Stephen King set me free

stephen-king-on-writingI’m not a fan of the Horror genre but I have to respect a man who has sold so many books which were made into blockbuster movies. For those of us writers who are struggling with penning a novel, his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is sweet freedom.

When he writes gems like this, who can resist:

“It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster’s shell that makes the pearl, not the pearl-making seminars with other oysters.” (p 235) This is his explanation about why writing seminars are not the be-all-and-end-all of writing training, and why absolute silence and no interruptions (such as a writing retreat) is not the answer to writing a great book either. Daily interruptions by family and life events create the grit that give us something to write about.

“What I did (instead of writing for four months) was drink beer, smoke Pall Malls, read John D. MacDonald paperbacks, and watch afternoon soap operas.” (p. 238) Whew. Even Stephen King goes through times when he just can’t deal with it. There are times I don’t even want to look at a paper and pen (or a computer screen).

I subscribe to Writer’s Digest magazine and get emails from several different writing groups who repeat the building blocks: “Plot”, “Characters”, “Theme”, “climax”, “story arc”—as if good writing is just plugging in the mathematical values of an equation. Here’s what Stephen King had to say: “…stories are found things, like fossils in the ground…stories are relics, part of an undiscovered preexisting world…..it’s probably impossible to get the fossil out of the ground without a few breaks and losses….Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice.” (p. 160)

“I want you to understand that my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves.” (p. 159)  So it’s okay if I just write about what happened, what the characters said and did, and how it all turns out. Just the story.

We all write stories that we think are crap and no one would want to read, and give up on it. While Stephen King was working on a novella, he threw it away. When he came home the next night after throwing it away, “Tabby (his wife) had the pages. She’d spied them while emptying my wastebasket, had shaken the cigarette ashes of the crumpled balls of paper, smoothed them out, and sat down to read them.” The manuscript? It was Carrie.  (p. 68)

I’ll think twice before scrapping a story. Sometimes it’s best to put it in a drawer and let it rest.

“How long you let your book rest–sort of like bread dough between kneadings–is entirely up to you, but I think it should be a minimum of six weeks..…When it looks like an alien relic bought at a junk-shop or yard sale where you can hardly remember shopping, you’re ready. Sit down with the door shut..a pencil in your hand, and a legal pad by your side. Then read your manuscript over.” (p. 212-213) King suggests putting some time and space between when I first write the story to paper and let it rest before I pick it up and read it so that it’s almost if someone else wrote it. That way, I’m emotionally removed enough to make intelligent decisions on modifications.

But will anyone want to read my stories if they are not full of symbolism, theme, multilevel characters? “Book-buyers aren’t attracted, by and large, to the literary merits of a novel; book-buyers want a good story to take with them on the airplane, something that will first fascinate them, then pull them in and keep them turning pages.” (p.156)

After years of subscribing to magazines such as The Writer and Writer’s Digest,  and reading every “Writing Book” I could get my hands on, this book told me “It’s okay. Whatever works for you is right. Start writing on paper instead of the computer. Close the door and scribble it all down.Don’t worry if it doesn’t come together immediately. ”

And if Stephen King says so, that’s good enough for me. I recommend On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft to anyone who wants to be free to be yourself when writing.

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