March 12, 2015

A Thank You Note to Stephen King

The book does not typically have a
homemade mom sticker on it.
That's just my personalized copy

Dear Mr. King,

I'm writing to thank you for your book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I know that you won't actually read this thank you note, but I feel the need to send the sentiment out into the world. That's how much I appreciate what you wrote.

I am in the midst of a big chunk of writer's block. Stuck in a place where I'm scared to edit what I've already written. A place where that fear has dribbled over into my writing time too. It is such that I either sit and stare at the empty page unable to pull up a single sentence, or, worse, I avoid the page altogether. After years of feeling this same fear, to finally overcome it and write, only to succumb to it once again, has been painful. The only difference now is my confidence that I'll find my way back to writing soon. For the longest time I didn't believe that. Now I do. But still, I've been stuck.

So I picked up your book. And somewhere around page 103 I felt renewed. Excited not just to write, but to edit (gasp!). Suddenly editing didn't feel so daunting. It felt like an opportunity. And I felt like I had a little guidance. It's still intimidating, but instead of feeling like I'm floating in the middle of the ocean in a dingy with no oars, I feel like you've handed me oars. I have a long way to row, but at least it feels in my power to do it now.

So I want to thank you for your gift. I want to thank you for the idea that writing is telepathy. For connecting with me in 2015 from your desk in 1997. Thank you for reminding me that I need a daily writing goal (oh, right, that's why NaNoWriMo worked for me), and that writing "isn't the Ouija board or the spirit-world...but just another job like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks." Thank you for sharing your deep dislike of adverbs. (I always kinda liked them, but I will be more judicious with their use from now on.)

Thank you for the reminder that to be a good writer you must read a lot and write a lot. (Thank you also for the excuse to read a lot.) I'll repeat the part that I sometimes must write a lot. A. Lot. Thank you for this gem: "Description begins in the writer's imagination, but should finish in the reader's." I love that. Thank you for saying that a story should be about something. It should have a reason for being.

Thank you for the concept of the Ideal Reader, the person you're writing the book for, the person you most want to love it. I didn't have the name for it, but my ideal reader is, at least in part, why I started writing again. Thank you for the editing equation: 2nd draft = 1st draft - 10%. And the tough love edict that you must "kill your darlings" when editing: if it doesn't move the story forward, cut it.

But most of all I want to thank you for demystifying what you do. For making it seem not that much different from what I do. From a guy who makes a lot of things very scary (I'm still afraid of It.), you made writing and editing a lot less scary.

So thank you, Mr. King. Thank you.

Amy Lorbach

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