On Writing


Thursday we were hit by a crazy snow storm, so I had a day home from work. I spent part of the day reading a book that I started a few months ago: Stephen King’s On Writing. The fact that I had started it and then put it aside is somewhat metaphorical to my own writing. For too long now, I have put aside my book writing. Yesterday, I finished On Writing. Now…

Generally, Stephen King books are not my thing. But this is the guy who wrote The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. I’ve read some of his big books. They are page-turners that are hard to put down. So, while I can say that I don’t seek out his books, I could never say that I don’t enjoy them. He is a very good writer.

What I discovered in On Writing, however, is how much he loves to write. He knew from an early age that he wanted to be a writer, so he wrote. There were family and neighborhood newsletters, summaries of movies, knockoffs of pulp magazine thrillers, sports reporting. He sold his first stories to men’s magazines; purchased mainly for the pictures rather than the literature. He wrote Carrie in the laundry room of the trailer where he lived with his wife and two children. He wrote between shifts washing hospital sheets and restaurant linens. He never stopped.

He drank too much and took drugs to the extent that his family intervened and he got clean and sober. While he was working on On Writing, a man driving a blue van came over a hill and hit him as he took his daily walk. His body was pretty much shattered. He never stopped wanting to write or loving to write.

The other part I discovered was Tabitha. Stephen King met Tabitha when they were in college. She charmed him with her poetry and her smile. When he writes about her it is as if he is still falling in love. If you look for photos of the Kings, you see a middle-aged couple. They have grown up together and are growing older together. I adored reading of his love for her and his dependence on her as a first critic.

The beginning of the book is the story of his early life; the end of the book describes the accident and its aftermath. The middle of the book tackles the toolbox that writers should keep nearby (and he does use the toolbox as his metaphor). His advise is good – don’t try to be fancy with your words; use the words that you know, to say what you mean. He preaches strongly against passive sentences (something that I am too often guilty of). He discusses paragraphs and how to structure writing so it looks better and reads better. He warns against trying to put everything you know in your writing just because you know it and think its cool. Yea, that would be me too. He does not think that a bad writer can become a good writer, but he thinks a good writer can get better. He writes that writers get better by reading and writing. All of the time. You sit down at your desk to write everyday. You carry something to read everywhere you go.

None of it was a revelation to me, but the book was what I needed. I do love to write. I really love writing pieces for this blog. I really love my book and what it will become. But I have not practiced well. I need to get back to the desk. Before Stephen launches into his practical advice, he writes “ 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.”

I worked on my book proposal yesterday. It is getting better. I will work on it some more today, and tomorrow.