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Thursday, May 27, 2010

On Thanking

The last time I read Stephen King, I was house-sitting an old Victorian with a friend the summer after my sophomore year in college. My roommate recommended Salem’s Lot, which I read less than halfway through before tossing the paperback across the room. The story scared me enough to know that finishing it would mean a sleepless night.

I’ve never coped well with fear. My first experience with horror, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, sent me diving under a yellow vinyl pillow in our family room when Tippi Hedren forced open the creaking attic door and discovered a body minus its eyes. In high school, after watching Rosemary’s Baby, I had to crawl into bed with my little sister.

Not long after, my Salem’s Lot friend, her boyfriend and I drove an hour see Jaws. Her chivalrous beau sat between us in the theatre, and it’s a good thing. That night, it failed to matter whose date he was. I dug my fingernails into his calloused palm as we all jumped out of our seats when the monster shark surfaced, and held on for the rest of the movie. Had he not been there, I’m sure I’d have become well acquainted with the strange man on my right.

After the movie, I slept on the floor of my friend’s room rather than my own comfortable bed down the hall at her parent’s inn. We were miles from the nearest the ocean, but as far as we were concerned, that shark was snoring in the next room, dripping with the blood of the hunter he’d just eviscerated. I held Peter Benchley responsible for my sore back the next morning, not Stephen King, but the occasion taught me it was safer for my over-eager imagination to avoid books and movies of a similar genre. As a result, Salem’s Lot ended up covered with a pile of clothes in a dusty bedroom corner.

Between that long-ago summer and now, I’ve taken a Stephen King book out from the library exactly once, and that was the day before yesterday when a copy of On Writing; A Memoir of the Craft that I had put on hold became available to me. Let’s just say that this book won't be tossed across the room in my lifetime. Instead, it is a struggle to put it down.

King exposes the fundamental tools required for the craft of writing in an everyday voice that delivers fluid reading and simple comprehension. He assures the reader that the path toward good writing is manageable, the skills, accessible; it’s less about rocket science and more about developing solid habits--a passion for reading, good grammar, patience in letting a story come to you and the dedication to uncover it. On top of that, the book dispenses optimism. I’m not even finished and King has me chanting “I can do that,” when lately the phrase that has come to mind most often is “How will I ever?”

On Writing is reminds me yet again, that as a whole, writers are kind. Every day I learn from writers—informal lessons from blog authors sharing what they’ve experienced, such as Author, Jody Hedlund, Helen at Straight from Hel, The Blood Red Pencil and Darnell at Dancing with the Gorilla. Then there are the books on writing, by writers: Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, Bird by Bird by Anne LaMotte, Pen on Fire by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett to mention my favorites. Now I have On Writing too.

Even before reaching the last page, I'm planning on ordering my own copy through Amazon, with gratitude that many years ago, another popular author made the effort to quantify how he achieves success as a writer--and that he did so in language that speaks out loud to me.

What books or blogs do you recommend that have helped to improve your writing skills?


glnroz said...

good morning Ms. Liza,, your little episodes always go great with my morning coffee. Stephen King's "On Writing" sits on my nightstand,, a great book. Habits have always been my enemy but King is right about habits. I cannot think of the name (exactly, i will look tonight), but i have an exercise book that takes you though "writing emotions" It is kinda fun, as well as helpful.. I will look an see.....

Helen Ginger said...

Thank you Liza, for mentioning me in with those wonderful bloggers!

It's been years since I read On Writing. I need to re-read it. What I remember most about it is being on a plane and laughing out loud at some of what he wrote. I didn't know King could be funny. I think it's time I go back to it.

Straight From Hel

Lola Sharp said...

Honestly, I have them ALL. I'm a craft junkie and a book junkie. I've gleaned something from each. But for personal reasons I LOVE Bird by Bird. I relate to Anne in many ways.
That said, I think that every writer should own: Strunk and White's Elements of Style, an excellent thesaurus (my favorite is the Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus), and the biggest/best dictionary you can afford. (online versions just don't cut it) I use the 2-volume Oxford English Dictionary.

Simon C. Larter said...

On Writing is excellent. I don't know anyone who's read it that didn't love it to tiny little bits and pieces. King is so ruthlessly honest about himself and his writing that even if you don't agree, you have to respect the man.

Glad you're finding inspiration in it, good lady. Write on!

Andria said...

I have On Writing but I haven't read it yet. It'll have to be part of my summer reading list.

I also have Writing Down the Bones and Pen on Fire. I also really like Elizabeth Berg's book on writing (I can't remember it's title right now).

Jody Hedlund said...

Liza, I think that is one of the best things about blogging. I've learned so much from others, from connecting with others in the writing community. Even from just reading comments on my own blog posts, I gain so much more insight into the topic I've written about. It's one of the coolest things! Blogging has helped make me a richer writer!

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Oh my goodness, I do not handle fear well either. I don't do scary movies or books. Not for me. No thanks. I think my imagination is way too vivid, and it just stays with me forever. Years ago, I saw The Candyman, and I could not sleep for weeks.

But yes, I think you've got a real winner in On Writing. There are so many books out there on craft, but his feels like it's not just writing to perfect the craft (which is all good and well), but also a matter of writing something that other people will want to read and that other people will want to BUY.