Cheap reads

5 Sep

I go to Barnes and Noble sometimes to read books I’m too cheap to buy. Lately, it’s a book about writing: “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” or something like that by Stephen King. Now, it’s kind of funny I’m reading it because never have I read anything by King, nor particularly wanted to. But while I browsed the book islands, (“Summer Reading; “Teen reading”; “Beach Reading”) one cover stopped me on the “Teen Reading” section. It was King’s book.

The cover photograph shows him at his desk with his feet propped up on it. His scruffy dog sits nearby. Piles of papers and books surround the typewriter in front of him, and, if I remember correctly, there’s a pencil in his ear. The photo was probably staged, but it looked so real, as if he were in the middle of writing his next best-selling horror book, and a rogue photographer surprised him. I liked how gritty he looked, how human. They say not to judge a book by its cover. Well, I did. Still not sure why it’s considered “Teen Reading,” but maybe teens acquired a new taste in books since I was one a few years ago.

King’s considered by some a “hack” writer, not a real artist. He pumps stories for cash. To me, it doesn’t matter. The man knows how to write, and if he’s got something to say about it, I’ll listen. I sat at the café, in one of the few remaining tables. A man with a laptop and a book about how to write graphic novels, sat next to me, apparently writing one himself. On the other side was a studier, all ear buds and stacked textbooks.

I skimmed some parts, especially his early memories. I wanted to get to the writing. Very soon I came to know something about King. He swears, a lot, but somehow it always seems right:

This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included, don’t understand very much about what they do—not why it works when it’s good, not why it doesn’t when it’s bad. I figured the shorter the book, the less the bullshit.

He’s rather irreverent, too, and yet it’s somehow inoffensive. Around page 100, I walked the book back to the island where it belonged and left.

Today I went back with my little sister and picked up where I left off, she with a book of her own and me again with King, at page 100. Two big stuffed chairs were open, and we snagged them. I didn’t feel like a complete mooch this time. I bought a toffee nut latte (new flavor!) at the café, thereby bringing the store business, if not from a book sale.

King is unholy about writing. He approaches it as a craft. People can teach it. Students can learn it. But some people, he thinks, are just bad writers. Just like some people cannot sing or play the piano, some people cannot, and shouldn’t, write. Fair enough.

So today he got into writing, about the grammar of it all and other basics, like vocabulary, which he says is the most fundamental thing. He hates adverbs, by the way. (“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.”)

And the passive voice. Using basic “tools,” he believes anyone can learn to write better.

I left off around page 150 (We had to get home for dinner) where King talks about how to approach writing. Liked it so much thought I would share:

You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair–the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.

He says if you aren’t serious about it, do something like mow the lawn instead.



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