a blog on the craft of writing
As most authors do, I collect books on writing. How to improve my craft, or books on how others have done so. So I’m starting a series on the most important books on my bookshelf and why.
On Writing, by Stephen King.
This book is single handedly the one I quote the most. I’m likely misquoting, but I love Stephen King‘s take on writing and the writing life. It’s an autobiography, but maybe because the author has been a writer almost since he could read, it is also a book on craft. It’s honest,and frank, and a little bit scary. When I first read it as a mom, with two young kids, and a part-time job, it made me angry.
Most of the book goes through his life and how he become a writer. How he wrote and submitted all the time. What influenced him. And it’s a love story about his wife, Tabitha, who is also an author. One of the most impressive things about the book is how much his love and respect for Tabitha come through the pages. I love this book. I love reading about how he grew as an author. About how he struggled financially, but won the publishing lottery with Carrie. But at the end, he got me. He goes on a rant about how you need to be committed to the craft and you have to write every day or you are not an author. In fact, if you are not this committed, you should give up.
I was aghast.
How could I commit that much of my time and if I didn’t, should I just throw the whole idea into the trash? It was humbling to see how committed he had been at the beginning when he too was a young parent. Working during the day, then coming home to take care of the kids while his wife went to her job, he sat at a child’s desk and wrote. Obviously either his wife was cleaning the house and doing all the shopping and maybe now writing as much as she would have liked to, or (and this is highly likely given many writer’s houses) they ran out of food constantly and lived in a pig sty.
Something has to give.
I don’t know what it was in Stephen King’s life, being the woman, I’m inclined to think his wife gave up more writing time, but I don’t know for sure. What I do know is when he writes that particular portion of the book he’s actually talking to himself.
While he was working on the end of On Writing, he has a horrific accident. And he can’t write for a long time. Then it’s very painful to sit and write. The end of that book is a lecture to us, but it’s mostly a lecture to himself that he can’t give up. And he doesn’t. He finishes the book and he keeps writing.
That’s the lesson I took from Stephen King. Not that I should give up if I couldn’t do this perfectly, but that if I gave up in the face of whatever challenges I had, then I wasn’t a real author to begin with. So I didn’t give up. I don’t give up.
I also don’t write every day. I should. I know I should. But I’m the mom. And no matter what that works out to be in other people’s houses, in mine it means that my time goes first to everyone else. It means that I don’t do fiction writing on the weekends, instead I’ll do this kind of stuff. Blogging or articles or promotion. I’m not giving up. But I need to do things that don’t require my whole attention. And writing fiction does. Fiction requires every ounce of focus I have. And that’s Stephen King’s real message.
Have you read On Writing? What messages did you take away from it? Is it on your bookshelf? Did you keep it?