No. 16: On Writing
My first real adventure into the land of Stephen King was this half-memoir / half-seminar, and now I wish I liked horror stories. All the skill and talent I expected to find in the work of someone so accomplished was on display.
The first half of On Writing is a brief memoir focused on King’s beginnings and development as a writer. He recounts his first short stories, his first writing job, the prank newspaper that got him in significant trouble in high school, and all the rejections he worked through before Carrie hit it big. It was inspiring and insightful, and definitely entertaining (he crapped in the woods and wiped with poison ivy once). His story of long suffering, less than reputable publications (the magazines behind the counter), and personal difficulty is enough to make any writer realize that a) giving up is not an option if you want to succeed, b) that every rejection can make you a better writer, and c) no matter how crappy it gets, things can turn around.
The second half is practical advice for the aspiring writer. King doesn’t play at the idea that anyone could be a good writer. There are bad writers—a lot of them, and he firmly believes that you can’t turn a bad writer into a decent one. He also believes you can’t turn good writer into a great writer, but you can turn a decent writer into a good one
This sounds like bad news for a bad writer, but there’s still work out there for you (as long as Newsweek and Slate are in business). For the rest of us, who all assume we are at least decent, there is plenty of hope. Fortunately and unfortunately, there’s only one real way to realize it: writing.
King offers some helpful ideas: write your first draft with the door closed (for you, and no one else), and your second with the door open (accept advice from trusted readers); set a goal and write at least that many words every day (start with 1000); instead of trying to plot every story, create characters in a situation, and let them act as they will. The idea is to stick to it, work hard, and be honest. No promises are made, but that’s the nature of the beast, I guess.
I really enjoyed reading this, and will make a point to read some of King’s other non-horror stuff. I hope that I can put some of this into practice and see some growth soon. I hope I remember the not-so-subtle lesson that success can’t make you happy, but honest expression might save your life. And I hope I’m not in the “bad writer” category. I don’t want to work for Newsweek.