Friday, 24 May, 2024

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On Writing – Everything You Wouldn’t Expect From a Book About the Craft of Writing

On Writing – Everything You Wouldn’t Expect From a Book About the Craft of Writing

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Stephen King steps out of his comfort zone and yours, trying to confront his readers with something much scarier than the monsters lurking in the shadows - a blank page.

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Stephen King is one of the most prolific writers in the world. With over fifty novels, ten collections, dozens of movies and TV series, and whatnot, it’s hard to think of a writer who manages to produce more than him. Especially in days when fans have become accustomed to sending pleading letters to George R. R. Martin and Patrick (sans R. R.) Rothfuss urging them to do the one thing expected of a writer – write. As such, he might be the right person to teach a thing or two about writing. Fortunately, he momentarily abandoned the horrific realms of his creations to resurrect something much scarier for his readers – a blank page.

I’ve tried reading many books on writing during my aspiring writer years (hopefully, one day I’ll manage to drop the “aspiring” from that title), but only two of them made it to the finish line: “Effective Writing” by Tzafrir Bashan, which, although touching less on proper creative writing, provided me with many interesting tips, and “On Writing” by Stephen King. These two books differ greatly from all the others I’ve attempted to read on the subject by being very concrete yet not intimidating. While other books on writing tend to ramble about various writing techniques, character development, ways to shape a story, etc., which might disillusion the aspiring writer and drive them to wallow in the corner of their room in a fetal position, these two books manage to leap over these topics as if they were Nadia Comăneci on the gymnastics floor.

As you might have gathered from the previous paragraph, I’ve never been too fond of books about writing.

But “On Writing” by Stephen King is not just another book on writing (despite its somewhat deceptive title). While other books on the subject delve into the intricacies of writing, this book, with its blatantly clear title, manages to avoid dealing with the subject as much as possible. Sure, there are a few good tips and recommended work approaches from the author based on his extensive personal experience with books. However, apart from his bottom line, there’s no outstanding revelation for those aspiring to be the next Stephen King. And perhaps that’s the appeal of this book. Although it promises to provide a toolbox for future writers, this toolbox isn’t particularly heavy and certainly not difficult to handle. Just press the eye-catching buttons, and the story will come, provided you have some talent in the first place, of course.

This, accompanied by a few mantras repeated throughout the book, constitutes the entire real thing while oddly reminding of another self-help book – Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking – not particularly well-written but effectively reiterating its mantras enough to convince the reader that they don’t need cigarettes. To prove the point, I write these lines as someone who used to smoke 2 or 3 packs a day until I read Allen Carr’s book and hasn’t touched a cigarette in the last eleven years. If Stephen King’s mantras manage to do even half the work of Carr’s and convince you that you can write, then at least one good thing happened here.

But that’s not the only source of fascination in this very personal book.

The book’s full title is “On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft.” In the Hebrew translation, they chose to omit the second part of the title, except for the book’s inner cover (which, let’s be honest, few bother to read), where this part became “Lists about the craft of writing.” This somewhat inaccurate translation misses an important part of this book, which is essentially a quite revealing memoir of King, following the numerous milestones he went through until he became the well-oiled writing machine he is, starting from his childhood and his writing attempts, and up to his return to life and writing after the life-threatening car accident he had in the late nineties. Some may argue that the sections about his life are not particularly relevant to a book that purports to teach about writing, but that’s precisely where the book’s original title comes in to clarify – it’s not (just) a book about writing. Or at least, it’s not a book about writing as you know it. King operates on two entirely justifiable premises, the first being that writing cannot be detached from the author’s personal history, and the second – that his life story and success will interest the reader (and being the phenomenal storyteller that he is, it’s clear that his story is captivating). Indeed, delving into his biographical sections can slightly penetrate the uncertainty and perhaps shed some light on his writing processes.

Stephen King refers to writing as work, plain and simple. Thanks to this approach, coupled with exceptional talent and a developed, somewhat insane, and nerve-wracking imagination, he manages to do what many other writers can’t – write. And when you become aware of his approach to the craft and depart from the assumption that he follows his advice in his book, it’s not surprising to find his son Joe Hill’s books on bestseller lists. And if his son can do it, then perhaps you can too?

In conclusion, it is a must-read for those for whom writing is an important part of their lives.

Four writing machines and one inkwell.

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