Help from the King

I haven’t read a Stephen King book since the early ‘80s. I was a fan in my late teens but now, some thirty years later, the numerous film adaptations have blurred my memory of which stories I have read as well as seen. I know for sure that I have read Carrie, Salem’s Lot, and Misery, and I know that I’ve seen the movies of all of these, plus Christine, The Shining, The Dead Zone, The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption (was this a novel adaptation or an original screenplay?) Notable by their absence are It, Cujo, The Tommyknockers and Pet Sematary, none of which could entice me past the cover, I’m not sure why. I’ve never even looked at his later work. I’m pretty sure I’ve read The Shining, although when I try to recall my own vision of Jack Torrance at his typewriter it’s always Nicholson’s face I see.

A sequence of chance events led me back to Stephen King yesterday.

I’ve been getting increasingly frustrated with myself recently; specifically at my failure to turn a strong desire to become a writer into action. I sit, with a hundred ideas floating around in a cloud of fuzzy thought, unable—or unwilling—to grasp one and start to develop it. It’s like I’m constantly pitching story ideas to myself but never getting further than the opening premise. It feels like I’m waiting for The Big One to drop from the sky. I convince myself that when The Big One comes I’ll know it instinctively and will spend the next few days glued to my keyboard, banging out a masterpiece. It’s complete crap and deep down I know it, but that doesn’t change the pattern. So I sit at my computer, half annoyed with my non-writing and half working at my day job, and it’s starting to get to me. Every few days the pressure builds to the point where I write a hurried, unplanned blog entry about what’s on my mind. The satisfaction of hitting the Publish button gives a little respite, but I’m usually disappointed with what I put out. Much like this post, in fact.

Yesterday I resumed my relationship with Twitter. I launched TweetDeck for the first time in over a year, prompted by the news story about it having been acquired by Twitter, and started getting back into the ‘Twitterverse’ in an attempt to break out of my usual cycle—or hoping for inspiration. Among the usual noise one of the first tweets that caught my eye was from The Telegraph, giving a link to a video interview with Charlie Higson from The Hay Festival, in which he talks about his writing. I clicked the link, hoping that Charlie would ‘show me the light’. No major revelation came my way but he did say some interesting things, revealing toward the end of the interview that he had just read a book about writing by Stephen King.

I had no idea that he had written on the subject; who better to illuminate my path than the master of horror himself? Five minutes later I was reading On Writing: a Member of the Craft on my iPad. I love eBooks and if you lived in Luanda you would too. I’ve just finished the first section and he’s about to switch gears to talk about the craft of writing itself. The first part—called ‘CV’—is a potted history of his childhood and early adulthood, up to where he had sold his first three books (Carrie was the first major success). This scattering of disconnected memories illuminates King’s early life like a mirrorball in a disco—each recollection separated from the others and incomplete in itself, but you can mentally join the spots of light to form a complete picture. I admire his honesty about his alcohol and drug abuse and his easygoing yet vivid writing style, with sentences that seem simple on the surface but that give you a real feeling of being there, and feeling what he felt. It’s such a great skill; just reading this first section makes me feel woefully inadequate.

I’m looking forward to the next part. Whether it will ‘cure’ my current condition or not is anyone’s guess, but when writers can’t or won’t write that’s what they do isn’t it? Read other writers writing about writing.


About Chris Neal

Personal Technology Consultant. Tailored services and advice for people who want more from their technology.
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