Lesson 1396 – Joe Hill – Good breeding or magical?

I have to say that our Barnes & Noble in Nashua absolutely rocks. Last weekend they had an entire festival geared toward teens (where I was fortunate enough to deliver a story development workshop to a group of young writers) and the store constantly has authors “just stopping by to meet readers.” If you ever see an opportunity like this, GO! You get to see real live authors and you get to ask them pretty much anything.

Last night I was able to see Joe Hill.

Such a great guy

Such a talented guy

Take a good look at that photo, if you think Joe looks familiar it’s because he is. Joe is Stephen King’s son (the spitting image of, I might add.) I only mention this because it will come into play later on.

I had met Joe a few years ago at another book store where I was able to ask him a question about outlines (which is a question that is ultimately asked of every writer.) I asked him if he wrote from an outline (known as a plotter) or if he wrote by the seat of his pants (a pantser.)

Joe’s answer was that he never knew what his characters would do until they told him. So he’s a pantser, in fact he thinks outlines are restrictive to writing. I have such respect for pantsers. I can barely write my name without outlining where it will show in my story. I am (and I blame my tech writing background for this) and always will be a solid plotter.

For years, in my Technical Writing classes where the goal of the class is to get my students to understand and organize their work by using outlines, I have invoked Joe’s name.

When my students complain about the work of creating an outline I tell them that I’ve only met one writer who doesn’t use an outline. He’s a good writer, a very good writer, in fact an incredibly successful writer, but one writer doesn’t make for great odds. Get back to outlining I tell my class (granted tech writing is a different beast than fictional writing and it requires outlining, but point made.)

Writing without an outline has always haunted me and so last night I was able to ask Joe this follow-up question. “Do you think your ability to write without an outline is because you grew up in a family, from which you inherently learned story structure, or is it because you are magical?”

I mean let’s face it, while we were reading our children  good-night stories  filled with nursery rhymes and fairy tales, Joe’s dad was sending him off to sleep with visions of rabid dogs, pig’s blood, and a haunted killer hotel. Night, night, little one, sleep tight.

Joe thought for a second and then he rephrased my question for the audience – “She wants to know if I know story structure because I come from excellent breeding stock or if it’s because I’m magical.”

Turns out the answer to the question is “yes.” Joe knows story structure enough that he doesn’t rely on outlines. It’s in his blood, it’s something that you can’t fake – you either have it or you don’t. He told us that he writes his first draft by hand in notebooks and he has a good enough sense of storytelling that he can skip around and take one scene from here and move it there or even drop a scene because his character would never act like that. He knows how his characters act and what they would say. They speak to him.

So Joe is  clearly magical as well – hence the “yes” to the question. Respect Joe, respect.

It turns out that Joe also has a tremendous sense of humor. When it came time for him to sign my book this is what he put:


Yup, that guy certainly does have a little bit of magical sparkle about him. Write on, Joe.



Wendy Thomas writes about the lessons learned while raising children and chickens in New Hampshire. Contact her at Wendy@SimpleThrift.com

Also, join her on Facebook to find out more about the flock (children and chickens) and see some pretty funny chicken jokes, photos of tiny houses, and even a recipe or two.

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