I have never been a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. Why make promises that I know I won’t keep?
“I am going to exercise daily.” Yeah, except that I’ve documented 52 years of not exercising daily. Why do I think this year will be different?
“I am going to lose weight.” I lose my keys. I lose my shopping list. I lose phone numbers. I do not lose weight.
Anyway, to welcome in 2016, I actually did make a few resolutions. Amazingly, I have kept a couple of them. One resolution was to read a book a month (besides what I have to read for school, church, etc.), just for fun. I’ve read fiction (met and fell in love with Terry Pratchett), theology (highly recommend Anthony Carter’s “Black & Reformed”), memoir, history…a little bit of everything. I’ve had a blast!
A second resolution pertained to writing. I write. I want to write better. I resolved to read other writers on writing, at least once a week – sort of a self-directed continuing education program. Sometimes, I read a short article or blog post. Other times, I read something more in depth. Length isn’t the point. The important thing for me has been: read something, anything, about the craft of writing every week.
That’s how I met Stephen King.
I don’t read Stephen King. He is the KING of horror and suspense, right? Me, I will pee my pants if coyotes howl when I take the trash out at night. I don’t need Mr. King – I can terrify myself without even trying, thank you very much. Reading Stephen King would probably land me in an institution.
I had no idea he was so funny.
My daughter’s college English professor recommended two books the first day of class: Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, and Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. I love and respect Helen’s teacher, Dr. Glass. So when I discovered a copy of On Writing at my local library, I checked it out. With fear and trembling, of course – this was, after all, Stephen King.
If you are a writer, and you only read one book this year, make it On Writing, by Stephen King.
The first chunk of the book is kind of an autobiography, King’s first-hand account of his own writing journey, from a family newspaper he produced with his brother in the basement, to his first big seller, Carrie. King’s story is often uncomfortable (I think I understand better now why he is so good at writing horror), but it is also tremendously encouraging. Read it.
The middle section – “Toolbox” – covers the nuts & bolts of writing. This is the technical part of the book: how to write, and how to write better. King is incredibly practical and to-the-point. His “tools” are easy to implement and they will improve your writing.
Perhaps a technical book on the craft of writing sounds like it would be boring. It’s not. It is hysterical. I have never read one of Stephen King’s best-selling thrillers, but I can say: he is one of the best contemporary writers I have read.
Stephen King made me pee my pants, not because he scared the beejeebers out of me, but because he made me laugh so hard.
If you are a writer and you want to improve your craft, if you need encouragement and inspiration on this lonely writing journey, or if you’ve been in a gray mood and you simply need a reason to laugh, read On Writing.
Just be warned: you might want to keep an extra pair of underpants on hand.