by Sally Berneathy
A couple of weeks ago one of my local writers’ groups went to see Stephen King in person. I’ve been hooked on his books since The Shining in 1977. I got the book in the mail from my book club just before my husband-at-the-time and I went on vacation. Of course I took it along. I never want to be caught bookless. During that trip I spent more time with Stephen King than with my future-ex-husband. I made the right choice. That ex is long gone, but I still enjoy spending time with Stephen King.
When I heard he was coming to town, I was a little dubious about seeing the wizard behind the curtain. I am pleased to report that the reality is every bit as wonderful as the fiction. Who knew someone who writes about such dark subjects could be so funny and charming?
Though his talk was geared toward readers, as a writer I got a lot beyond the entertainment. His comments about his writing process validated my own process.
He said every book begins, of course, with an idea. That idea is the best one he’s ever had. The new book will be the best book he’s ever written, maybe the best book anybody has ever written. Then he begins the writing process and along about the third or fourth chapter realizes it is the worst book he’s ever written, maybe the worst book anybody’s ever written. But he continues to labor, cranking out the pages until the misbegotten book is finished. Finally, after four to six months of writing, he puts the book in a drawer and leaves it for a few weeks. Then he goes back to begin revisions…and wonders who put all that good stuff in there!
I finished Fatal Chocolate Obsession, my fifth book in the Death by Chocolate series, four days before attending King’s presentation. The excitement, self-doubt, trauma and exhaustion of creating that book were still fresh in my mind, and I could totally identify with what he said.
Once I get past the initial luminous idea and start creating the bones of the book, I realize it’s a terrible book and I have no idea what possessed me to try to write it. Fortunately, two things keep me plodding along: My critique group assures me the book is not horrible, and I have a history of going through the same traumatic process for twenty-three books (twenty-five if you count the two that never sold but we don’t want to talk about them).
Do I love to write? Absolutely! It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.
Is it difficult? Absolutely! I’ve been a legal secretary, paralegal, real estate agent, and computer programmer. Writing novels is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Well, getting rid of the most recent ex was right up there in difficulty, but that nightmare wasn’t fun. Despite the difficulties, meltdowns and hair pulling, writing is also the most fun of anything I’ve ever done.
Knowing that Stephen King shares my trauma may make my next process of “It’s wonderful; it sucks; I can’t write this; I have to write this; will this stupid book never end?” a little easier. Or not. But at least I will know I'm in the best company!