I think I’ve read this before, or at least part of it. My mom is a huge King fan, owns nearly all his work in hardback, so I’ve at least picked through it sometime after she bought it upon its release. It has great staying power. Still I see it at the top of every list of must-reads for up and coming writers, fifteen years after its publication. Unfortunately, I read King like I read Crichton: with great respect, great labor, and great disillusionment. I’ve either read or attempted to read about a half dozen King novels. I’ve liked a few but loved none… yet. So, even though it’s apples and oranges, this is the first book of his I can say I absolutely love.
Despite the radical difference between King’s distinctive “master of macabre” style and contemporary literature, he reads much of the latter. In fact, his read list of a hundred or so books in the back was very impressive for a genre writer. Perhaps that sheds a bit of light on the spooky way in which I can relate to his writing process. He believes in a literal muse, he only redrafts once, and he cannot foresee the ending of his own story until he gets there. My favorite similarity, though, is his “fossil” analogy: “The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible,” he says. “No matter how good you are, no matter how much experience you have, it’s probably impossible to get the entire fossil out of the ground without a few breaks and losses.” Regardless of the tools bit, the fact that he even refers to his story ideas as “fossils” indicates they are discovered rather than created, inspired rather than built.
In an interview, I’ve heard him put it another way, which really resonates with my process as well. He has lots of coffee cups, “ideas” all strewn about his imagination. He can look at them, think about them, turn them over in his head for months or years, but never be able to hold them, to “execute” or “narrate” the story. Then out of nowhere a flash of inspiration will provide him with a handle, that “spark” which takes the nebulous idea and makes it writable. The muse controls the preponderance of cups just as the muse decides when and how to ornament some with handles. I know exactly what he means.
I found a new table-side reference book. This little baby will sit right on top of my copy of Simon & Schuster Handbook for Writers on the left-hand side of my work desk. It will probably get a lot more use as well. I’ve heard of the aforementioned handbook, and I’ve also heard of (but not yet purchased), the DSM for writers, The Chicago Manual of Style. Strunk & White’s little book is less like a textbook or dictionary/thesaurus type grammar manual as it is a tiny copy of Sun Tzu‘s The Art of War for writers. I read about it while rereading Stephen King‘s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, and I’m very grateful for the discovery. It reads with such dry rhythm that it will actually make you laugh while teaching you the difference between participles and gerunds, restrictive vs nonrestrictive modifiers. My favorite nugget of advice is the same as King’s, and I will absorb it and attempt to live it well: Omit needless words.
I liked this book, but I only really liked the chapters on Buddhism and science. I’m told this is his most accessible book. After reading (and failing to comprehend a lick of) The Hero With a Thousand Faces, I believe it. My problem is with the format. JC did not write this book, he delivered a series of disconnected lectures and later transcribed them here. It makes for disjointed reading. Not to mention there are several passages I can tell he delivered/wrote while nursing his fifth scotch. My favorite little phrase is the description of a kangaroo pouch as a “womb with a view.” Really? T-shirt idea!
Having said that, this subject matter is fascinating, and I know he is one of the masters of this form of thought and writing. I need to find the right teacher for exploring this world.
Without a doubt though, the best book I read in 2015 was the last. Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child truly took my breath away. This debut novel made it to the finalist round of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize judging, an exclusive group of only three books each year.
Click the links below for more information about each book on Goodreads!