Monday, August 6, 2007

Stephen King, On Writing

One of the nice things about getting away to the ocean or camping is that you have the chance to be out in the open air, so you can read. It is an obvious consequence of getting more exercise than the normal work week would allow, combined with the elimination of electronic distractions, but I always get more reading and writing in when I am vacationing. Last year, while in Sunriver, Oregon, I managed to write a chapter for Mitch Ratcliffe and Steve Mack's The Podcasting Bible. That is something I wouldn't have gotten done without removing the distractions of the everyday.

This long weekend I reread for the (place unremembered number here) time Stephen King's non-fiction book, On Writing. This book is a combination memoir, how to, inside look, inspirational, frequently asked of Stephen, self assessment book that both fans and non fans would enjoy and learn from.

I read it alongside another good book, The Writing Life, which is a collection of essays and articles from many solid and successful authors. I still like King's book much better. It reads truer and stays with you longer.

It is one thing to repeat the mantra that "Writers write", but it is another to read that writers write because that have too, even after being broken into little pieces by a van which strikes you so hard that your bloody glasses end up on the passenger seat while you fly 14 feet into the air. Mr. King finished writing this book after nearly being killed and suffering through months of physical therapy and as many operations as there were pins and bolts placed in his body.

It comes across as akin to the hero in a movie who is besieged by countless enemies, monsters and setbacks of all manner. He drags himself, bleeding and broken, across the final expanse of the (castle, battlefield, urban war zone, zombie infested science laboratory, bureaucratic office stronghold) and lifts himself, straining with everything that is left physically and emotionally, to prop himself up in the sitting position at the old desk with pen in hand. The hero has won.

Besides the inspirational, it is also full of many helpful suggestions as to how to APPROACH better writing. It isn't a grammar guide, but it points to some good ones. It isn't a get rich writing book, it dispels those ideas quickly. What it is is a no nonsense one way discussion as to how to go about getting better at what, as a writer, you love to do.


Nancy said...

I read this book and I not only enjoyed it, I learned an important lesson from it. For years people told me I should write stories. In fact, I told myself “you know, I should write. I've always wanted to write.” And I never wrote anything. Then I read an anecdote by Stephen King where he said that people would come up to him all the time at parties and say “you know, I've always wanted to write”. He said he used to be polite. Now he says “you know, I always wanted to be a brain surgeon”.” His point was that if you want to write, you write. In fact, you are compelled to write. I recognized that I was not compelled to do anything of the sort, and finally came to terms with the fact that I was not meant to be a writer. Some people think that Stephen King writes great trash. Some think he writes great literature. I think he’s capable of both. And I think he has great advice to offer in this book.

tacomachickadee said...

Dang it. So, it's my own fault, but now I'm going to have to go reread it too. Luckily it went about as quickly as a Harry Potter book the first time through, so it's not like it's horrid homework or anything like that ...

Andrew Fry said...

I swear it does read fast. He manages to make a how-to book a page turner. Time to write a few more short horror fiction pieces.

noisms said...

I love "On Writing" too. In fact, as a general rule I don't like Stephen King's fiction (it just isn't really my thing), and think that this book is the best he's written.

I like how honest it is about the difficulties of starting out. A lot of "literary" writers come from wealthy families and have lots of contacts in the publishing industry and time to write, which means their writing advice tends to be very abstract and theoretical, But King started from the very bottom and his advice is just: "write, and don't stop doing it."