I Got Annoyed by Stephen King, Then I Loved Him.

From Flickr User AZRainman

Right.  Until a few weeks ago, I had never read a Stephen King anything.

Don’t get pissed.  I’m just not interested.  I do want to read The Green Mile, but that is all.  I have seen a couple of the movies made from Stephen King novels/novellas: The Green Mile, The Stand.  That might be it. I honestly do not know.

It’s not in my aesthetic.

But I had to read his writing manual/memoir On Writing for the Wilkes Residency.

This was my emotional experience during the reading:  First, there was boredom. So I skipped the “I was the kid of a single mom, I want you to know that was hard” part, and started in on the section that was about writing.

Then there was utter annoyance.  The annoyance came as much from King’s arrogance as from the fact that I feel ambivalent about the usefulness of reading books about other writers’ processes.  I’m not saying that I have nothing to learn.  To the contrary.  I feel like I have tons to learn.  But I’m not going to learn what I need to learn about my process from Stephen King.  I’m going to learn that by reading and writing, and that is all I want to do, ever, basically.

Then there was indifference.  Here was my thinking: all right, King.  I know you hate adverbs.  I get it.  I hate them too.  I’m with you that more writers should learn some stuff about craft.  You’re right about the tool box, but you’re not knocking my socks off, here, buddy.  You really ought to be.  You are one of the few writers in history to actually get rich from writing.

Then there was anger.  I found some of the examples he used to be just preposterous.  The book was like barely confined King ego.

Then there was creeping fondness.  I promise you I fought it.  But he’s kind of funny.  And he’s earned the right to speak with authority about writing.  And he didn’t speak with any guilt at all about getting rich on writing.  I find it to be obnoxious when people feel guilty about getting rich.  I want to tell them that if they feel so guilty about being rich, they should do something useful with their money, live like paupers, and quit whining.

And by the last fifty pages of the book, I was lapping it up like a black dog in summer.  And it wasn’t really what he said so much as how he said it.  He’s frank and honest and underneath the bravado/braggadocio, there’s this twitchy, insecure artist.  The same one that lives in all of us writers.

I am alone in this assessment of King’s book, that is 80% yuck, 20% I love you, Stephen King.  Most of the other folks at the residency all louvvred the King book.  Which was sad.  A lot of them were vocally antagonistic toward the Brande book, Becoming a Writer.  I enjoyed the quiet doggedness with which Brande wrote and recommended to a writerly life.  There really isn’t a better example.

After all, we can’t all be King.

Author: April Line Writing

Writing about whatever the f*ck I want.

5 thoughts on “I Got Annoyed by Stephen King, Then I Loved Him.”

  1. I loved King’s early stuff. Again though, I read sci-fi, horror and that’s about it. The literary fiction stuff just isn’t written for my tastes. My god, “The Shining” scared the pants off of me. I read it over and over again.

    That said, King does occasionally drift from horror in things like “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” and “The Body.” Also, “Apt Pupil.” All were made into movies that surprised me when I found out they were Stephen King stories.

    He also tends to go so far up his own ass occasionally that he can’t seem to dig his way out. I bet you would like some of his short story collections, he seems to do best in that format.

    1. Welty, That’s why I love you. Cos you’re thoughtful & tolerant. I do think that The Shawshank Redeption movie is pretty great, and it ran in my mind that that was from Uncle Stevie. I’ll have to look over his repertoire. I’m going to go on an ordering spree from ABEBooks in a couple of weeks b/c I have a huge reading list to do between now and January.

  2. I love the King book. When I used to teach writing, it was always on the recommended reading list. He’s knowledgeable, he’s self deprecating, he’s funny, and he know when it is appropriate to use salty language. It made me laugh, it made me happy to be a writer (albeit not a rich one). I’m glad you came around, my friend, if only in the last 20 pages!

    1. Hey Smoky,

      It’s certainly true that King’s book is funny. I laughed out loud a couple of times. But I’m not sure that funny is enough.

      I think the thing that has my dander up is that while King is a rich writer, I think there are tons of shitty writers who will take his book as permission to be antagonistic toward the value of workshops, education, etc. He doesn’t have a lot of complimentary things to say about learning about writing from other people. And as much as writing is a solitary endeavor, especially in the beginning, writers need to be in workshops and classes and working on craft. And King says that, but he says to do it on your own. And that’s just not practical advice for a lot of folks.


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