Stephen King on Writing

Reading Stephen King’s book on writing (not an autobiography he insists). Pretty entertaining. Had no idea he has such a foul mouth.

I read most of his stories and books as a young adult – the oil spill one and the doctor on the island haunt me still – but stopped halfway through “It” and never picked up another one.

His book “On Writing” is interesting – reading him recount the path (so far as he knows) that led him to being a writer. What strikes me the most so far was in one of the prologues. He compares his writing with Amy Tan’s (a friend of his). They both write “popular” fiction and thus no one asks them about their use of language.

Two things stand out to me about this. First that I think of Amy Tan’s work as literary and of course the language is paramount to that. King’s work is all about plot and thus I’ve never considered him as a crafter of language.

The other, how I’ve always thought of it, is that Tan’s work is literary and just happens to have become popular. King’s work is popular and thus can’t possibly be literary.

Both of these views are of course my own bias and I know many other writers who feel the same way. If it’s popular with the masses (aka Danielle Steel and Dan Brown) it can’t possibly be good, or ‘real’ writing. And if it’s good, literary fiction, it can’t possibly be popular because the masses don’t have such good taste.  Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections” and Oprah is a classic example of this thinking.

Is this a way to console ourselves if our work isn’t embraced by an agent, or editor, or readers? My writing is too good to be understood by the masses. I could churn out a novel like Dan Brown in an instant if I wanted to but I want to make art!

But isn’t this just like my mother and others saying to me, Oh I could write a novel if I just had the time.

Obviously it took craft and persistence and not a little talent for King to write and publish 30 best sellers. And while “The Da Vinci Code” might be a literary joke, I couldn’t put it down.

So I’m trying to be less of a snob and focus on the work. Like the teachers said in school, Ddon’t worry about what everyone else is doing, keep your eyes on your own paper.”

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