Friday, January 19, 2007

Stephen King's "On Writing"

Okay, I’m just going to admit it- “On Writing” was excellent. Definitely an A+. One of the best books I’ve read in the last year. Up there with Nancy Beach’s “One Hour on Sunday”, Dan Kimball’s “Emergent Worship”, and Philip Yancey’s “Why My Faith Survived the Church”. These are the books that have profoundly struck me within the last six months. I wouldn't say these are "the best books ever", just the ones that have stayed with me, are still affecting me, and have changed me in some way...

I’m not a King fan- I’ve read quite a bit of his stuff: Carrie, Rose Madder, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, It, Pet Cemetery, The Green Mile, Dolores Claiborne, Gerald’s Game, and (my favorite, who knows why, I can’t explain it, it just is…) Firestarter, plus a couple anthologies of his short stories, which I’ve got to say are way more likely to give you nightmares than his novels. The short stories are these ideas- never as fully developed as in a novel- they get in your head and they hang out there… Guaranteed to wake you up at 6 am convinced some creepy-crawly critter is climbing out of your basement- even when you don’t HAVE a basement. I went through this period where I was reading a lot of his stuff in college and then ended up deciding to not read any more of his stuff around ’93, I think. I started Needful Things and halfway through, or a quarter through, I got creeped out by the whole book- this really ugly nasty character just really got to me, and I swore off Stephen King… Of course, I went back and read some more of his a few years later… Never finished Needful Things, though…. Just really felt demonic or something to me…

(When you read as fast as I do, starting a book, or heavens, even finishing one, isn’t a huge commitment. Plus, I used to be constitutionally unable to put down a book until I’d finished it, even if it was bad, even if I HATED the thing, even if it was guaranteed to give me nightmares. Having kids really changed that. Now it’s got to be good, or at least halfway decent. I just don’t have time in my life for trash. I can now give myself permission to put down a lousy book or one that’s just gonna bug me later, or God forbid, if I just can’t stand the thought of NOT KNOWING WHAT HAPPENS, I read the last couple pages. Gasp! I know you’re all shocked…)

Anyway, back to “On Writing”… I’d been avoiding it, ‘cuz, well, its Stephen King talking about WRITING, give me a break… Even though people whose judgments I normally trust and respect suggested the book to me, I was like, “I don’t like his stuff. What could he have to say that would be helpful to me??” It’s Stephen King, people… Are you off your rocker? Well, it’s a bit like having your aunt give you business advice. Yeah, right. (Which is a bit of silliness on my part, ‘cuz my aunt has given my sister and me some shockingly good business advice in the last 2 months…)

Okay, so I was wrong. The book was excellent. Good advice. Good memoirs. I read his background and laughed out loud repeatedly… King read comic books, as I did, and discovered the delight of writing at about the same age I did- Beth and I still have some leftover books we wrote together from way back then… He read some of the same sci-fi schlock I used to love, and loved the B or C sci-fi/horror movies that can still thrill me. (Doctor Who, anyone?)

I admit, as much as I love to write, I don’t have the drive he did to keep at it. I haven’t stuck to the rule of writing for a set amount every day, and I agree with that. I respect the idea of writing regardless of how you feel and of where that consistency can get you- practiced, experienced, in touch with that little muse inside your head. I just haven’t been able to keep up with that rule… I’ve done too much living, lately… (Also, I don’t know how he’d suggest writing without interruption when you’re a mom of little ones… I know I’ve read Marion Zimmer Bradley say that she did it, and her kids survived her shutting them out of the typing room, and she says that if you’re really a writer, you write through everything… I don’t know. A surprising amount of my creativity seems to be flushed down the tubes of “if I can just make it through today with the girls…”)

So, the big thing I came out of the book with was: ‘Read a lot… Write a lot’. Excellent advice. You have to come to a point where you can trust your own ear, and I don’t know how you can do that without reading a lot of good stuff and talking to real people… I’m definitely not writing enough right now… You do have to get into that habit. I’ve been there before, but I’m not now. The closest I get to writing a lot is here, which was my main purpose. But I thought I’d be doing more poetry and story stuff, not as much soul-baring or just silly story sharing…

I heard reiterated, “Kill your precious little darlings.” All those cutesy word phrases and images you think are so wonderful? They’re not. They’re the junk you need to throw out. I know that, but I need to hear it again…

I got encouragement out of the book… A reminder that there is a writing muse living inside me and that I want to set her free. I LOVED it when I was writing so much back in seminary, back in college. When I was writing my thesis and getting stuff published. When I was writing stuff for my students to do at school and my youth to do at church… I MISS that- the deadline, the idea that pushes you to write something for two Sundays from now. Or the image that drags me to write poetry. I do better with some kind of external push. And that’s PATHETIC. How old am I, and I still need to have a homework assignment??

Anyway, thank you people. You all were right. The book was worth my time. If you haven't read it, you should...

2 comments:

The Renzntzman said...

I also quit King after Needful Things. For me, it was just so repetitive. I felt like I was reading the same book over and over. But...On Writing is an excellent book. As a matter of fact, I have the audio version reserved at the library.
Have you read any books by Robert R. McCammon? If not, I recommend Boy's Life and Swan Song.

John said...

Yea! If you are interested in some more non-fiction King, you should check out Danse Macabre. It is an examining of the horror genre in our culture, and a sort of answer to the question "Mr. King, why do your write what you write? Is there something wrong with you?" From the classics (Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker) to fifties B movies, up to when it was published...
I actually wish he would write an update. It was originally published in the eighties, I think...
I would love to know what he thinks of todays resurgence of slasher/horror/critter/disaster movies like Snakes on a Plane, The Ring, Black Christmas etc.