On Stephen King and writing
The good thing about finishing Night Beach is that I now get to do all that reading I’ve been missing out on. I’m thinking I’ll kick things off with a Stephen King binge. Anyone out there not familiar with Mr King? For those who are, do you have a favourite King story? I say story, because of course there are the books, but then there are all those movies based on his work, as well.
My favourite King movie is Stand by Me. But in terms of the books ... The Stand – I’ve got the uncut version, which is an epic 1,000+ pages. But I also loved Gerald’s Game, which I read after a friend told me the premise – it starts with the main character handcuffed to a bed, in a cottage, in the middle of nowhere, without anyone around to help her – I was so intrigued by how you’d build a compelling, suspenseful story with that as a starting point. Of course, I wasn’t disappointed. And I really liked Rose Madder, too.
What I love most about King’s work is the sense that he’s completely committed to the story. He BELIEVES. He doesn’t hold back, he just goes for it, and as a reader you’re expected to buckle up and enjoy the ride. I love the scope of what he does. He tells BIG stories. He’s audacious. And if he ever wobbles, it’s because he’s tried to do too much, not too little.
But as someone trying to write, I’m grateful to Stephen King for a couple of other reasons. He wrote a book called On Writing, and it was the book that actually got me started. In it, he did two things that were really important for me.
The first was that he made me see that it was very much about doing. To write a book, there’s no magic formula, or trick, or shortcut. It’s about turning up and writing a certain number of words per day. It’s that simple. (Which makes me wonder why it always feels so HARD).
And of course this doesn’t apply to just writing, does it? I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the 10,000 hour rule – it takes 10,000 hours of practice before you master a skill. At my high school, there were a couple of kids who were athletic gods. They got all the kudos and attention that goes with that territory, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in wanting what they had. But what I failed to understand was just how hard they were working to get it. I probably assumed it was gifted to them, that they were lucky. I mean, they would have been a bit lucky (in terms of genetics and what not), but most of it would have been down to practice. (What an aside. I thought I’d stamped the asiding out.)
Anyway, on the doing side of things, King puts it this way: work harder, aim higher.
The second thing he did for me came at the end of the book. On the last page or so, he writes what’s basically a permission slip. When I read it, I became ridiculously emotional. I realised that up until then I’d been scared to start. I don’t know why – maybe I was scared of failing or something. (Which ended up being justified, by the way, because I did fail – man, oh, man did I fail, not once but lots of times, but more on that another day.) Anyway, for whatever reason, I realised that I should probably attempt to do the thing that scared me, mainly because it seemed to matter so much.
If you’d like to read more of Stephen King talking about his process, you might want to check out this interview he did with Neil Gaiman.
H'okay, I've held forth enough! What books should I include in my King reading binge??? How would King finish that note in the GIVEAWAY?
PS I found another book cover that makes me laugh. Check out The Field Guide to the North American Bird.