This is a guest post from Tatiana Lensky. I think most books about writing are a waste of time that could be better spent, well…writing. If you are a writer or a wannabe, Stephen King’s book On Writing is a wonderful exception. Josh
By Tatiana Lensky
Emotional truthfulness that transcends time and trends:
Stephen King On Writing–
“This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with BS. Fiction writers, present company included, don’t understand very much about what they do – not why it works when it’s good, not why it doesn’t when it’s bad. I figured the shorter the book, the less the BS.
One notable exception to the BS rule is The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr and E. B. White. there is little or no detectable BS in that book (of course it’s short; at eighty-five pages its much shorter than this one. )
I’ll tell you right now that every aspiring writer should read The Elements of Style. Rule 17 in the chapter titled Principles of composition is “Omit needless words”. I will try to do that here.”
The above excerpt is the second forward (three in total) of this most excellent book. I wanted to tell you straight away that I loved it. And is now a staple of my bag contents. Oh, it’s not that short. 351 pages of King-isms.
A short story by Garrett Addams, whom King chose because of his raw, “punky” style provides the denouement. I don’t share his excitement about this writer. But hey, that’s just me.
Back to the main body of the book:
A Writer’s Life
Book in hand, eyes on the pages, full-body immersion is immediate and as comforting as soaking in a hot tub. An adventure in life. An adventure of a writer’s life.
“I lived an odd, herky-jerky childhood, raised by a single parent who moved around a lot in my earliest years and who – I am not completely sure of this – may have farmed my brother and me out to one of her sisters for awhile because she was economically or emotionally unable to cope with us for a time”
The first part, C.V., throws open the doors and windows and sheds light on his social and cultural reality. A prologue, similar in its function to Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. A love story without the pathos. Stephen King is a humble guy who loves what he does. Simple.
“Toolbox”, the second part of the book, is pretty self-explanatory. Using the analogy of a carpenter’s toolbox, credited to a lesson he learned from his Uncle Oren, he tells us what writing tools are required– i.e. the practical stuff we need inside our brains at all times. Convenient, since we carry it around anyway. The box just has to be filled with the right tools.
“It’s best to have your tools with you. If you don’t, you’re apt to find something you didn’t expect and get discouraged”.
The writers tools are vocabulary, grammar and style, which, we all hope, will morph into something magical.
“Words create sentences; sentences create paragraphs; sometimes paragraphs quicken and begin to breathe. Imagine, if you like, Frankenstein’s monster on its slab. Here comes the lightning, not from the sky but from a humble paragraph of English words”
Stephen King doesn’t tread the path of snark nor soapbox preachiness. He understands the difficulties we all face as writers, actively seeking or patiently waiting for that bolt of lightening.
Read And Write A Lot
The last part of the book is “On Writing”. If I had to sum up the entire book in a neat little package, it’d be this: “read a lot and write a lot.”
I connected with his story. This is the first book I have read “on writing”. As a writer, I try to avoid all the how tos, do this, don’t do that. Which ensued more from instinct than anything else. And I think its the pitfall of many a budding writer to spend too much time on how instead of do.
Mr. King’s advice: just do it. Just write. And read. Which he considers equally important. He doesn’t lead us to believe its the golden ticket to success. During the course of the book, he points that out with sotto voce reasoning. His advice, his thoughts are never lackluster or banal. Instead, succinct and altruistic, pithy and cogent.
King’s philosophy is to believe in the capacity of your own certitude. And if you are really lucky, you have a partner who lifts you up when you are down.
With this book, we are blessed with the obvious. We write because we love to write. It’s a creative process, the logical conclusion: we are artists. As an artist, one suffers all kinds of malaise. Life is hard. And Stephen King’s story is well worth the quiet steady inspiration it provides.
It’s simply for the love of words and putting them in an order that makes you, the writer, happy. That is the foundation needed to eventually make your readers happy.
About The Author: Tatiana Lensky does most things backwards, so she is back at school, going for her BA in English and American Literature. She is a single mom. Her son, Max, is 17 years old. Her first book, “Challenge Venus or Advance Your Worth” , a contemporary novel, will be published next year. She is currently working on her second book, an historical novel. You can also follow her on Twitter.
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