I finished Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft last night while sprawled out on my living room couch. It was overdue as a number of people had recommended it to me over the years saying things like, “This book was my call to action,” and, “This book really changed the way I work.” I will let you refer to Good Reads, or Amazon, or whatever for reviews of the book and blow-by-blow evaluations. What I will provide are some areas where this book impacted me, and how it helped clarify my vision of what a writer is.
A writer is resilient. First off, you should understand the first half of this book is a memoir. This should seem obvious because it’s in the title, but I was a little surprised when looking at reviews to see how many rated it poorly because it wasn’t simply a, “How To,” book. The memoir reveals the long path King took to achieve success. From endless rejection slips, to working various jobs to support his family, King’s path wasn’t easy. Yes, he did manage to make it – but it didn’t just fall into his lap.
A writer misses every opportunity he/she doesn’t take. How many times are you willing to fail and keep going? For King, there wasn’t a limit. Are you willing to put yourself out there and face constant rejection? For King, the answer was absolutely. Knock on enough doors enough times and someone will answer.
A writer knows when to open the door and when to shut it. While I won’t go into specifics from the book, I will say King explains that he writes the entire first draft without anyone’s input. Then he puts it away for six weeks and starts the next book. In those six weeks he has his wife Tabby read it, but not give much in the way in feedback until the end of the six weeks. I think one of the challenges for new writers in this day and age is not showing your cards too soon, keeping your work under lock and key until the right time. With blogs like this one, and countless other instant methods, a writer can submit their work before it’s ready. And that leads straight to the next point.
A writer is needy. It’s true, at least it is for me. I want instant gratification. When I slave away for three hours, I want to grab someone and say, “Look at this! Isn’t this amazing! See what I did there?” The issue with submitting work that’s not finished is we start writing for those few people who are commenting on it. Suddenly we aren’t writing our story anymore, we are writing with those few people in mind and the story becomes someone else’s. This neediness is largely due to the fact that..
…A writer needs support. For King support came in the form of his wife Tabby. To do this writing thing seriously, parts and pieces of our lives have to be sacrificed to the writing gods. It makes it much easier to do this when you have the support of someone or something. While not all of us have a significant other, (I have my awesome wife Heather) support can come in many forms. It can be a family member, friend, colleague, or even a blog like this. It’s nice to know when you are in the dumps someone is there to help you shovel the proverbial shit.
A writer reads. According to King, a writer learns what to do and what not to do by reading. The badly written books remind us of what not to, and the good ones provide us something to aspire towards. The emotions we internalize when we read translate into what we strive to accomplish when we write. King provides a few lengthy lists of recommended readings at the end of the book. I applauded myself for having read a few of them already.
A writer writes. You don’t say? It seems simple and we hear endlessly, “just write,” and it will happen for you. This book, for me, showed how long the path can truly be. King had been writing since he was a just a little kid and never stopped. With serious attempts at publication happening very early in his life. It didn’t just happen overnight, it didn’t just happen over a few years, it took years and years of writing, failing, and writing some more to get to where he was.
This writer now needs to write. Those are my biggest takeaways from the book. There is a wealth of information within it I’m not going to even touch. It ranges from the nuts and bolts of writing (the how-to stuff) to Kings writing and creative processes and how they work for him. All in all, I’m happy to have read this book and will likely refer to it as I move forward with my own. If you have read it and feel I missed (or even misrepresented) something, feel free to add your two cents. As always, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!