Scrawlers writer Andrew’s prize is in the mail (oh, Andrew, your prize is in the mail…) and I’m in the middle of re-reading today’s recommendation, On Writing by Stephen King.
If you want a petty argument about the worth of taking the advice of a genre writer who appeals to the masses, with all due respect, take a hike. King is one who cares about the craft and he writes of his life emerging as a writer and hands out well-articulated thoughts on writing with excitement and the enticement of a giant squid latching onto a sperm whale. In short, Stephen King proves one thing and one thing along in On Writing – he respects writing and that respect is both encouraging and contagious to the reader.
The book is riddled with pull quotes simple and smart enough to make a little poster on the young writer’s bulletin board. Here are a few:
“You must not come lightly to the blank page.”
I think this quote is what might surprise a non-genre fan or at least someone who assumes a lot about Stephen King just because he sells a few million books about parents who bury their children on sacred land so they’ll rise from the grave instead of simply parents who mourn their deceased children. Not many sentences into On Writing, close readers and aspiring writers will be quick to discover that King loves this art, just loves it. And with that love comes respect. The money’s great, no question, but it’s always, always, always about the writing.
“Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation.”
How many times do I have to mention my own fears in this blog before I shut up, man up, and step up with my writing the way King proposes a good writer needs to do? I’m getting there, I swear. That said, I recently joked to someone that their son needed to “man up” and they didn’t look too happy about it. I immediately felt embarrassed – how’s that for letting go of affectation?…
“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”
King is talking about audience. I know talented writers who have argued one shouldn’t have to worry about audience whatsoever, and for them that means during the writing process, while they’re rewriting, and even when they try and get it published. With respect, I disagree. Audience is an important notion to consider in writing. What King proposes is when one writes their initial draft they should focus on getting the words out, letting the story take shape. Then, when rewriting, decide what elements need adjustment or are missing or need to be cut because at that point, the writer is preparing the piece to go “out there” to an audience. This opinion is not for the writers who like to print one copy of their masterpiece, open their desk drawer, slide it in, and lock it away. I guess they always write with the door closed.
“Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room.”
This sentence is from the last paragraph in the first portion of the book, the part that serves as memoir. King writes about battling his demons of alcoholism and drug addiction and feels a desk in the corner, implying writing should be a part of one’s life and not the center of it, will serve one a lot better than trying the opposite approach.
I’m inclined to agree. I’ve known people obsessed with writing (or for that matter, improv). They claim to write because they have to write, that if they don’t, like, omigosh, what would they do with themselves?! Writing is an important part of my life, but the day I “have” to write instead of “want” to write it’s time to reexamine my life choices. This doesn’t make me a lazy writer – cable TV and video games help on that front plenty, and at least I got rid of the cable – it makes me a writer who knows storytelling is a wonderful part of life, not the whole enchilada.
Same goes for those enthralled with improv; the folks who love it so much they eat, breathe, and sleep improv. They see every show, they read every Johnstone, Spolin, and Napier book and then some, they take every class in town and take all the workshops from out of town instructors, they talk about improv and nothing else, they do notes on their shows longer than the show itself, they can’t help but critique other shows instead of sitting back and enjoying them, they form their perfect improv philosophy and anyone who thinks otherwise is out of their minds no matter what their personal improv journey has been, and they make it their business to be near great improvisers in the hopes of some sort of improv greatness osmosis. Thing is, these folks grow so obsessed with improv that they can’t see the forest through the trees. They get self-exclusionary and forget the point: improv is a great thing to have in one’s life but improv does not a life make.
This perhaps sounds like a tangental tirade inspired by recent events or that I have particular people in mind – I honestly don’t, but bits and pieces of the above description could certainly apply to anyone involved in improv at one time or another, certainly including yours truly – but it’s simpler then that. I’ve been around the block and this is a blog about creativity. I feel improv is one of the purest forms of creativity out there and to me, creativity is a form of play. It will always seem unfortunate to me when one forgets just how fun it can be to play.
The last King quote I want to share is this:
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
Below the giant logo at Scrawlers.com, you’ll find two sentences: Writers read. Writers write. It’s the philosophy Barry and I had in mind when we founded Scrawlers and I’d be lying if I said this notion doesn’t owe a bit of debt and gratitude to Stephen King. He encourages the young writer to read everything they can get their hands on both to learn and to enjoy the written word, as well as write on a regular basis and keep it up no matter how tough it gets. That attitude is one we’ve tried to emulate ever since we read King’s advice and we hope Scrawlers helps pass it along, in some small way.
There’s a lot more in here, of course (King’s thoughts on passive verbs and his concept of “ideal reader” are worth the price of admission alone) and I encourage you to pick up your own copy. I have two copies and another on audio tape, the latter is what I spend my drive-time commutes listening to in late August / early September as a new semester crops up and I prepare for a fresh season of writing. Barry and I have our copies, Andrew is going to get his in the mail soon.
When will you read On Writing, dear reader?