I was once an avid reader, especially when I was in school--it also didn't hurt that I was an English minor with an emphasis in literary criticism. But since becoming a parent, I have found my time highly fractured and overcommitted. The anguish of trying to read a novel or long-form story with that constant pressure, outweighed any perceived benefit. To fill the void, I consumed the snack food of the literary world: magazines, graphic novels, comics and fan fiction (some of the best-worst stuff ever written, btw). Of course, many of the moms I interact with participate in book clubs and I marvel at their ability to finish 'real' books. That should have been my first (and continuing) clue that I was making excuses. Also, I just need to step away from the Facebook, hours upon hours get sucked down that insatiable black hole.
Anyway, I set my expectations low on purpose because I didn't want to fail. But during our recent LA vacation, I read Stephen King's writing memoir On Writing. I discovered this book when I briefly considered signing up for an online class about writing adult fiction--a genre I have no experience writing. Well, that's not entirely true: there were earnest (though misguided) attempts in college where overwrought self-awareness and a profound lack imagination combined into a cringe-worthy mess. But while reading reviews about the online writing course offered by a prolific fiction writer (not Stephen King), many people instead praised King's memoir as being a superior, highly instructive awas a much cheaper alternative to the class. By coincidence, my mom, who is writing children's fiction, credited the tools and advice in his book for helping her break though to a major revision and advancement of a story she's been working on for years. And after reading her energized and imaginative revision, I was all "I'll-have-what-she's-having." With enough mental reserves to appreciate King's solid advice, our kid-free, care-free LA trip proved to be a perfect time and place to read On Writing.
In high school, I devoured a sampling of King's work like It, Tommyknockers, Misery, The Dark Tower, The Stand and one of his short story collections. The accessibility of his writing was something I always admired even if the subject matter was unsettling. A few weeks ago when I was only half done with On Writing, we lunched in Santa Monica with a college friend who is a writer. I recommended this book to him in an "I've-discovered-something-new" way. He assured me he'd read it 3 times since it came out 15 years ago. Oops, late to the party again. But the book still stands up, no question, which explains why I was #14 deep in Seattle Public Library's hold queue for it.
One thing I always disliked about "writers" as opposed to actual writers, is that "writers" were people who debated, agonized and over-analyzed writing (I'm very aware that I'm toeing that line right now.) But the people who just sit down everyday and put in the time are the shit. Even if it's drivel. The output won't often be inspired and it's not guaranteed to be good but like anything else, you have to put in the time to practice.
I think at this point, the audacity of writing a fiction novel is like deciding to run a marathon just because you bought new shoes. I haven't trained a lick but, by gawd, I have the shoes. Still there's something so plucky and fresh in that. Another thing King said, and I'm not spoiling anything here, is that a good writer reads. I think my English teacher in high school, Maggie Bates, mentioned that too. Seeing how others make ideas flow, develop characters and tell a story is the other half of "marathon" training.
One main thing King emphatically championed was a writing space with a door to shut out the world. After a few years of envying everyone else's retreat space in this house, I finally commandeered part of our guest bedroom, which will continue to pull double duty but at least it's something. We'll see what comes of it. No excuses.