This is more of a personal reflection than a book review, for what it’s worth.
I know I’m not the only person out there indulging in reading about writing rather than doing the work of writing (you know, some of the time). Classic procrastination disguised as progress. On the same note, there are plenty of writers who are penning “how-to” books instead of producing fiction. Most are not that worthwhile, and folks would be especially wise to avoid books that have big promises on the cover, like “Jumpstart your creativity!” and “Write your novel in three easy steps!” and so forth. This is probably self-evident.
However, a few decent books exist that are thoughtful, inspiring and actually helpful to my process. Right now, I’m reading Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Now, before you say “Eww, not that guy,” just hang on a minute. I thought that, too, before I picked it up. King is one of those writers that people seem to love or hate. I used to love his stuff, but I was a ripe old seventeen years old. Then I moved on.
But this book is not (obviously) horror, and King is successful for a reason. Primarily, I think it’s his astonishing output. I admire that kind of work ethic, and many people suggested the book to me. I was able to overcome my initial reluctance, and I’m very pleased that I did.
What I’ve enjoyed so far about the book is King’s “memoir” bit, which is a brief description of events in his life that he believes “formed” him as a writer (he doesn’t believe that writers are made, BTW; they either have what it takes, and do something with it, or they don’t). I found it fresh and funny. I was thrilled by his descriptions of everyday encounters that later coalesced into story concepts and characters. Write what you know, right? For instance, an amalgamation of hapless girls he observed in school became Carrie (he always disliked her), the main character in his first successful book. He also engages the struggle that plagues many of us, balancing personal life with the demands of our writing ambition/addiction (are you listening, Oso?)
I found this so interesting that I sat down, and as an exercise, wrote an outline of my adolescence and filled in key memories from those times in my life. Nothing comprehensive, just random thoughts, really. I am shocked at how little I recall about my own life. King expresses his amazement at memoir writers who seem to recall every detail of their lives with clarity; he just doesn’t have that, and neither do I. In fact, I question the authenticity of those tidy autobiographies.
Then in the second section, King launches into a pleasant discussion with the reader about his personal sense of wonder concerning writing as “telepathy,” a method of communicating directly with another person on the page. The result is surprisingly intimate:
“I never opened my mouth and you never opened yours. We’re not even in the same year together, let alone the same room… except we are together. We’re close. We’re having a meeting of the minds.” (106)
In the next chapter, entitled “Toolbox,” he discusses ways to develop oneself as a writer. No discussion so far about plotting, or character, or any of that although it may come. A pleasurable difference from other books I’ve read about writing.
Somewhere, I think in a Nebula volume, Ursula K. LeGuin made a statement about writing workshops that went something like this: If we teach everyone tried and true methods for fiction writing, then we’ll probably get a lot of stories that sound pretty good. But they’ll all sound the same. We have to work on ways to help emergent writers find their own unique voices, or there won’t be any ground-breaking new work(s).
I’m enjoying the process of finding my own voice.