Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Currently reading...

Stephen King's _On Writing_

So far, enjoyable -- but only just enjoyable. Only a man of King's stature could write such a book. It's not that he is too casual about writing; far from it. He says, for instance, that unless you're prepared to work your ass off, then forget about being a writer. I have to take his career and his word as evidence that he takes writing deadly seriously. The problem is that it's hard to take that claim based on this book. It's too breezy, too aphoritsitc, too superficial, and, so far, at times little more than a respectful but offhand retread of Strunk and White's elements of Style. It's almost as if we're supposed to pick up his charisma by osmosis.

But far be it from little ol' me to throw mud at a writer of such commitment and fecundity. The most electrifying section of the book so far has been King's definition of writing as telepathy. Everyday, every minute, we transmit mental images and mental intentions frmo person to person, across time and space. It's a riveting idea and all but sends my fingers into a typing frenzy.

Admittedly, also, King chose not to write a nuts and bolts writer's guide. _On Writing_ is a *memoir* of a writer. Fittingly, one of its greatest strengths as a writing guide (of sorts) is that it shows us what makes a real writer tick. And maybe that's why the joke's on me. King has scraped away the gimmicks and clihes that fuel a lot of career writring (see, e.g., Charlie Kaufman's *Adaptation* [Nicholas Cage]) and leaves us with the austere core of writing: a human, a human story put to print.

Maybe I find _On Writing_ too casual, too personable, frankly too basic, because I still expect, at some weak-kneed level, that writing is "really" about tricks and techniques. But it's not. Writing is about writing. It is not about hypnotic inspirtaion and drug-induced epiphanies. Writing is about doing. Stephen King's best help is to show us his living, passionate, sometimes reckless pursuit of writing. _On Writing_ is better than many other writing guides because it's anything but what they boil down to: writings about what writers should do. Most writing guides are all theory and little practice, all principle but little model, all faith but little work. But _On Writing_ is a real-life story of a real-life storyteller. And that's what sets King apart from many others. He is what few people have the guts or -- truth be told -- the skill to be: a storyteller from breath to breath and from page to page.

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