Thursday, March 3, 2016

Perfect Timing

I've blogged before about what five books made me want to be a writer. Five books that each showed me something I never knew a book could be. They are: Pride and Prej, Catch-22, Gone with The Wind, The Water-Method Man and I Capture the Castle.

So today I'll talk about the book that made me believe I could be a writer, maybe even was a writer. And that's Stephen King's On Writing. Here's the view to the left of my desk right now. King is there between the Concise Oxford and Roget.


I had the great good fortune to start writing the year On Writing was published and boy did I need it.
I wrote my first book exactly how I wanted to: furtively, saying nothing to anyone; making it all up as I went along like Gromit laying the railway track for Wallace's speeding train; jotting down things to research once I'd finished the 100K words. It was the best fun I'd ever had.

Then I started reading writing manuals and going to meetings and found out I'd been doing it all wrong. Apparently I supposed to sketch out character biographies and make what I truly thought were "arks" and now know are "arcs" for everyone. I was supposed to have a critique group (no more furtive control-freakery) and I was supposed to have done all the research before I put fingers to keys or bum to chair.

I remember thinking that writing wasn't going to be as much fun as I had expected, after all. Thank God for Stephen King. Along he came, utterly serious and buoyantly larky at the same time, foul-mouthed and big-hearted, a man who found outlines pointless and workshops a distraction and yet had managed to write more than a book or two.

He even - Hallelujah! - did the research second. Since I read On Writing I've never doubted that writing was what I'm meant to do and I've never worried about how I do it. (Also, I've never tried to make anyone else worry about they do it either. What's with that?)

So above my desk right now, this is the view:


Looking at all those Stephen King novels makes me happy. It's bittersweet to look to the right at the small run of Jane Austen novels and think of what might have been. She died, Persuasion almost complete, when she was 41. Stephen King is 68 and still writing. (So I added my collection of Dorothy Whipples to the Austen shelf just to balance things up a bit. (And if you're thinking "Dorothy Who?" you've got a lot of pleasure in store.))

5 comments:

RJ Harlick said...

I was equally furtive in the writing of my first book too. Afraid to admit to anyone what I was daring to do. Great post, Catriona and great to see you in Phoenix.

Catriona McPherson said...

I'm still the same. Don't tell anyone anything till the first draft is done. (Including the publisher who has already bought it!)

RM Greenaway said...

I did everything wrong too! But ignorance of the law is probably a good starting point for many writers. I'll have to read On Writing again. Nice post!

Debi Huff said...

Time for another reading of On Writing. I always se something I have missed in the past. Thanks for the reminder, Catriona!!

Cathy Ace said...

First draft....what first draft? I don't see a first draft on my desk anywhere ;-)