Tuesday, December 6, 2011

If you don't [have your tools with you], you're apt to find something you didn't expect and get discouraged

Normally I like to write my reviews immediately (within a day or so at most) of finishing a book. However, Thanksgiving gave me a chance to read a lot without getting much writing done. And then I participated in the readathon last Saturday, so I have a bit of a backlog of reviews to get through. On the one hand, the books now have a chance to simmer and any immediate reaction (what crap! OMG that was the best thing everrrrrr!) have passed and I can give a more mature and well-thought out review. On the other hand, mature and well-thought out reviews. Don't worry, I'll try to keep them as childish as possible.

I've wanted to read Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft ever since I found out my favorite short story, 1408, was originally written as an example of how a story changes from one draft to another. I also happen to think that King is a better writer than he is normally given credit for so I liked the idea of seeing his thoughts on the process.

This was a much better read than I thought it would be. Not that I went into it thinking it would be a drag (why would I have bothered with it if I thought that?) but it was surprisingly good. The first part is a memoir of King's life, told in 38 short events. King focuses on the events that he believes shaped him as a writer: his many rejections (and eventual acceptances) to literary magazines, his time moving around while his mother looked for work, his time working at an industrial laundry mat and then as a professor, to the point that he's at now. Or at least where he was at when he wrote this.

But the focus isn't on King's life, it's on writing. One thing you learn for sure from this, if you learn nothing else, is that King loves writing. He clearly was doing it for many years before it was making him money. He never makes the claim that if you follow steps A, B and C, you're going to become a FAMOUS NOVELIST*. He just says "Here's what I do. I believe these things are going to help you at least be a competent writer." There's no magic here. It's just advice that seems kind of obvious once he tells you. He talks about "the toolbox". The things that you need to write: vocabulary, grammar (don't worry about grammar lessons, you just need to be able to write legibly), form and style the basic stuff. He especially hates adverbs and the passive voice, which again is nothing new, but I like hearing his diatribe against them. Especially because I know I'm guilty of both.

I especially liked the comparison between a first draft and a second draft of a story, in this case the story that eventually became 1408. He ends up going through most of the things he talks about in the rest of the book, but you can see it in a real-life scenario.

I can see myself re-reading this a lot. Or even just references bits and pieces of it, whether I start writing or not.

*Those steps will come from another book I read and need to write a review for, How I Became A Famous Novelist. And by the way, some of the tips from here are mentioned in Hely's book. It was funny to finish this book just to see the stuff mentioned elsewhere. Even if it is sarcastically.

Title quote from page 114

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Scribner, 2010.