Let me start by telling you my favorite part of Stephen King’s ‘On Writing.’ In the early sections of the book, one of the main things that struck me, was his acknowledgment of his wife’s part in his work. Did you know that if it hadn’t been for her, Carrie probably never would have been written? (And if it had never been written, it never would have become a movie!) His wife literally pulled the crumpled pages of his first draft from the trash, and told him he was onto something. I love that he gives her that credit. Throughout the book, he presents his appreciation and love for her so simply, and yet, so sincerely. He explains that she is his Ideal Reader—when he writes, he writes for her; if he can get the right reaction from her, then he knows he’s got it! Can you imagine what it would be like to have your spouse be your Ideal Reader? Or is that just me being jealous because my husband doesn’t even speak the language I write in, let alone read it? At any rate, I love that King was so forthright with something that he could have easily decided was too personal to be in a book about writing. To me, that says something about his integrity.
Throughout the book, I continued to be astonished by the realization that what I go through as an unknown, emerging author is so similar to what he goes through as a famous, established writer. It makes me feel like part of the club, if you will. It gives me immense hope. Well, it did… until I read about his thoughts on the quality of writers. According to King, writers can be represented in a pyramid chart, where the base are the bad writers, followed by the competent ones, the good, and finally the great are at the apex. He makes a note that the great are only the elite, the ones whose work will continue to be read for generations after their deaths. Then he explains that no amount of practice or learning can turn a bad writer to a competent one. Likewise, no amount of practice or learning can make a good writer great. The only progress possible, he says, is to go from competent to good.
Now, with about 50 novels under his belt, King obviously knows writing. And he knows writers, both through his profession as a writer and through his past profession as an English teacher. Compared to him, I know nothing. I should probably take what he says as truth, and just move on. But I can’t. I disagree that bad and good writers can’t make those jumps to the next levels. Maybe that makes me naïve—or just an idiot—but I do disagree.
I believe that with the right amount of training and practice, a writer can always improve, no matter where she ranks on the pyramid. It’s like anything: the more you practice, the better you become. I mean, I probably would agree that you can’t transform a bad writer into a great one, but besides for that, improvement is always a possibility. It’s like me with golf; I have never played golf, and even my performance during the golf unit we had in high school PE (a million years ago) was an embarrassment. I’m fairly certain that my club never once made contact with the ball, let alone sent it anywhere near a hole. But if I practiced for two hours each day and watched some videos and maybe had a patient teacher mentor me for a while, wouldn’t I get better? I wouldn’t be challenging Tiger Woods to any matches (does he still play?), but I would improve. If I were dedicated enough to put in the time, my performance would certainly improve. So why wouldn’t it be the same for writers?
I’m gonna go ahead and label myself a good writer. And while I realize that it is highly unlikely that I can make it to great, I will continue to try. And I encourage you to do the same, no matter what field your passion is in. Can’t hurt to try.
And if you’d like a sample of my fiction writing (perhaps to make a decision about whether or not I should be calling myself a good writer at all!), please click here to join my email list. You’ll automatically be sent the four interviews I wrote for the women characters of my novel, Behind Picket Fences. The interviews were super fun to write, and I think you’ll find yourself wondering if they truly are characters from a book. Check it out.