Just finished my third read of ON WRITING and felt compelled to ramble on a little more.
As I mentioned in my original post, someone gave me this book a long time ago, knowing that I was a fan of Stephen King and that I hadn’t written anything in a long time. She thought it might provide some inspiration. This was back in 2001.
It did inspire me. But it also kind of didn’t. On the one hand, it was fascinating to delve into my favorite author’s mind to find out how he created whole new worlds. I was surprised to find out how methodical his process actually was, and the fact that he writes every day, seven days a week (including Christmas and his birthday) was mind-boggling. His daily word count goal was 2,000 words, which seemed ridiculously high to a girl who could barely write a short story. While I was inspired by his mounds of rejection letters, I was also intimidated. It didn’t seem like his mastery of the craft was in any way achievable for someone like me. I mean, write every day? Get tons of rejections? Are you kidding me?
Sure, I wanted his career… but dude, not that bad.
Fast forward six years.
It was 2007, and I was in the midst of writing my first novel. I felt lonely. And lost. I had 40,000 words of a story that was meandering in seven different directions. I was pretty sure it sucked. I didn’t have any writer friends to reassure me that what I was feeling was normal, and I was beginning to choke. My own book was drowning me.
ON WRITING was my life raft. Okay, so it was the only writing book I owned at the time, but it was a ray of hope. When you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll listen to what anybody has to say, and I was more than ready to hear Stephen King’s advice. This time, I read the second half of the book slowly. I made notes. I paid attention.
The first thing I did was beef up my word count to 2,000. Hey, not so difficult! Then I gave myself permission to let the story unfold organically, dictated by the situation and the characters, having faith that I’d get to the end eventually (why be such a control freak? Every story comes out somewhere). I told myself it was okay to write a crappy first draft (that’s what revisions are for). Not even Stephen King gets it right the first time. He does three to four drafts before he hands his stuff over to betas. I’ll do the same!
Oh yeah. And I’ll find betas. Somehow.
That first novel never went anywhere. It really did suck. But it wasn’t wasted time, because I learned a lot. When I started writing my second novel, I was able to avoid the holes I’d written myself into the first time around. And something had changed. Now I wanted it. Yes, dude. That bad.
Today I finished reading ON WRITING for the third time. I’ve grown a lot as a writer since 2001. Now I have opinions of my own. I have my own process. And while I still agree with 95% of what King has to say (here’s to not outlining!) there are actually some things that don’t work for me. For instance, I need weekends off to recharge my batteries. I can’t write seven days a week – I’ll burn out.
There are a lot of good writing books out there, each one useful in its own way. But I don’t read them over and over again. I’ve already extracted what I can, and I know what I need to do in theory. How much more reading about writing can I do? I don’t think all the How To books in the world could make me a better writer – the only thing I can do now is write. (When I was a kid, my dad had tons of books lying around about tennis. I read them all. They were chock full of useful tips. But the only way to learn tennis? PLAY TENNIS!)
Still, ON WRITING will always be set apart from the other writing books on my shelf. I love this book not just because Stephen King dispenses sensible advice in a fun, readable way, but because this man writes novels I love. When you genuinely love someone’s work, their advice holds a lot of weight.