Monday, July 28, 2008
On Writing by Stephen King
Book review by Nathalie Gray (www.nathaliegray.com)
Commas and Chainsaws
One of the few hardcovers I own except for R.A. Salvatore (and let’s not talk about that addiction, m’kay) is Stephen King’s On Writing. Other reviewers in the past have lauded its gently acerbic and thoughtful autobiographical first half. Just read the hundreds of reviews on Amazon alone. That first half? It’s genius on paper. King takes you back in time to his youth, where maggots crawled out of washing machines, old school horror movies still played in theaters and babysitters yelled “pow!” when they passed gas. As anyone who read this book will tell you, this babysitter will live in your head for a long time. Longer than Nurse Annie Wilkes in Misery. Thanks for that, Mr. King...
But what made my inner Chihuahua chase her tail with savage glee is the second half of the book. Namely, The Toolbox. Like any other trade, writing requires tools. I’m not talking about publishing, which requires celestial alignment. Alliance with dark powers is a nice edge, too. But seriously, dude, On Writing has everything a writer could ever want. King also suggests a method for arranging your own writer toolbox.
The most common tools, like vocabulary, go on top. We’re not talking about consciously looking for big fancy words when short ones would do. Reading builds vocabulary. Reading a lot and diversely.
Grammar and elements of style. This section can pretty much be summed up in a short sentence; get thee a Strunk and White Elements of Style. ’Nuff said.
Middle drawer tools
Hard work and dedication. Burn the midnight oil, write and write some more. Revise your toolbox, read books and, without spiraling into nervous breakdown over minutiae, try to see what works and how. King also mentions that bad books often teach more than good ones. My brain agrees even if my wallet doesn’t.
All these nifty little tools that make you own inner Chihuahua chase her tail with savage glee.
That’s it. No secret handshake, no Seventeen Steps to Instant Publishdom or Ninety-two Ways to Tickle Your Muse. What I enjoy the most about On Writing is the no bullshit approach. King advises writers to write, to not only talk the talk, but to also walk the walk. Shut that door to your writing space if you have one, draw the curtains, unhook the phone or ignore it. Do everything you can to make sure you write. Advice like this is too rare in this age of overindulgence and instant gratification. And this method, just like its author, is full of win and awesomeness. In King’s word, writing is like “lifting off in an airplane: you’re on the ground, on the ground, on the ground...and then you’re up, riding on a magical cushion of air”.