equation in your dogged pursuit of the doctorate in this season? What are the other truths from these authors that can be gleaned and applied to your journey?
I appreciate how you started this post with the questions that these books set out to address. I am impressed with your insightful connections to Liebermann and dopamine. At the end of your post, you mentioned how you could relate to King’s challenge after a car accident and your need for the dopamine push of this program. Just know that your presence is an encouragement and inspiration. We are here to help you along as you have inspired us. I hate asking for help or even needing to ask but I have found this program to be extremely supportive. I pray the same for you.