For this edition of Passages, I’m pulling from one of my favorite authors whose work I’d never read.
I’m referring to Stephen King. I have zero interest in creepy horror stories, which have been the basis of his successful career. I’ve had a lifelong relationship with creepy nightmares and would never seek to increase the creepiness factor in my daily life. No thanks. However, I’m a huge fan of Stephen King’s book, “On Writing.” It contains incredible, easy-to-incorporate advice to writers. It’s funny, informational, and above all, relatable. He brilliantly demonstrates how to simplify the writing process while maintaining your voice. And once you read it, you’ll be enamored of his style.
In the first section of the book, King talks about his impoverished childhood, recalling various anecdotes and how they shaped him. When he was struggling to find commercial success, he took a job as a high school English teacher, writing at night in the cramped spaces that the only home a meager budget can afford invariably has. When he finally started earning more, he got indulgent. Somewhat reckless. He treated himself to a large oak desk, the kind every author imagines in the ‘when I hit the big time’ scenario that lives in their head. But he was also struggling with addiction.
More money, more problems, as they say.
When he chose to get sober, he made many necessary changes. One of them was getting rid of the monstrous oak desk that, in some ways, symbolized bad decisions and a lack of focus on priorities. At the end of this section of the book, he writes:
It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.
That little passage really spoke to me. When I moved back to California in July 2017 to start a new life, I didn’t have space for my big desk, so I left it in Idaho. I started using a folding table, the kind you might use for extra seating during holiday gatherings or for holding gifts or a guest book at a wedding, as long as it was covered with a tablecloth. Humble, to say the least.
And, the only place for it just happened to be in the corner of my bedroom, where two windows meet. I’ll admit that I was skeptical at first. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the functionality of this space. My back is to the door. I can look out the windows for inspiration whenever necessary. Or I can close the blinds and curtains and forget about life for a while. When I’m working, it’s just me, my keyboard, and my imagination. Just like it was when I was a kid and started writing for pleasure and self-expression. Maybe I’ll never write horror stories like Stephen King. But I find his philosophy extremely relatable.
What are some of your favorite passages about the craft of writing?