Shown, Not Told. How Stephen King’s “On Writing” worked for me.

I never thought I would ever pick up a book by Stephen King. I’m a writer of memoir, creative nonfiction. He is a writer of – not sure- but I’ll call it science fiction, mystery, and other far out stuff with aliens and the supernatural. I can’t say I have read any of his books. Not my general interest of study.

I read a lot, perhaps two books at the same time. I try to balance novels, the classics, with reference or guide books on writing. During my years of study of the craft, I inevitably come across reference to Stephen King and his book, “On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft.” Really? Stephen King wrote a book on writing?  Usually the mere mention of writing or creative nonfiction on a book title is enough to persuade me to pick it up and start reading but one penned by Stephen King, I’m not so sure.

Finally, I succumbed. I bought his book. It was the most memorable book on writing I had ever read. And I mean that literally. I couldn’t tell you much about what I learned from some heavy hitting authors who are prolific in telling us about the craft but here was one who I actually remembered what he wrote because he showed me.

My memoir manuscript, “Under the Birch Tree” had stalled for many years. I filed the manuscript away, placing it deeply as if I was burying a flower bulb, knowing that when the conditions were just right, it would sprout, signaling to me it was ready to come out and be something. I had a couple of editor critiques and editorial analysis of it along its rewritten development but I got stuck not knowing how to implement their comments and suggestions. I didn’t know how to write my story any differently. Intellectually, I agreed with all their findings and suggestions. Yes, my manuscript is how they described, the good and the bad. But they only told me, they didn’t show me.

King’s voice struck me. It is the strongest, most developed voice I had ever read. It was as if I was sitting and having a conversation with him or, reading his conversation spewed on a blank sheet of paper with what was on his mind, interjections of dry humor and sarcasm included. His memoir is a story within a story. He saves the best, the hook, for last. Part memoir, part instructional guide on writing, he marries the two with strong through-threads, a must-have basic for any memoir writer.

I had several “aha” moments as I read his book. Some blank typed sentences were complimented by my dark blue inked underlines. I also unstiffened some pages with dog ears. The book sits ready when I need to refer to those marked lines and pages as I rewrite my manuscript. I no longer felt as if editors and writing guide books were just telling me. King’s book showed me. The gadzillion books he wrote in a genre so alien to me (no pun intended) were written by someone who was if a long lost friend had now been found.

My manuscript is well on its way to a productive rewrite.

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