Stephen King On Writing
Late to the party, and that’s the beauty of books, why books are important.
I have a much older text from the same guy, one of the richest authors of all time, and I have a quote from that text, seared into my mind, “I write because I can’t not write.”
“This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit.” 2nd Forward.
There’s also some comment about love of language, and that’s where I fall in step. I’m less about love with language and more entranced with the tales told. While the estimable — and prolific — Mr. King is an excellent writer, his chosen genre really isn’t my thing. But his craft? Plus how he writes about the art and craft of writing? Brilliant.
“I am, when you stop to think of it, a member of a fairly select group: the final handful of American novelists who learned to read and write before they learned to eat a daily helping of video bullshit.” Page 23.
To that, I owe my family, my parents. I was handicapped by lack of access to TV, in my nascent stages — my perception.
“If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all. I’m not editorializing, just trying to give you the facts as I see them.” Page 35.
Like one’s own family? There’s always that.
Anyway, my opening idea has nothing to do with this book, On Writing, but everything to do with an attributed quote — via my porous memory — “I write because I can’t not write.” I would amend that, to include my Sister, to be more along the lines of “We create because we can’t not create.”
It’s an artistic thing.
The opening passages of On Writing includes the idea that, unlike some authors, there are only snippets of Mr. King’s childhood available to him. I share that vision of my own past. I can remember bits and pieces, and while I wasn’t horrifically abused, there are gaping holes. Not a problem, as a fabulist, I can make up what isn’t there. In my own family?
“We never let the facts interfere with the story!”
Directly attributed to my family — I’ve got witnesses.
“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.” Page 71.
As I’ve noted, succinct, direct, and to the point. Brilliant, if you ask me.
He writes of tool boxes, a familiar term and as apt a metaphor as any, then turns to more language notes.
“Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace–up shoes.” Page 93.
Yes, well, my language is usually wearing sandals. Or barefoot, cf. BareFoot Astrology.
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” Page 98.
Always been a good guideline, and one that I do, these days, naturally. Part of the process. Read and write. Simple process. All it takes.
That’s what the acknowledged story–teller suggests, and I merely echo that set of simple rules.
“Reading at meals is considered rude in polite society, but if you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.” Page 100.
I like reading at meals. I tend to eat while working, and I tend to read with my lunch. Made that line funnier, to me, as I read it, looking up from from a vegetable stock stew.
“In both writing and sleeping, we learn to be physically still at the same time we are encouraging our minds to unlock from the humdrum rational thinking of our daytime lives.” Page 106.
Which, to me, also echoes some meditation training.
Writing about writing is tricky work, at times. No one knows exactly how the magic occurs, but so far, Mr. King has been transparent in his methodology.
You can’t please all of the readers all of the time; you can’t please even some of the readers all of the time, but you really ought to try to please at least some of the readers some of the time. I think William Shakespeare said that. Page 136.
I am no detractor of Stephen King, just spooky and macabre horror — have you met my family — in my kind of work, I tend towards light Rom–Com as escape. However, there’s an outpouring of respect for the author, as he confronts his demons in a frankly transparent manner, then —
His tips, his ideas, his patter, I took twenty years or more to arrive at a similar space. I admire that, and as a primer for how to be a writer? Great book.
Someone—I can’t remember who, for the life of me—once wrote that all novels are really letters aimed at one person. Page 149.
Recently, I’ve heard this more frequently, a similar sentiment. Usually sounds like this, “You had one week, I was sure you were writing that horoscope just to me.”
That is success.
What it looks like.
On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft