I’ve just finished reading Stephen King’s book On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft.
It’s kinda strange to say that a book sneaked up behind me and hit me over the head. And, that’s about what it feels like right now.
I picked up this book looking for some words of wisdom from a noted writer to help me refine my own word making.
King is one of the biggest of the best selling authors on the planet. He’s prolific, popular and dare I say it… I have not read a single book that he has written. Not one – until now.
Stephen King Movie’s
However, I have seen several of the plenty of movies based on Stephen King’s writing. This includes:
- The Shawshank Redemption (I think we’ve all seen and loved this one)
- The Green Mile;
- The Shining; and
My feeling right now less than two hours after finishing his book is that I want to write. It must have been something he said. I’m just not sure exactly what…
This is kind of surprising because whilst it was an engaging read it wasn’t really a head turner. There were no moments of magic where the light bulb flashed and my life changed.
Stephen King’s Future
The only real moment of thrill for me was on page 76 when Stephen describes how he saw his future panning out when he was in his mid-20s…
“I could see myself thirty years on, wearing the same shabby tweed coats with patches on the elbows, potbelly rolling over my Gap khakis from too much beer. I’d have a cigarette cough from too many packs of Pall Malls, thicker glasses, more dandruff, and in my desk drawer, six or seven unfinished manuscripts which I would take out and tinker with from time to time, usually when drunk. If asked what I did in my spare time, I’d tell people I was writing a book – what else does any self-respecting creative-writing teacher do with his or her spare time? And, of course I’d lie to myself, telling myself there was still time, it wasn’t too late, there were novelists who didn’t get started until they were fifty, hell, even sixty. Probably plenty of them.”
This triggered a few of my brain cells into a happy dance was because this is one of the first exercises we undertake in Project Passion.
Almost Certain Future
We call it: Your Almost Certain Future. Essentially we ask:
If you keep going as you are for the next 5,10 years, where will you end up?
And, Stephen King answers this question beautifully.
In particular, I love the comment where he suggests he would ‘lie to myself’. This is the ultimate lifelong dread where we admit we’d rather keep up appearances than face the facts. It’s a sobering portrait that I hope none of us ever face.
Your Almost Certain Future is a powerful exercise. It’s worth taking a moment to reflect upon it. And, it might just make the difference between wishing and hoping about your future versus being committed and doing something about it.
The book is a strange mix of memoir of Stephen growing up. And, a few late chapters on how he writes.
The memoir clearly shows that Stephen King has happily completed his 10,000 hours of practice.
He was constantly writing as a youngster and did his time in submitting lots of rejected manuscripts way before he broke through in a big way with his first novel Carrie. Carrie the novel soon became Carrie the film – first in 1976, a TV movie in 2002 and another remake in 2013. The first movie launched Stephen King’s star into the public stratosphere and it has continued to flame brightly ever since.
He deserves his success because he has clearly put in the time. Notably, he was obsessed with movies as a youngster viewing them as often as he possibly could.
And, perhaps the best piece of advice in his book is:
To write well you have to read lots.
Mr King suggests if you’re not reading great and not-so great authors then how will you know what great writing is let alone have any clues on how to create it for yourself.
Wanting to Write
The surprise for me is my urge to write. I suspect it is what Stephen King said about the way he reviews his work.
He finishes a manuscript then leaves it in a drawer for a few weeks until it gets old and stale. Then he pulls it out to review and rewrite for a second draft.
By creating this space between writing and reviewing he distances himself from his role as author and can see his words more clearly. It is both a source of freedom and delight.
The delight is to acknowledge that his words are actually engaging to read. I can relate to this because I have just started a review of my recently completed book Project Passion. And, I’m equally delighted with the way it reads. Pleasantly surprised in fact.
Deep down, Stephen King is an explorer. His writing is based on setting a problem and then writing to see how it resolves itself. He doesn’t pre-plan the finish line. Instead, he creates a set of characters and let’s them play out the tale. He enjoys letting his characters almost determine their own fates.
I think my eagerness to write follows this same curiosity to find ways to describe my own ideas in engaging ways. And, to let the ideas emerge rather than illustrate ones that I’ve pre-thought.
Read On Writing if you want to learn from a master. He’s clearly doing something right to be so popular.