Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Review-Stephen King On Writing

I've read some Stephen King- It, Carrie, Thinner, Misery, The Mist, but it's been a while. Most of that was because I have a cousin that LOVED Stephen King, so the books were around. But it's been a long time. I checked out The Stand a few weeks ago, and realized pretty quickly it wasn't for me. So, be aware that this is Stephen King, and he uses common words as they are commonly used.

The book is in two parts- the path that he walked to become a writer, and what he calls the "Writer's Toolbox" and both are useful in their ways.

The major take-home from the memoir 'inspirational' portion was that Steve-the-kid thought words were fun. Writing was a game.

After he was caught writing satire pieces about teachers, and the school arranged for him to channel his pen through work at a newspaper. When the newspaper editor John Gould marked through the 'bad parts', Stephen had a mind-bending moment of clarity. 'Ahhh. This is how editing works.' (my paraphrase)

Gould said, "When you're writing a story, you're telling yourself a story. When you're rewriting, you're taking out all the parts that aren't the story."

It's interesting that most writers refer to what other writers have told them. There's an unofficial apprenticeship system at work.

I had a similar experience- though the lesson was different- with a college writing teacher who said that the words should make the story clearer. That 'artistic' expression can limit understanding. I didn't agree
immediately, but I see the point now. If you write poetry, fine. Be as symbolic and obtuse as you want.
But a novel must have a plot, must build into something, must develop in some way. The ones I like to read, anyway. 

Stephen King says that a decent writer can become a good writer, but not a great writer. How do you know if you are a great writer or a good writer? Are brilliance and marketability separate issues? Is this a question you should ask?

What I got from this: If you love to write, then write. Write the scenes that heat your pillow. Name the characters the walk just behind you, a little to the left, nudging you towards your desk.

I wonder if I have the kind of faith (or pig-headedness) it takes to spear rejection slip after rejection slip onto a spike on the wall as he did. Maybe I could make a separate email folder instead?

I loved reading about 'Carrie' getting sold. I loved his brother's science giant electro-magnet experiment blowing a transformer box. I appreciate the gentle acknowledgement of his own faults and addictions, especially how he sold his monster desk and got a modest one and tucked it under the eaves in his converted stable loft.

"It starts with this: 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. Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around."

The 'Toolbox' section reviewed some basics- vocabulary and grammar and why you must master these (and not reach for words that you can't use correctly), but the thing I liked best was his reference to the 'glass teat'. Anybody care to guess what he was referring to?

Other points I appreciated-
  • Writing makes you a writer. Don't wait for someone to let you call yourself that. Don't let other things (ie-tv) get in the way. Writers must read. MUST.
  • He's written books plotted and unplotted, and lists some of each.
  • Write for your ideal reader, not for critics or the market or to avoid Those Letters, wherein readers 'gleefully' inform that they have been offended.
  • How he thinks about description, dialogue, and symbols. I won't get unto all that here, but it is a nice discussion, worth reading.
There is only one writing exercise- He gives you some plot points  about a woman in an abusive relationship and then asks you to switch the genders and write it. Then he invites you to email him the result and he promises to read at least part of it with great interest. Which made me laugh. I may send a little vignette out. It would be fun just to know that he's read something I wrote.

Here's a video that covers the basic tone of the book. Enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. "I wonder if I have the kind of faith (or pig-headedness) it takes to spear rejection slip after rejection slip onto a spike on the wall as he did. Maybe I could make a separate email folder instead?"

    I don't have a wall big enough to do this. An e-mail folder is more manageable and eco-friendly!