Over the course of the last 24 hours I have just re-read Stephen King's "On Writing." The last time I read it, or attempted it, was almost exactly 10 years ago. I came to it then exhilarated, full of hope, and generally assuming that just by reading it I would be able to sit down and crank out a best-seller. 'Hey,' I thought, 'this is great! An instruction manual from a highly influential person in my life on how to do the one thing I have always burned to do but have never quite managed to follow through with.' I have spent most of my life knowing a few things: I am a writer, I want to write and I need to write, and I am inwardly (and hey, let's be honest here, outwardly too) terrified that I will suck at it and therefore mostly avoid doing it.
I never finished reading "On Writing" 10 years ago. Something in what he wrote in the actual section of the book that deals with the craft of writing deeply offended me. At the time, I think it was the fact that I interpreted something he wrote as this: "To be a writer, you must read a lot and write a lot. If you can't or aren't willing to do both of those things, if you can't or aren't willing to set aside a chunk of several hours each day, then you may as well give up."
The key word here is interpreted. Of course I was deeply offended; my literary hero, the man whose works I have read more often than any other, the writer who has enriched my life with the power of his words over and over and over again, the man who began changing my life with his words when I was 13 years old and read "Pet Semetary," basically just told me that since I didn't have the time that he deemed appropriate to devote to the craft that I couldn't do it. I was 24 years old at the time, working full-time, and way too concerned with whether or not I would die alone surrounded by all of the cats that I would surely have to set aside several hours every day to write. I never made it to the last 20 or so pages of the book, if memory serves. I set it aside, discouraged and a little bit heartbroken.
As it turns out, my interpretation was way off. What King accomplished with "On Writing" was a fantastic read. Part memoir, part instruction, all of it a love letter to the craft of writing. Part of it written after his accident in 1999 and subsequent brush with death. (And remember kids, this is just my interpretation, yet again).
A lot has happened to me in 10 years. The most obvious is that I'm 10 years older. I have more experience, I've been married, had a few kids, I've gotten divorced. But I am still, in my heart and my soul, a writer. I've come back to that simple fact lately. I've had a lot of time to think about it.
I realize now that I did myself, and my hero, a great disservice in not finishing the book 10 years ago. I missed a lot by putting it down and not opening it again for a decade. The description of his accident and the time that followed spent healing moved me to tears. But it was this that made me weep, with joy and hope and possibility, and yes, not just a little fear:
"Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It's about getting up getting well and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy. Some of this book - perhaps too much - has been about how I learned to do it. Much of it has been about how you can do it better. The rest of it - and perhaps the best of it - is a permission slip: you can, you should and if you're brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.
Drink and be filled up."
That's magic. Pure and simple.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some writing to do...