A Thirty-Three Tweet Review of Stephen King's On Writing

I don’t do horror, so I have read little @StephenKing, but he knows how to write as I would like to. Listening to ‘On Writing.’ Love the encouragement given him by his hardscrabble Mom. Did she live to enjoy fruits of his success? Alas, at this early stage it seems she did not.

The reason I don’t do horror is that for the longest time I worked alone at night in huge and creaky office/warehouse complexes. You wouldn’t do horror either after one night working there.

Chastened by his grade-school teacher for ‘writing trash,’ @StephenKing (much) later came to reflect that there has probably never been a writer/painter/sculptor/inventor who was not, at one time or another, charged with wasting his ‘God-given talent.’

Mr. Gould at the paper, King’s first writing job, arranged by the school to keep him out of written mischief, said he removed only the few bad parts of @StephenKing’s second newspaper article, and said overall, its pretty good. 'I know', Stephen said about both, and he was forever grateful for the instruction and encouragement.

Who would have thought? One of the most compact accounts of self-denial, late recognition & recovery from substance abuse & cutting through the facades of those in the grip of it, is found in @StephenKing's On Writing

I wonder if @StephenKing ever met Dodie, the mercilessly tormented frumpy schoolgirl who came back from college looking sharp, and was the inspiration for Carrie? Read on.

Oh. She died. The townspeople said ‘post-partum depression’. @StephenKing thought ‘high school hangover’ might have also had something to do with it. He did not like his fictional Carrie or her classmates. But he felt sorry for them all. He had once been one of them.

Now I reach the nitty-gritty of @StephenKing’s On Writing. Hmm. I have long imagined myself a serviceable writer, though sloppy when in haste, but I might be shooting myself in the foot in certain areas. Will I identify them?

I am not reading On Writing, but rather listening on CD. Absorbing involved points is not so easy as merely rereading a sentence or paragraph.

Commas trip me up and are early consequences of editing, usually in favor of taking them out. (except for the Oxford comma) Clear explanation from @StephenKing on why to remove: ‘I want it said in one breath.’

He carries around two books (always unabridged) at all times. @StephenKing has a print book to read during moments of waiting, and a CD book for driving. Not necessarily good books. Crap will do. The latter teach one what to avoid.

John Grisholm’s books are among my favorites, I have read almost all of them, and did not know that the critics sniffed at them. I like @StephenKing‘s take on the ‘lawyers in distress’ genre: Do the same with what you know. Scout out the enemy territory where you have admittance. Bring back a report.

[At this point, there is an aside with other Twitter acquaintances: Hey! This means @EnglishElective could write a ‘teachers in distress’ book. Just like #JohnGrisholm! Yes, honest & noble teachers besieged by evil teachers under the sinister mind-control of Admiral Ass. #UpTheDownStaircase

Admiral Ass was the dean of the high school, a bully who after signing his name to correspondence, appended ‘Adm Asst,’ for Administrative Assistant. I especially remember the aloof and air-headed principal of the novel, who in communications, never used an adjective uncoupled with another adjective meaning exactly the same thing. A further aside begins at this point about how I remember to this day how to spell school principal vs principle: the former is your ‘pal.’]

Uh oh. If you are a writer, get used to it that people will think you rude, @StephenKing says. Too much reading and writing serves to make one inattentive to the outer world. (Better hide this tweet so that my wife does not see it.) His is an easy read because he is not pretentious. Neither is he syrupy, spouting such goo as: ‘There is no such thing as a bad writer.’ There are plenty of them, he says.

You smile as @StephenKing relates his early drafts of Misery even as you say to yourself: ‘You sick bastard.’ But then he mentions two more tales, Insomnia and Deloris Clayborne, both of which movies I saw & liked, and now I should maybe read the books.

An author told @kingsthings how sometimes his characters surprised him. Larry was impressed & asked each successive author: ‘Do your characters ever write themselves?’ He kept doing so even after one hard-boiled author said: ‘Of course not! What a stupid question! They’re not real people. They do what I tell them to. It was not @StephenKing , though. He would have agreed with the first author. Characters do write themselves.

