Recently, I made a personal goal to read one book a month. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s been a long time since I’ve read for pleasure. Why? Blame it on being traumatized studying literature in grad school or trying to stay inspired in business, or even in my small self-help phase.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King sort of jump-started my new initiative to read more when he reminded me in the very first pages the only way to get better at what you want to do is to continue to submerge yourself in it. King is an intense, insanely smart mind that will forever be in my heart because he was one of my late step-dad’s favorite writers. So King published a book on writing. So I was living under a rock. So I made it my June book to tackle, which I did, on my way back from EDC in Vegas.
One of my favorite things to do, still, is mark up my books, underline things, write in the margins … My inner professor comes out. Here’s what I highlighted from On Writing:
• “Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.” First of all, I’m super happy King doesn’t favor semi-colons. And second of all, true dat.
• “Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.” I think one of the hardest things for me to do is focus. I’ve come up with a lot of little actions to trick myself into focusing or rewarding my efforts, but this is good advice.
• This next nugget not only taps into my focus weakness, but my laziness too: “It’s best to have your tools with you. If you don’t, you’re apt to find something you didn’t expect and get discouraged.” It’s a pretty basic concept to come prepared, but for some reason I need to constantly remind myself of this.
• “Simple sentences provide a path you can follow when you fear getting lost in the tangles of rhetoric.” I want to take a moment right now and tell you about one of my biggest pet peeves. It goes along the same lines as semi-colons. I can’t stand fluffy, super hyped-up vocabulary, extra bits of words that only fulfill word count requirements and massive sentences. I don’t speak like this, so why should I write like this? “Writing is seduction,” King says. “Good talk is part of seduction.” And to drive it home, he says, “If not so, why do so many couples who start the evening at dinner wind up in bed?” Good question. I am certainly turned off by overtly pretentiousness, and in turn, I always steer clear in my writing. Transparency, people!
• “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.” That’s a hard one if you want to play it safe in the world. King agrees: “some people don’t want to hear the truth, of course, but that’s not your problem.” Oh OK, thanks Steve … I’ll blame my new attitude on you when I piss everyone off at the office.
• Being a writer is not an enigma. “Do you need someone to make you a paper badge with the word WRITER on it before you can believe you are one?” No. So shut up.
• And the last little bit I latched onto is how you should feel when you complete something … Writer or not: “I feel that buzz of happiness, that sense of having found the right words and put them in a line.”
If you haven’t had a chance to read On Writing, I suggest you do. Also, if you want to follow me on my monthly book review journey, make sure you follow this blog. Up next: The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz.