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.