Some Readings on Writing: Sherman Alexie, Gloria Anzaldua, Stephen King, Mike Rose
… if you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway. (Stephen King, “Reading to Write”)
We started this semester (spring 2014) with Seth Godin’s manifesto on education Stop Stealing Dreams, we read Martin Luther King on dreams, we considered some of our own and those of other writers, we read some dreams of the land from Thoreau, Dillard, Didion, and Louv, and this week?
We’re moving into the dreams of writers on writing and learning: Sherman Alexie’s “Superman and Me,” Gloria Anzaldua’s “The Path of the Red and Black Ink,” Stephen King’s “Reading to Write” (below) and Mike Rose’s “‘I Just Wanna Be Average.”
In 2010, NPR did a story about Stephen King which explains that in 1999, he was nearly killed by a car as he was walking down the street. During his convalescence, he wrote about writing and his process and what it means to him. The NPR story includes interview and more details and photos; it also includes the beginning of his book:
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.(1)
I’m a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year, mostly fiction. I don’t read in order to study the craft; I read because I like to read. It’s what I do at night, kicked back in my blue chair. Similarly, I don’t read fiction to study the art of fiction, but simply because I like stories. Yet there is a learning process going on. Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones. (2)
Later King writes that:
Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life. I take a book with me everywhere I go, and find there are all sorts of opportunities to dip in. The trick is to teach yourself to read in small sips as well as in long swallows. Waiting rooms were made for books — of course! But so are theater lobbies before the show, long and boring checkout lines, and everyone’s favorite, the john. You can even read while you’re driving, thanks to the audiobook revolution. Of the books I read each year, anywhere from six to a dozen are on tape. As for all the wonderful radio you will be missing, come on — how many times can you listen to Deep Purple sing “Highway Star”? (11)
Once weaned from the ephemeral craving for TV, most people will find they enjoy the time they spend reading. I’d like to suggest that turning off that endlessly quacking box is apt to improve the quality of your life as well as the quality of your writing. And how much of a sacrifice are we talking about here?
In conclusion King writes:
The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order. Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor. (20)
Excerpted from On Writing by Stephen King. Copyright 2010 by Stephen King. Read the complete essay and see the whole Stephen King NPR piece here.
PS I met Stephen King! In the early 80s when I worked at Peet’s Coffee in Menlo Park near Stanford University, a man came in that looked very familiar. He talked with me about how he usually did mail order but since he was in the area, he thought he’d stop by and pick some up, maybe learn a little bit more about the coffee. I realized he looked like Stephen King but I didn’t want to say anything. He paid with a credit card, which said right on it “Stephen King.” He signed the form and left with his coffee.
What would you have said if you had been there with Stephen King?? Would you have been as tongue tied as me?