Ayn Rand is the example @StephenKing uses for success due to great storytelling despite wooden characters. Correct, but I would have used Isaac Asimov. Another great storyteller. If only he could have drawn people convincingly.

Yes! ‘Don’t tell them when you can show them,’ @StephenKing says, through dialogue. I add, though I’m sure he will get to it, ‘don’t tell the moral when you can demonstrate it via story.’

After @StephenKing’s character tear-gassed the vicious dog in the eyes & kicked it to death, he was deluged with protest letters. He pointed out that the dog was fictional, that the character was fictional, and that he himself is kind to dogs. He did suggest the action, though, didn’t he?

Every week, @StephenKing says, he gets letters from those who accuse him of racism, homophobia, psychopathy, or just plain being foul-mouthed. Uh oh. Didn’t I call him a ‘sick bastard’ a while back?

If you notice a quirk, @StephenKing says, ‘it does you no good unless you can work it into a character. Say you notice that someone picks his nose when he thinks nobody is looking....’ HEY! WHAT THE HELL IS THAT SICK BASTARD DOING PEERING IN MY WINDOW?!!!

Why am I exploring @StephenKing #OnWriting when my oldest follower and followee himself specializes in the craft? @Underdogsbiteup. We followed each other back when Mr. Twitter was yet in diapers.

You’ll be in stitches as @StephenKing narrates the horrendously trite writing he wants you to avoid. It is ‘pretty as a picture’ And what of the yo-yo who was so unpleasant that nobody could stomach him, thus he never heard dialogue, and to his credit, avoided writing it?

After @StephenKing sneaks yet another sideways glance at his wife to see if she appreciates his draft, which is allowable because he knows she has not noticed, she snaps, ‘Keep your eyes on the road! You’ll kill us both! Stop being so g*****n needy!’

The rejection form letters piled up for teenaged @StephenKing, but then one included the scribbling: ‘Not bad, but puffy. You need to work on length. Formula: ‘2nd draft = 1rst draft minus 10%.’ He took it to heart began to condense on the second draft, rather than add as he had been doing.

When you do research, don’t show off, says @StephenKing. Keep it in the background. Hmm. Like Victor Hugo? An entire chapter of Hunchback of Notre Dame is devoted to the infrastructure of 13th century Paris. It sure wouldn’t wash today.

Did @StephenKing do it for the money? He says no, not one word. He did it for self-expression, the buzz, the pure joy of it. It is like what a fellow Jehovah’s Witness, who knew the person, said about Prince, that he simply had to have his creative outlet. “Maybe he needed it to survive,” she told the papers.

So far as I know, the most extensive account of Prince’s JW life as related in media sources is in my own ebook: Tom Irregardless and Me, where it comprises the entire first chapter.

Whoa! @StephenKing just got hit by a van. (18 years ago) He didn’t see that one coming. Nor did I. On his desk, unfinished, is On Writing. He had better recover, because I want to finish it. The EMT told him at the scene that he would live, but after all was done told him over the phone, ‘I didn’t think you had a chance.’

@Stephen King atypically names the driver who hit him. He names him several times. As though deferring to ying and yang, he also names the doctor who pieced him together, a doctor or great skill, whom he calls ‘formidable.’ I forget the descriptive words King used, but he described his smashed leg somewhat akin to beans in a beanbag. At the accident scene, he was initially concerned to find his lap 90 degrees askew from normal.

Ah. Good. His wife fluffs up a pillow for him and he writes again. He is ‘monogamous by nature,’ he says, and he must be closing in on his 50th anniversary. Regularly he inserts nice words about her into his narrative.

A slightly syrupy ending for On Writing, I thought, but I would have to read it to be sure. Recorded Books saw fit to fade in the music at book’s end, and that dopey decision might have skewed my judgement. If the lines truly are syrupy it will be @stephenking’s first, so they are probably not

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Thomas Jefferson - "How Cheap a Price for the Good Will of Another."

