Stephen King’s final words in Chapter 38 of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft touched me deeply “Life isn’t a life support-system for art. It’s the other way around.” (King 101) This is the way I live my life, this is the way I create my designs, and this is the way I write. Art is a safety net for the absurdity of it all. What strikes me most about King’s early career is how his stories became a metaphor for his life. He used what he was going through, turned those experiences into characters, and worked his way through his problems by personifying them and learning to vanquish them, or fall so deeply into them that the writing becomes a form of self-actualization. He shows this distinctly when he talks about writing Misery: “…Annie was coke, Annie was booze, and I decided I was tired of being Annie’s pet writer.” (King 98) He took his frustrations about himself, the alcoholism and drug abuse, and turned them into a character. While substance abuse is not something I struggle with, unless you consider coffee and Chapstick, I think drawing from life experiences and personifying them into characters is an amazing idea. One that could turn the notion of ‘writing as therapy’ into a concept I can use. Imagine turning Lupus into a relentless stalker.
There is not a lot in On Writing that I can’t benefit from, however I was surprised to read that he did not like writing Carrie. He explains: “For me writing has always been best when it’s intimate, as sexy as skin on skin. With Carrie I felt as if I were wearing a rubber wet-suit I couldn’t pull off.” With that type of feeling toward the story itself, I can’t imagine where he felt the energy to go on. I would have given up on the challenge, I’m glad he didn’t though. So while it’s something that I can’t imagine for myself, it does teach me that I don’t have to drop everything that doesn’t work for me personally. What I do appreciate about this is that it was always King’s mother and wife that pushed him to continue and complete his works. No one, not even writers, can exist in a vacuum unto themselves. He exemplifies this in the following quote: “Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough.” (King 74) With that type of belief from your loved ones, no wonder he was able to continue writing Carrie.
I’ve learned a lot from reading On Writing, however there is one piece of advice I need to explore further. That was the advice of one of his early employers, John Gould, editor of his town’s weekly newspaper: “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.” (King 57) There are two things I’ve taken away from this statement, one of which was probably not intended. The first take-away for me is the fact that you need to write the story, in the beginning, for yourself. There have been so many times that I’ve become afraid of what others will think, mainly my parents and priest, that my writing becomes completely ineffective. I need to learn to get them out of my head and keep moving with my ideas. Art is meant to make people think and effective art shocks. I’m fine with shocking, as long as I don’t have to confess it on Saturday nights, or talk about it over Thanksgiving dinner. I need to get over these apprehensions and let the words flow. The second thing I took from the quote above is that if there is something that does not move the story forward, it should be deleted. If there is a conversation between characters that does not propel the story, no matter how awesome I think the conversation is, it should be dropped. This is a hard lesson for me. I grow attached to certain aspects of my stories, but there are time when those aspects need to be removed, which is hard, but it must be done.
While the portion of On Writing that I’ve read so far has been about King’s life and how writing fit into it rather than his actual craft, I have learned a lot about how he views writing and how it adds to his life. The main thing that I’ve learned from King is to keep writing. Don’t give up. There are many times that he could have walked away and would have been content teaching high school literature, but he wanted more. I want more, he has given me the inspiration to keep moving forward with my writing. There is no better lesson better than that; without that everything else is impossible.
King, Stephen. On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft. Hodder, 2012.