September 13, 2010

Stephen King's On Writing

It's been five years since I read this book, and it might be time to read it again. As I went through some of my files on the laptop I have had since late 2004, I came across this note I wrote about King's book on Sept. 29, 2005:

Stephen King books never attracted my attention —until two teachers (at a writing course and publishing/editing course respectively) highly recommended his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

 It is part autobiography, part writing manual. It is certainly funny. Wondering whether I should sign up for another writing course, I read his advice on this with particular interest.

King describes a writing retreat in the woods. During the day writers write by themselves. At night, those writers meet around a camp fire, toast marshmallows and critique the stories written during the day. While King likes the sound of the retreat, he isn’t so convinced of the value of the critiques.

As King writes, without mincing his words, in On Writing:

“And what about those critiques, by the way? How valuable are they? Not very, in my experience, sorry. A lot of them are vague. I love the feeling of Peter’s story, someone may say. It had something . . . a sense of I don’t know . . . there’s a loving kind of you know . . . I can’t exactly describe it . . .

“Other writing-seminar gemmies include I felt like the tone thing was just kind of you know; The character of Polly seemed pretty much stereotypical; I loved the imagery because I could see what he was talking about more or less perfectly.

"And, instead of pelting those babbling idiots with their own freshly toasted marshmallows, everyone else sitting around the fire is often nodding and smiling and looking solemnly thoughtful. In too many cases the teachers and writers in residence are nodding, smiling, and looking solemnly thoughtful right along with them. 

"It seems to occur to few of the attendees that if you have a feeling you just can’t describe, you might just be, I don’t know, kind of, my sense of it is, maybe in the wrong f*****g class.”

Even if you aren’t interested in his take on the craft of writing, you’d probably enjoy reading his autobiography in the first part of the book.

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