03.18.2018: One Chapter of Nonfiction

Today's soundtrack is Alt-J: An Awesome Wave.

I'm sitting beside the window in my hotel in Seaside, Oregon. The sky is grey; the green ocean is endless. Rough clumps of beach grass sway in the wind, and the frothy whitecaps break against the beach in a dull roar of defeat.

I've waxed eloquent today; this is not coincidence: I'm beginning the second part of Stephen King's On Writing today. The first part, the part that I already read before I started this blog, is where King recounts his journey as an author. The second part of his book, titled the same as the book itself, contains King's suggestions for aspiring or beginning (or struggling) writers. I decided to read this book for two reasons: the first (and most obvious) is that King is a prolific writer, and I wanted to see what keeps him going; the second (and most important) is that I love King's writing; never have I had cause to question his choice of words or punctuation - he started as an English teacher! - and I was hoping that some of his genius might come to me through the pages of his book.

King begins the chapter by illustrating the breakdown of writers: there is a pyramid built on a foundation of many bad writers; in the middle are some competent writers, and at the top are the very few truly good writers. Can a bad writer become a good writer? No; however, "with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help" (p. 142), a competent writer can become a good writer (but not a great writer - those ones are born with genius and are just plain lucky). What is good writing? A "master[y] of the fundamentals (vocabulary, grammar, the elements of style) and [using] the right instruments" (p. 142), topics that King covers in the first section of his book.

Stephen King says that aspiring writers must do two things: "read a lot and write a lot" (p. 145, bold type mine). There is no shortcut. King says that he reads for pleasure, not to learn; however, "every book [...] has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones" (p. 145). King says that bad writing can provide inspiration to aspiring writers (I could do this better!) and can teach writers what not to do; good writing "teaches [...] about style, graceful narration, plot development, the creation of believable characters, and truth-telling" (p. 146). Further, good writing can force you to raise the bar. So to become good writers, we must first become good readers.

"It's hard for me to believe that people who read very little should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written. If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or tools) to write." (p. 147)

King relays a very insightful story about his son: his son wanted to play the saxophone, but King noticed that his son only ever played during rehearsal time. He never experimented or had fun with it. His son gave it up when given the opportunity. Writing is like this, says King. If you aren't having fun doing it, find what you are talented at. Find what you enjoy. When you're talented at something, you won't force yourself to do it; you won't be able to stop yourself from doing it, because when you're doing it, you're happy. King says that constant reading can foster a mindset "where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness" (p. 150).