Sunday, March 24, 2013

Review: On Writing - Stephen King

Stephen King's Memoir of the Craft is everything he wanted it to be. I learned surprising things from it but almost became too self-conscious, writing-on-eggshells for the next few days. But it made me regret not taking English Language and Composition as seriously as I took English Literature and Composition. Despite my hatred of horror and thrillers that make your skin crawl, my collection of Stephen King books has increased from one translation left behind by a visiting aunt, to three different novels in original English. I am so impressed and entertained by Stephen's writing, by his voice and casual style, I'm planning on reading at least these few books of his this year.

Most of what I learned from Stephen rang familiar in my ears. Only a few days previously, Neil Gaiman had been standing on stage at Carnegie saying the same words: 'Read a lot. Write a lot.' (After all, how do you get to Carnegie Hall?) Stephen also spoke for a good length about mandatory simplification (don't overwrite) and clarity (always write 'he said', 'she said'), meanwhile making fun (with quotes) of critics that say you must omit the unnecessary, finally citing a satirical remark stating that one should simply share summaries with friends and not write at all.

The most striking images left with me, aside from a vivid recounting of the places he wrote (and the site of an accident), were those of the closed and open doors of your writing room, and the role of the author as a telepath, both largely simplified in this blog post. Envisioning myself as describing things to someone in the privacy of their mind,  not only jived well with the story John Green had just told at Carnegie, about books being companions in the abyss, but it works well with Stephen's notes to not over-describe. Finding balance is determined by the attention span of your audience. The role of the reader is likewise as important to Stephen as to John, who mentions it less when speaking of writing, while Stephen does tell us to whom he specifically writes: his wife. He talks of leaving the room of your writing room open when you are editing, after having kept it shut for the initial writing process. He does not go on about developing 'voice' which I had long thought far more important to writing efforts than a good understanding of style and grammar. I now have learned that voice is something that will eventually come without specifically searching for it.

Grouping all this together with culture's reliance on geniuses, on epiphanies and 'gifted folks', rebutted by Elizabeth Gilbert's TEDTalk: 'Your elusive creative genius', makes for a relaxed but still quite serious atmosphere for me to begin my writing oriented sabbatical. One should be serious and committed to the craft, without being pretentious, without procrastinating and without embarrassment. One can only rely on one's self, not expecting God or Muses to fill in the lacking je ne sais quois. It's simultaneously daunting and inspiring. Stephen King is the kind of man whom one imagines can tell a good story at a party (or, as proven, in a bestselling novel) and doesn't think this ability is divine. When one is grounded, with good knowledge and a decent head on one's shoulders, there isn't much one can't do. Determining the worth of one's best efforts, is someone else's job.

288 pp. Scribner. Paper.
ISBN: 978-1439156810

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