A short review on “On Writing” by Stephen King

When Krace first called me asking, “Hey, what is your take on Stephen King novels?”, I was pretentious.

“Although I have not read any of his works, I must say I have heard not-so-good reviews about them”.

I’m sure God won’t forgive me for saying that. I thought he wanted to buy a book for himself and hold true to his resolution of reading as much as possible. On my last day at HasGeek, I was surprised and happy when he gifted me with Stephen’s “On Writing”.

This was 7 months ago. That is how long my reading has suffered. Religiously, I would take this book with me every time I went home in the hope that I would read it from there. Alas, that never happened. During one of my visits, I was talking to my Dad about his childhood days in the hope of recreating the history of my village through a story. I got what I wanted from him and finished writing the first two paragraphs, setting the scene. My sister saw this unfinished piece of work lying on my bed. She read it. Being a voracious reader, she had already finished reading Stephen’s book. She came to me and said,

“I advice you to read ‘On Writing’ before you start off with this piece”.

I did not pay heed to that advice and hence the book remained unread and I did not make much progress with my story either.

The last time I remember when I could not put a book down and *had* to continue reading it was when I was going through Lord Of The Rings. That was during my second year of college and hence almost 3 years ago. Today morning is when I finally found that same spirit again.

The rooftop garden of my office is a lovely place. There is no wifi reception there to begin with. No distractions. It is high enough for one to consider the street sounds to be meager background noise. I reached there about 8 in the morning, made myself comfortable on one of the straw chairs, adjusted the cushion, pulled another chair to put my leg on, took out the book and started reading. I had finished almost 130 pages out of the 285 already.

The next three and half hours were magical. Stephen describes writing as telepathy. For the ignorant, that would sound like a cool word filled with philosophical mumbo jumbo. However, once you start seeing his study with the writing table, the unfinished manuscripts stacked neatly in the drawers, him sitting on the chair with door of the room closed, writing away, you realize you went back 16 years in time. Or maybe he came 16 years into the future.

The image of his life and his struggles become so vividly clear in your mind that there were moments when I really felt like I was with him during those days. Of course, if it was a writing describing his life story, that should be called a biography. This is not so. As he puts it himself, this book describes how a writer is formed. It maps to any budding author’s life. After all, no author had a red carpet laid in front him to be a part of the ministry of authors. They all struggled to get there.

Inspiration is overrated in the modern world. Many find that as an excuse. They wait as if it is someone else’s responsibility to get them inspired. Although websites like zenpencils and the kind are doing a pretty good job at it, the point you are missing is that inspiration is not the solution to your problem of creativity. It is only a part of the puzzle. Grit, determination and perseverance are those which will get you where you want to reach.

Coming back from the slight detour, even though there are more than a few moments in the book where you can imbibe tremendous inspiration from, Stephen gives absolutely practical advices so as to what makes a great writing and what constructs are the worst that you could use.

I quote, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs”.

Those words are going to hit you like a truck the next time you write ‘he said sarcastically’.

For the past few years, many people have told me to get rid of using the passive tone in my writing. Upon asking why that is, I never got a concrete explanation. Stephen just bursts forth with anger and criticisms against using the passive tone in your writing unnecessarily.

I quote, “It’s weak, it’s circuitous and it’s frequently torturous, as well. How about this: ‘My first kiss will always be recalled by me as how my romance with Shanya was begun’. Oh, man – who farted, right? A simpler way to express this idea – sweeter and more forceful, as well – might be this: ‘My romance with Shanya began with our first kiss. I’ll never forget it’. I’m not in love with this because it uses ‘with’ twice in four words, but at least we’re out of that awful passive voice.”

He goes on dissecting the construct even further and giving us more reasons to hate and crucify the passive tone. It is for the timid writers, he says. For those are afraid they are not able to convey what they want to. I was always afraid and I still am. However, I am happy that I wrote the last sentence instead of ‘I have always been afraid’.

I would not recommend this book to those who are interested in factual writing. As much as it offers practical advises like the ones above, it revolves around imagination and creative writing. Taking in things from around you and converting them into what you want them to be. Digging for the fossils, as he puts it. Be patient, be careful. Dig slowly and you will get the entire piece unscathed.

One thing becomes absolutely clear from this book. If you have a passion for writing, the only thing that is stopping you from doing it is your lame excuses. You will want to believe they are real excuses so that you can convince people. But they are lame. You are just lazy to write. You would rather be entertained and wait for your all important inspiration to shower upon you. Get rid of the fear. Don’t be afraid. Just write.

Thank you Krace for gifting me this book. You knew what I wanted more than I knew it myself.

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