You know how sometimes you feel something swirling just below the surface, and that something isn’t able to form itself into a real, perceptible thought until someone asks you just the right question? That happened to me the other night. Via a facebook conversation.
N.B. I don’t care what anyone says about facebook. I’ve had some pretty significant interactions on that thing.
I updated my status while under the influence of a writerly frustration haze, stating something along the lines of how books on writing tend to cloud my vision more than sharpen it. I then declared Stephen King’s ON WRITING to be the only book I’ve read thus far that has truly empowered, rather than destroyed me. Said conversation ensued. It began like many do, with people linking arms in artistic solidarity, feeling my pain, and offering encouraging alternatives. And, as expected, coffee came up as a solution at least once. For which I am grateful.
The inciting incident that turned the conversation around for me was a question. And it ran along the lines of this: I’m curious: How was King’s book so empowering? What makes it so different from the rest?
I can’t count how many times I’ve praised ON WRITING not only to fellow writers, but to anyone who will listen. “It’s such a great book!” “I read it at least once a year, it’s that good!” “Stephen King freaks me out, but his book on writing is hilarious and so inspiring!” “I love Stephen King!”
N.B. I don’t really love love Stephen King. But I do love Stephen King.
But do you know what? No one has ever asked me why. No one. Ever. And do you know what else? I didn’t really know why. Well, I did, but all this time it was just something that was swirling below the surface. Something that I’d never taken the time to identify. Something that has made everything else I’ve read since not measure up. And it isn’t because I’m a devoted, die-hard Stephen King horror fan who is infatuated with anything the man writes. Far from it. But that question now demanded that I reach in, capture, and name the swirling thing.
So this is what I named it:
I think it’s a combination of things – his humour, his insights, how he draws parallels between his experiences and his writing – but mainly his attitude. He is still just as realistic and hard-hitting about the publishing industry as the rest, but he doesn’t come across as jaded or as superior in his delivery. He’s someone who has worked his way from below ground level to the top, yet keeps firmly in his sights where he came from and credits his whole human experience as being what has made him the writer he is today. He seems to not take anything for granted and also does not speak down to the reader. Here’s a guy who has made millions and is one of the best known writers out there, yet he comes across as the guy next door: reading the book feels like you’re sitting on lawn chairs in your backyard with him, roasting marshmallows while he tells you his story instead of in a classroom where you’re sitting under fluorescent lighting and he’s standing at the front lecturing. He doesn’t try to reduce writing to a formula he’s thought up – he quite openly says he has no clue why his writing sometimes works and why sometimes it doesn’t. And because of all of this he manages to make you feel you are an author along with him, not one who’s following him and trying to catch up. And that is very empowering.*
It’s a rather long name, I agree. But it’s the last line that sums it up for me: … he manages to make you feel you are an author along with him, not one who’s following him and trying to catch up.
Isn’t that the mark of a great leader? Of someone you want to listen to? Of someone you want to learn from and spend time with? Someone who will walk with you, not in front of you. Someone who recognizes your uniqueness and works with your strengths. Someone who doesn’t lord their position over you, but lays their position firmly beneath you to support you and set you up for success.
That’s the kind of individual I want to choose as my go-to person. And that person’s voice will cut through the noise of all the others because it is the one that’s close to my ear.
Stephen King has given me a gift. A writer’s gift. And I hope I can pass a similar swirling-beneath-the-surface-type gift to someone else someday. In whichever way they need it.
*N.B. This is why I never want to meet Stephen King in person. I’d hate to discover he’s really not the type to sit and roast marshmallows with me.