So, I finished the Stephen King novel, On Writing, last night. A triumph for a number of reasons, the least of which is that this is the first book I have read in such a short span of time in nearly two years. My ability to read like a 14 year old bookworm was a sad casualty of widowhood that I would love to vanquish. I polished this novel off in just under four days. I actually read 60 to 70 pages in a sitting. I am quite proud.
And I learned a few things, one of which is that were I to take Mr. King’s advice as gospel, I should get back to my day job as quickly as the state of Texas will allow me next year. Fortunately for me however, I have read enough Stephen King to not be overly impressed by what he has to say about the craft and the requirements. I have loved a great many of his books (The Stand, The Shining, Salem’s Lot, Firestarter), but I have found an equal number of them to be beyond boring (The Heart of Atlantis, Bag of Bones, Misery) or uneven (It, Deloris Claiborne). For all his success, he is just a guy who writes at the end of the day. His opinions are worth considering but shouldn’t be the last word on the subject of writing.
I liked his advice on reading as much as possible. I read newspapers and Oprah and the occasional non-fiction tome and many, many bedtime stories. But, rarely read fiction and I miss it. Not just the getting lost in the prose part, but wondering how the author did it. Created people and gave them things to do and say and places to go physically, mentally and emotionally. I miss being envious of a really great idea or turn of a phrase. So, I will be reading even if it takes me a month a book.
I also liked the idea of having a writing space, quirks and a set number of pages to complete everyday.
The advice he gave on putting a novel away for six weeks or so after finishing the first draft was good too. Distancing is a good idea after weeks or more of being caught up to the point of a fly in a web. He was also right about just writing and not worrying about whether it is perfect or even good. Just get the first draft down on paper. His ideas on taking up another project in the interim was quite a good idea too.
I like the idea of an Ideal Reader and his thoughts that often it is the person with whom we share our bed. Who after all is more likely to know our best work from our just getting by and will know us well enough to be truthful? He was correct when he suggested not asking for opinions until you are ready to really hear them.
I was surprised that I agreed with his ideas on writing groups and workshops. He felt they run contrary to the idea that writers should write. Reflect. Read and take notes and edit. Share with a select few or one (the IR). And then revise again, or not. Writing groups with the constant sharing and vague (or mean) critiquing is not helpful or really necessary.
In the end I am glad I read it though I will probably still do things my own way most of the time.