I’m not ashamed to admit that a big reason why I really wanted to read this book was closely tied in with wanting to know more about how Steve was able to do so many drugs and write so many bestsellers. While here I am – unable to function like a proper human being, sober.
The consensus among my peers is that everything that Stephen King wrote “during the drug years” is some of the most influential (horror) writing of this century, it’s also some of his best stuff.
Somewhere in the chapters of “On Writing” Stephen agrees with this statement or is scared that it might be true, because “that wouldn’t feel great”. The “drug years” provided us with some truly riveting, fucked up stuff. And although what he puts out today is still good, it just isn’t…the same.
I of course equated Stephen’s experience – or at least what I knew of it as: drugs and alcohol = extremely successful writing career.
I can’t tell you exactly what kind of explanation I was looking for in On Writing. Maybe some words in print to help me back up me telling my spouse that
“Drink number three will help me write better”?
Or maybe a “how to”, a schedule of sorts perhaps?
Compared to my own experience writing never seemed to make the “to do” list while smoking weed, high on coke, ecstasy or speed. In fact, even it was on the list I know that I am not capable of oh say, writing something coherent, let alone writing Cujo.
5 stars?! Doesn’t even remember writing it? How in the fuck Mr. King?
Write a book about that!
You know he only took 5 pages to go over a lifetime of drug use? And even though the researcher in me wanted something more specific, it was ok that he didn’t divulge. I don’t know why, maybe because this stranger has my respect, because it was an intentional choice to tell instead of show those years.
I put off reading this book for a long while – I had just started writing, was on my way to ‘finding my own voice’ and I didn’t want anything to fuck that up.
I avoided ‘Writer Click bait, not wanting anyone else to tell me how to write or how to sound. Before I went to fill up my brain with all ‘The Rules’ of grammar, syntax, and stylization I wanted to see what came out – uninfluenced and organic.
But Stephen King will not be avoided.
Right after my birthday, a dear friend gifted me ‘On Writing’. I prepared myself. I knew that Mr. King might tell me
“You know that thing you did in chapter 4? I fucking hate when writers do that – change it!”
I knew that once I had even a little bit of his knowledge, a tiny morsel of his insight, there was no going back.
He’s Stephen King. 54 novels?! 92 film and television adaptations? You’ll be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t read at least one of his books. I've read several – liking some more than others – but that’s not the point. The point is I didn’t want to like the book.
I didn’t want to read it, like it, and then find myself comparing myself to that level of success.
A success that even Stephen didn’t fully belief in. Rumour has it that when he wrote under the name “Richard Bachman” it was to test whether he could replicate his success again and to allay his fears that his popularity was an accident.
Fear and self-loathing in the best of them – that thought is comforting.
I didn’t want to be one of the many writers and readers alike, posting quotes from the book like it was holier than the writing on the wall – the end all be all pointed path to great writing. Even if it was good advice. I didn’t want to end up another author that brags
“people say it’s just like Stephen King’s work” – complement or not, you sound like a cock- sucker. And I’m not here to suck Stephens’s dick, he’s good, sometimes great, but I don’t want to be someone’s reminder of him.
The book wasn’t what I expected. He laid out his life in moments that were key to shaping his life as a writer. An unintentional side effect of reading “On Writing”, is that after the first half you become a “didja know…” about Stephen King, you’ll win all the “Stephen King Trivia Contests” you enter.
After the memoir bit. He gets down to the “tools” of writing. Using the analogy of having a big writers tool box. Itemizing each tool by importance, it’s undeniably an Oscar Wilde level of “quotable”.
The quotes I liked though? The ones that stayed with me, are these:
(When speaking of a passively written sentence) –
"…oh man, who farted? Right?”
I don’t know why but this made me laugh so much. I was sitting there, more intent than I’ll admit too, taking in this man’s words as a gentleman and a scholar, and at this line – even after all the stuff he told me about growing up – this was the momenthe became human. The moment I trusted him.
Another one was:
“You try to tell yourself you’ve been lucky, most incredibly lucky, and usually that works because it’s true. Sometimes it doesn’t work, that’s ok. Then you cry.”
That’s a man that knows struggle. That’s a man that knows pain. I related to that sentence so much, I could have cried right then and there.
So for a new writer who wants nothing to do with “The Rules”, Stephen imparted with me this bit of wisdom;
educate yourself. Know the rules. So that you can break them properly.