This book is about writing, but is much different than most of those, ‘How To Get Published in Five Steps or Less’ books.
This book is called, On Writing, a Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King. The book is structured as a memoir in the first half, and more about his writing process in the second half. What I love about this book is his honesty and his reasons for writing – because it’s what he feels he was meant to do. Clear and simple. He feels it in his bones to write. He keeps his attitudes and opinions on his sleeve, like he does in many of his books and lets you know what’s what, even if you may feel slightly offended. I feel like he’d probably say something like, “Get over it. You chose to read this book.”
In his early writing career, he dealt with numerous rejections, posting all of his reject letters on the wall. He hit a couple big lows in his life, struggling with not having enough money to treat his daughter’s illness, to fighting with alcoholism. But through it all, he kept writing, realized the problems he could fix, and fought through them. His book, Carrie, which turned out to be his golden ticket, was almost never written. He was diving into a world in which he did not understand: teenage girls. He ended up throwing it the trash, but luckily, Tabitha, his wife, found it in the trash, read it, and encouraged him to finish it. He says in his book that even if a subject you’re working on is tough, push through it. His tenacity (and encouragement from his wife), pushed him to the other side of writing: the successful one.
And while his life story is fascinating, something that SK mentions more than once in this book has me a little nervous. He says that you can make a good writer into a better writer, a great writer into an amazing writer by honing in on the craft, but you cannot make a crap writer into a good writer. Basically, if you don’t have it, you don’t have it. And although this really isn’t news to me, it scares me to read it and absorb it. Besides laying out his views on writers, he gives some great general advice on writing that he uses every time he writes, such as not using a thesaurus to try to find what you’re saying, and to quit filling pages with nonsense: Get to the point and use words you’d use daily.
I know I’m no canvas artist, no matter how much i sit down in front of a canvas. I don’t have an eye for art. What if writing is the same for me? What if it’s just some dream I have that’s absolutely worthless? What if I’m that crap writer, who has no chance of getting out of the hack stage and into the ‘she’s not so bad’ stage. The problem is in the solution, which SK gives. You don’t know and you never will know. No one can really tell you if you’re good or not. Now, my goal isn’t to reach the famed NYT #1 Best Selling Author list or anything like that, but to be published, and to be able to turn this love of the written word into a livable career? Now that would be amazing.
Although Mr. King makes it clear that if you don’t have it, you never will, and the fact that he also says you’ll never really know either, he also throws in one more little tidbit. He says that writing isn’t about making money or getting famous. It’s about enriching the lives of those who read your work as well as enriching your own life. He says it’s about getting happy.
I think he hit the nail on the head. When I start to fear that this writing adventure I’m on will be for not, I’m reminded that I’m not doing this as a job, I’m doing this for the love of it. I started writing stories when I was 12, as an only child in an unknown town, in a not-so-happy family situation, left to her own devices with an old typewriter. I put myself in magical lands where anything could happen. It made me happy.
So Mr. King, you scare me with your absolute honesty, but you also slap me back into reality with tough love and wit, and I thank you for that.