I listened to Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft’ on audiobook recently.
It’s commonly quoted as being a classic text about writing. I didn’t have any particular expectations – I’ve never read any of his books so wasn’t a fan…until now. The book is fantastic – both inspiring and practical.
For a start it’s great to hear King tell his story in his own gravelly American tones. He has a sense of humour that is direct, down-to-earth, witty and often totally gross. I found myself laughing out loud many times. What comes across most though, is his intense passion for the craft of writing – it’s like a firebrand.
Take this quote:
“… it’s writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else.
Wash the car, maybe.”
54 novels, 200 short stories and over 350 million books sold
The first half of the book is King’s life story before he published his first book Carrie, and gives you a deep insight into his upbringing and his journey into writing.
That journey was quite random. King started by helping his brother write a newspaper at a young age. After that he tried to go it alone, plagiarising a story and getting caught out at school. This got his talent known and he was then pointed in the direction of a sports newspaper.
From there King started writing and submitting manuscripts for publication. He worked poorly paid jobs and struggled for money for years until one day, a publisher saw the potential in his manuscript for Carrie and the rest of his success grew from there.
Talent, belief, persistence
What is clear is that the key to his success was both his talent and persistence – he just kept going and kept believing in himself – with help from his wife and family.
King is also totally single-minded and focused about pursuing and practising his craft, and advocates switching of the TV, shutting the door and focussing exclusively on writing every day:
“So okay― there you are in your room with the shade down and the door shut and the plug pulled out of the base of the telephone. You’ve blown up your TV and committed yourself to a thousand words a day, come hell or high water. Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want.”
King shares his of wisdom and advice about writing, and trying to get published but starts with explaining the basics, the ‘tools of the craft’, – grammar, structure, characterisation.
Also why writing is a craft like being a carpenter, or builder – building great masterpieces one brick at a time. Sometimes you feel like it, sometimes you don’t – the most important thing is to keep writing.
You can’t listen to King without catching the joy he finds in simply putting words on a page:
“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”
Courage and writing
He also talks about having courage in writing and how important this is. Courage to say what you want to say and not be afraid of what people will think. Be bold, be fearless.
“I have spent a good many years since―too many, I think―being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction or poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.”
Write for sorrow, write for joy
I write because I love to, because I love sharing knowledge, wisdom and information.
I write because I’m compelled to. I write because I have something to say.
I write because it’s a way of being able to say exactly what I want, how I want for as long as I want! Yuss!
I write to express, sorrow, joy, frustration to feel the joy of finding exactly, the right words at exactly the right time.
I’m getting happy, ok, I’m getting happy.