Writing as Magic, with Stephen King

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. (Stephen King)

 

If there was ever a finer book on writing, it would have to be Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. It is King’s childhood, journey and illustration of a map, an answer to the question: How did you learn to write?

To be honest, I haven’t read a single Stephen King book. I picked up this copy  back in 2012 because just like any amateur writer does (I think), I was hungry for the secret, the magical potion that rendered writers of their equally magical capabilities of pumping out word after word, of creating worlds for their readers. The reviews also bolstered the purchase; I was confident that this book contained the mythical how-to’s of successful writers.

Of course I was wrong. There is no secret, no magical potion. What I learned from King is that you have to arm yourself with four important things if you want to write: discipline, the writer’s toolkit, a big appetite for reading, and most of all, courage.

One could come up with a thousand excuses for not writing: of not having the right writing tools, of not having enough time, of not being inspired enough. I’m guilty of all of these, and I never cultivated the discipline needed for my writing. What King offers is a call to the essential, in its simplest and most honest form:

…you need the room, you need the door, and you need the determination to shut the door. You need a concrete goal, as well. The longer you keep to the basics, the easier the act of writing will become. Don’t wait for the muse.

 

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A Different Way of Looking, with Marcel Proust and Alain de Botton

What I know of Marcel Proust: nada. What I know of Alain de Botton: quite a lot, although not personally, but enough for me to dive deep into one of his books, How Proust Can Change Your Life.

One of the things that I’ve truly been enamored with Proust/de Botton’s compendium is a new way of looking: of a character in one of Proust’s essays where he forces a dissatisfied youth to take in Jean-Baptiste Chardin’s paintings of mundane things, not-so-special moments: of bowls of fruit, loaves of bread, kitchen utensils, one reading a book, a mother showing her daughter some mistakes in needlework as opposed to paintings in the Louvre’s “grand palaces painted by Veronese, harbor scenes by Claude, and princely lives by Van Dyck.” That there is beauty in a lot of things that is already around us, and that we are just plainly inattentive to these details. de Botton points out this lack of capacity of seeing beauty is not due to laziness or inattention, but more so because we are inexperienced with looking. 

The happiness that may emerge from taking a second look is central to Proust’s therapeutic conception. It reveals the extent to which our dissatisfactions may be the result of failing to look properly at our lives rather than the result of anything inherently deficient about them. Appreciating the beauty of crusty loaves does not preclude our interest in a chateau, but failing to do so must call into question our overall capacity for appreciation.

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