I’m probably one of the last people on earth to read this book, and nothing I will say here will be new. However I like to get down my thoughts for posterity and if there is a chance that you write and you haven’t read this book yet, well here you go.
Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference (74).
Even with all of my writerly friends telling me I have to read this, it was never high on my To Read list because I don’t believe I will ever write fiction. I just don’t want to.
A few months ago, my friend Leigh Ann told me she had an extra copy and would I like it? It showed up a few weeks ago and due to lack of space on my book shelves, it sat next to my bed.
Since I have been plowing through books this year already (seriously, as I type this it’s January 6 and I am on book #3 of the YEAR already!), I ended up grabbing it since it was handy. I’m so glad I did.
You see, my idea that this book would only be useful to those who want to write fiction or write novels was totally off-base. It is geared toward a newish fiction writer crowd, but King’s advice and anecdotes can be applied to any kind of writing, really.
The book is five parts, the first part, “C.V.” being King’s writerly memoir. I enjoyed this part so much because it’s always so interesting to me to see where writers “start”. What makes them writers and what was their life like? How much of their life is in their writing and what is behind all those successful millions of pages written and published?
I already knew I loved King’s writing and intellect about writing (and reading), but–aside from the love of science fiction–I never knew how much of myself I would see in him.
On the surface we are no where near comparable, but under all the differences he and I share a love of words and language. We also have something extraordinary in common: the unconditional support and love of our spouse. His wife doesn’t just support his “dream”, she believes in it. That is how Cortney is with everything I do. He is my biggest fan.
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 fee like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re doing is managing to shovel shit from a sitting position (77).
King’s honesty is also refreshing. He never, ever makes writing sound like an easy job. And he never ever makes it into something that every person has it in him to do.
Which–as controversial a stance as it is, especially for a writing teacher–is something I believe too.
I don’t think everyone is cut out to be a great…or even good writer. Just because you have something to say, doesn’t mean it will sound good in writing. I believe everyone has a story. I believe every can write that story down. I do not believe everyone can be a skilled writer.
Writing is an art and it takes an artist to do it.
I don’t really consider myself a “great” writer, but I think I’m a good writer and I believe it’s a talent I was born with. I want to be better, but most days it feels like I am “managing to shovel shit from a sitting position.” But I keep trying. And reading King’s words are like reading Anne Lamont’s words about keeping at it. About constantly writing.
Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page (106).
The next part of the book is called “Writing Is”. It’s brief–only 5 pages–but it defines how writing should be viewed by the writer.
After this King has the “Toolbox” section where he discusses vocabulary and grammar. My teacher heart loved this part. Naturally.
Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life (147).
The fourth section, “On Writing” is where King talks about the process of writing. Even though he relied on examples from his own creative process for writing fiction, there were so many things I could apply to my own process. The big two that I really need to let myself do more of are 1) Read more and 2) Write more.
It sounds easy, but it’s actually easier for me to put all the other things in life ahead of this. Things that make my life less happy and more tangled up. And since I vowed to disentangle this year, I need to take these tips to heart.
So much of his process could work for me (write first with the door closed, find an Ideal Reader, etc) that I am excited to get on making it happen. Even if nothing comes of it but more “good” blog posts.
Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life (249).
His last section, “On Living”, recalls the accident in 1999 when he was struck by a van and almost killed. I immediately remembered the news reports from when this happened as I read the details of his journey from taking an afternoon walk to almost killed and on through a long, painful recovery.
The story is used to illustrate that the will to get back to writing (and the love and support of his wife) is what brought him through such a tough time.
How many of us can relate to that? I know I can. I know I was nodding my head along and thinking about all the tough blog posts I have written because I was trying to “live through” something awful.
I am not really sure how I went so long without reading On Writing, but I feel like my reading it now is for a purpose.
That makes me excited.
It also made me go pick up my copy of Carrie, but that is another blog post.