“I have mentioned good humor as one of the preservatives of our peace and tranquility. It is among the most effectual, and its effect is so well imitated and aided, artificially, by politeness that this also becomes an acquisition of first-rate value. In truth, politeness is artificial good humor; it covers the natural want of it, and ends by rendering habitual a substitute nearly equivalent to the real virtue. It is the practice of sacrificing to those whom we meet in society all the little conveniences and preferences which will gratify them, and deprive us of nothing worth a moment's consideration; it is the giving a pleasing and flattering turn to our expressions, which will conciliate others and make them pleased with us as well as themselves. How cheap a price for the good will of another! When this is in return for a rude thing said by another, it brings him to his senses, it mortifies and corrects him in the most salutory way, and places him at the feet of your good nature in the eyes of the company. 

"But in stating prudential rules for our government in society I must not omit the important one of never entering into dispute or argument with another. I never saw an instance of one of two disputants convincing the other by argument. I have seen many, on their getting warm, becoming rude, and shooting one another. Conviction is the effect of our own dispassionate reasoning, either in solitude or weighing within ourselves, idspassionately, what we hear from others, made Doctor Franklin the most amiable of men in society "never to contradict anybody." If he was urged to announce an opinion, he did it rather by asking questions, as if for information, or by suggesting doubts. When I hear another express an opinion which is not mine, I say to myself, he has a right to his opinion, as I to mine; why should I question it? His error does me no injury, and shall I become a Don Quixote, to bring all men by force of argument to one opinion? If a fact be misstated, it is probable he is gratified by a belief in it, and I have no right to deprive him of the gratification. If he wants information, he will ask for it, and then I will give it in measured terms; but if he still believes his own story, and shows a desire to dispute the fact with me, I hear him and say nothing. It is his affair, not mine, if he prefers error.

"There are two classes of disputants most frequently to be met with among us. The first is of young students, just entered the threshold of science, with a first view of its outlines, not yet filled up with the details and modifications which a further progress would bring to their knowledge. The other consists of the ill-tempered & rude men in society, who have taken up a passion for politics. (Good humor and politeness never introduce into mixt society a question on which they foresee there will be a difference of opinion.) From both of those classes of diputants, my dear Jefferson, keep aloof as your owuld from the infected subjects of yellow fever or pestilence. Consider yourself, when with them, as among the patients of Bedlam, needing medical more than moral counsel. Be a listener only, keep within yourself, and endeavor to establish with yourself the habit of silence, especially on politics. In the fevered state of our country, no good can ever result from any attempt to set one of these fiery zealots to rights, either in fact or principle. They are determined as to the facts they will believe, and the opinions on which they will act. Get by them, therefore, as you would by an angry bull; it is not for a man of sense to dispute the road with such an animal.”

The Futility of Disputes (from a letter to Thomas Jefferson Randolph, dated Washington November 24, 1808) - Thomas Jefferson

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Ben Franklin Strikes Out in Both Worlds!

Ben Franklin courted the widow Helvetius. However, she spurned him because she wanted to be loyal to her deceased husband, whom Franklin had known previously.

Immdediately afterwards, Franklin falls into a deep sleep and has a dream in which he meets the man in heaven. The following are his words, from 'Letter to Madame Helvetius:'

"He asked me a thousand questions relative to the war, the present state of religion, of liberty, of the government in France. “You do not inquire, then,” said I, “after your dear friend, Madame Helvétius; yet she loves you exceedingly: I was in her company not more than an hour ago.”

“Ah,” said he, “you make me recur to my past happiness, which ought to be forgotten in order to be happy here. For many years I could think of nothing but her, though at length I am consoled. I have taken another wife, the most like her that I could find; she is not indeed altogether so handsome, but she has a great fund of wit and good sense; and her whole study is to please me. She is at this moment gone to fetch the best nectar and ambrosia to regale me; stay here awhile and you will see her.”

“I perceive,” said I, “that your former friend is more faithful to you than you are to her; she has had several good offers, but refused them all. I will confess to you that I loved her extremely; but she was cruel to me, and rejected me peremptorily for your sake.”

“I pity you sincerely,” said he, “for she is an excellent woman, handsome and amiable....As he finished these words the new Madame Helvétius entered with the nectar, and I recognized her immediately as my former American friend Mrs. Franklin! I reclaimed her, but she answered me coldly:—“I was a good wife to you for forty-nine years and four months,—nearly half a century; let that content you. I have formed a new connection here, which will last to eternity.”