I admit it.
I have NEVER read a book by Stephen King. Until now. Unfortunately, it was not The Shining, or It, or Carrie. I’m not too keen for horror, blood, or guts. Instead, I decided to read, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
Over a year ago, this book caught my eye in Barnes and Noble. I saw a contemplative character on the cover, feet propped up on a junky desk with an out of date computer in the backdrop. I didn’t even notice the smiling dog at his feet. He held a pen and paper in hand. I had no idea who he was but I wanted to find out.
My eyes scanned to the name of the author and I almost kept walking. For some strange reason, I didn’t. I picked up the 10th-anniversary edition paperback and scanned the description on the back. I placed it back on the 10% off table and walked away. However, I did get my phone out, opened the Goodreads app and added the title to my “To Read” list.
As some of you may or may not know, I’m writing a novel based on some work I did for my thesis in history. I have been researching, reading, and working to find out the best ways to start writing, the best tricks to get you off on the right foot, should you plot ahead of time, character development, story arcs etc. etc. etc. With my head spinning and feeling a little lost, I picked up this book last week with the hope I could find some clarity. As chance would have it, King waited for me in my Kindle with so much wisdom and tough love to offer that I will make this an annual read. Though I will probably never read his best selling thrillers, I will count him as a helpful mentor as I learn about the writer in me.
He starts off with a brief synopsis of his childhood that is both endearing and disturbing. I myself had a wonderful childhood but it does make you wonder about why certain memories stick out and others don’t. He wrote about how he used to recreate comics and then he began to write his own. I used to create magazines like the ones in my favorite movies or I would pretend to be a journalist in a newspaper office with Kermit the Frog. I’ve never thought of myself as a writer until recently and moments, where I can relate to a writer like this, make me feel like I’m on the right track to figuring out what I want to do with my voice.
I was surprised to find out that Stephen King was, at one point, ashamed of what he wrote. I’ve felt that I didn’t really have anything new to say, so I’ve never taken the chance to submit articles, or stories until recently. To hear someone like Stephen King say, “I have spent a good many years…being ashamed about what I wrote.” makes me think I really shouldn’t be afraid of the backlash. Every writer experiences it, and I will be no exception. So, why should I let my fear of rejection stop me?
One of my favorite lessons from this book is the process King uses to write. He describes it this way, “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right–as right as you can, anyway–it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it. If you’re very lucky…more with want to do the former than the latter.” I have always feared the pain and soul-crushing feeling of criticism. Yet, I know it’s necessary if I want my stuff to be any good (and I really want it to be good!). This idea makes me think I could handle it. If it’s only mine for that short time when I write the first draft, I can cherish that and appreciate it, in that moment. However, once I hand it to my IR (Ideal Reader, a term by Stephen King) it now belongs to them. I have to appreciate that moment too, without holding on to the way each chapter felt with the door closed. In other words, the second draft needs a good game face!
The number one lesson I will carry with me as I write my first draft will be the lesson of making time for writing. I know you think you know where this is going but just wait for it. When I read this in King’s book, I grabbed my phone, added a note to the Kindle and stared out the window muttering it over and over again, “Holy freakin’ crap!”
Here’s the quote that gave me such an eloquent revelation:
“It [writing] 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.”
I know right! For a while now I thought, “If I only had a studio, a special desk, a room for creation alone, I would be able to create amazing things.” I really thought the atmosphere makes the difference. In a way, it does. You should turn the tv and the phone off if you plan on concentrating on writing (at least a one-track mind like me), but the atmosphere does not make or break a creative process. If I’m going to wait for life to give me this huge chunk of an uninterrupted, perfect, big desk in the middle of the room moment, I’m never going to write anything. I reiterate. “Holy freakin’ crap!”
There is one quote by Stephen King that I have always loved. It’s on a lot of bookmarks and cute Pinterest and bookstagramers posts, so it should be familiar. However, I’ve never known the context of the quote. I did not know it came from this book…until now.
He’s talking about the unique form of time travel that books allow us to experience. In a way, I’m listening to a conversation King is having in the year 1999. That’s pretty cool when you think about it. The quote I’m talking about reads, “…books are uniquely portable magic.” Guys, he’s talking about audiobooks! *Eeeeeep* I don’t know why I got such a kick out of learning that Stephen King reads audiobooks but I did. His philosophy is the more you read the better you write so he always carries a book with him and an unabridged audiobook in the car. I’ve never liked the idea that “audiobooks don’t count” and I can’t stand when someone belittles someone’s reading experience for silly smug reasons that don’t make sense to me. It would be wrong to say it’s not reading when you use your hands to read braille. So, why is it not wrong to say it isn’t really reading when you read with your ears. One person can’t read with their eyes for reasons beyond their control. A lot of us don’t have the time to leisurely read a physical book, so we read audiobooks. I don’t know that’s my two cents [backed by THE Stephen King] but you can think whatever you want to think. lol *giggle* Books really are magical, because they can take you to far away places, they can carry your words across continents, and they can immortalize a moment forever. Forget the packaging. Books are the bomb in whatever form!
If you are a Stephen King fan, you will love this book. You will love this book if you aren’t a big King/thriller/blood/guts/etc. fan (like me), you’ll still like it. If you’re a writer, you’ll learn from it, and that is the best a book can give. Thank you, Mr. King. From one writer to another. Thank you.