Monday, August 3, 2015

Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around.

On Writing: A Memoir of the CraftOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been meaning to read Stephen King's On Writing for some time, and now that I've done it, it's something of a wake up call.
Something that King gets straight early on in the memoir is the importance of reading AND writing for any writer. I suppose I do loads of the former, but how about the latter? Time to amp up the hours, cut out YouTube and reserve a slice of early morning for creative outpouring...

On Writing is accessible, humorous and wonderfully insightful. It begins by seeming part-memoir through the way King writes about his early childhood, relationship with his family and later alcoholic problems - until we realize that every detail he offers helps explain why he is the writer he eventually became. From working for his brother's "magazine," "Dave's Rag," to virtually forgetting the experience of writing a whole book because he was so often under the influence, King has taken quite the writer's journey. And as he reminds us, behind the success of every bestseller was the huge pile of rejection letters he had pinned onto his wall with a spike.

The memoir is full of writing-advice gems such as these:
"The writer’s original perception of a character or characters may be as erroneous as the reader’s."
“Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation.”
"Stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position."
I don't think I'll be able to use "the fact that" again, now that I know how much King detests it.

King also cautions us on the overuse of adverbs and misuse of dialogue attribution, and praises both the power of the paragraph and of choosing simpler words. He also notes the shortcomings of language itself: "The word is only a representation of the meaning; even at its best, writing almost always falls short of full meaning."

A whole section of On Writing is dedicated to the beautiful metaphor of a one's writing skills as a toolbox, where the "bread of writing," vocabulary, goes on the top drawer, followed by grammar and elements of style. If you haven't got the time to read the whole book or can't find it in your local bookstore, here are the 'toolboxs page:' https://thewritersjourney2011.wikispa...

Reading this novel, I felt that there were times when King glossed over certain details (his alcoholism, for instance, but I guess that isn't the point of the memoir). Nonetheless, I loved how I could resonate with some of his own experiences; from toothache - "each time I swallowed, pain lit up the sides of my face like a jukebox" (this is precisely what I tried to articulate post-wisdom tooth surgery ) - to a love for reading -

I take a book with me everywhere I go, and find there are all sorts of opportunities to dip in. The trick is to teach yourself to read in small sips as well as in long swallows. Waiting rooms are made for books—of course! But so are theater lobbies before the show, long and boring checkout lines, and everyone's favorite, the john.

Yet the one pithy motto I'll take away with me forever is this:
You must not come lightly to the blank page.
Like all art, writing demands dedication and attention. With toolbox in hand, I vow to come to the blank page with the serious intention of creating something meaningful, perfecting my craft - and having a great time.

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