When I was small and living in the village, an uncle used to tell graveyard tales
that held me spell-bound deep into the night. Typically, the victim was a lone
coachy on a flat-bed cart behind a horse trotting along on a moonlit country road
and something would happen as they neared the burial ground. Details were lavished
on the bleak landscape, the clammy air, the unusual cargo, etc., to lend credence.
They were true stories, he claimed. Only he rarely finished any of them. "It's too
late. Let's continue tomorrow" he would insist. I would walk like a zombie with
ghost images in my mind and my hairs standing on ends the 100 yards home alone.
The next day, I would come back for more, to show that I was really not scared.
It could be only human to crave fright.
Web-surfing one day, I chanced upon a few Stephen King quotes. Among them his
secret of success, i.e.,to read a lot and write a lot, sounded familiar (Steven
Pressfield, of "The War of Art" fame, would have agreed). I had not read
anything from the horror story master. I came to the west as an adult with real-
world worries and no longer seeking that kind of thrills. I did watch movies
to unwind during weekends and "The Shawshank Redemption" was a favorite. That
day, I looked the author up and put in a request for his 1999 memoir "On Writing."
The 291-page paperback arrived in order and looked battered. No doubt many
library patrons were interested in what Mr. King had to say. The front cover
sported a monochrome shot of King in his study, busy scribbling with his feet up
and a faint expectant smile on his face. The back cover however, was strewn with
oily smear on top of the praises for the work. I felt the need to wash hands each
time after holding the volume. I solved the problem by wrapping around it with the
large jacket of a children's picture book.
King told his life stories in chronological order, with 110 pages in the middle
devoted to his craft. The overall tone was humorous. I had good laughs over what
happened after he wiped himself with poisonous ivy leaves and how his brother's
electromagnet blew out the entire block. His single-mom lower middle-class
childhood was not easy but he did not use 'hardship' or similar words. He
preferred to let the content speak. His mom and wife were true blessings and he
was in many ways a very lucky man. A close brush with a van did not kill him
while he was writing this very book. It was honestly and beautifully written and
took me four days to finish.
His following advices on the tools and proesses of writing speak to me.
- Read and write four to the six hours per day.
- Write 1000 words a day for beginners. (He wrote 2000.)
- Read 70 to 80 books a year, or about 6 per month.
- The adverb is not your friend. Avoid over-dressing attribution verbs with
them. Trust your readers.
- Don't make any conscious effort to improve vocabulary but read.
King impresses upon me the joy of creating and makes me think that the boredom,
worries, and frustration in his line of work might not be worse than those in
any other activities I have pursued. He is talented, no doubt. But so is everyone.
The ability to enjoy the necessary daily grind might be the real gift.