Like most book nerds, I was a voracious reader as a child. I reveled in the magical worlds that authors built for me. But that all changed as I grew older and moved across the pond from Germany to California. Narrative adventures took a backseat to acquiring skills in a foreign language. By the time I became a full-grown woman, books had long disappeared from my daily routine. It wasn’t that I’d lost my appetite for stories – I still loved to be taken on a joy ride in my imagination – but I did find it increasingly harder to sustain a habit that wasn’t directly benefiting the padding of my wallet.
After flailing around on the corporate side of the entertainment industry, I finally woke up and followed my call to become a screenwriter and director. I started scouring books to get me acclimated to reading and writing again. I, too, had fallen prey to the poisonous effects of too much social media exposure. It really does truncate one’s threshold for sticking to writings longer than a few paragraphs.
Enter Uncle Stephen:
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.
I’m a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year, mostly fiction. I don’t read in order to study the craft; I read because I like to read. It’s what I do at night, kicked back in my blue chair. Similarly, I don’t read fiction to study the art of fiction but simply because I like stories. Yet there is a learning process going on. Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.
It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but “didn’t have time to read,” I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner.
Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
Before reading On Writing, I averaged maybe 10 – 12 books a year and would pick up screenplays whenever I wanted to refer back to a subject pertaining to a project I was working on. The above paragraph, however, jostled me onto the path of a serious, professional writer. I remember clearly when I got to this passage. It was as if someone had turned on the light and clear out the fog out of my brain. The secret to becoming a writer was that simple. Read and write. Read and write. Repeat after me. Read and write. It seemed so simple, but I had let life convince me otherwise. It gave me permission to do what I’d always loved as a child. It gave me my power back. Because of King, I built up my conditioning, and now I read sixty books, fifty-two screenplays, and an unknown number of short stories and blog articles per year. If you really think about it, The Pen and Camera exists because of him.
He is the best mentor a student of writing, no matter the genre, could ask for. He doesn’t pander to the literary elite. He isn’t out for the Pulitzer, and he doesn’t give a pigeon’s ass about what anyone thinks of him except for his wife Tabitha. Like the rest of us, he was a struggling writer, scrambling to find time in his early days to do what he loved. The first section of this book covers these beginning Bambi steps.
In section two, King presents us with tools for the writer’s toolbox. There, for example, he urges not to overuse adverbs. The road to hell is paved with them, he says. I chuckled heartily at that. Road. Hell. Oh, that is so Uncle Stephen talking. That is the tone of his memoir. That of a stern, yet humorous and charismatic elder. You can’t help but listen attentively, follow his advice and be enthralled by him reminiscing about how signature horror stories like Carrie came to be. He is encouraging, because he takes the power away from the effusive abstract concept that is talent and puts it straight into your own more than capable hands. He calls for discipline and work ethic. He makes you realize that you do have control over your destiny even if the road to becoming a successful writer is a long, arduous one. Just keep your integrity and write about what you love. You do you, he seems to be whispering as you witness the anecdotes of his life play out.
It is only fitting then, that my first post on The Pen and Camera honor storytelling royalty. This is a man who has found acclaim not only in books but also on the silver screen. He has generously chosen to impart his wisdom upon millions of scribes wielding pens and computers. His vast body of work is impressive, but it is in On Writing: A Memoir on the Craft that Stephen King leaves his legacy.
Also published on Medium.