A handful of times over the past two years, readers have asked me about my column-writing process. A longer answer may be in sight at some point, but in the meantime I include below a letter I wrote recently to Stephen King. I cannot recommend his memoirs highly enough. kW
July 23, 2022
I recently completed On Writing and thought it was an excellent memoir, not to mention the best book on writing I’ve ever read. Thank you for sharing your story and your approach to the profession. You can stop reading here if you want (I have no idea how much fan mail you have to sift through), but I thought you might be interested in the story of how I discovered your book and why I felt compelled to write to you. It might even make you smile.
On May 18, I found myself on the University of Mississippi campus in Oxford, MS for my youngest son’s college orientation. Since this was my fourth child to attend Ole Miss and I could pretty much give the parent orientation lecture myself, I escaped into the bookstore. As I walked through the aisles, my eye was caught by this interesting little book by Stephen King on writing.
The first sentence of the second foreword caught my eye (as did the fact that there were multiple forewords). When I read the reference to the style elements of Strunk and White, which my father gave me when I was in junior. high, I was addicted. I bought a copy (of On Writing, not The Elements of Style), walked to the grove, found a bench, and sat down to read.
I didn’t finish your book that afternoon – I was supposed to be a good dad, after all, and attend some of the orientation events with my son – but remember telling my wife this night: “You won’t believe where Stephen King got the inspiration for Carrie!
When I got to the “Toolbox” section a few nights later, I pulled out my highlighter. By the time I finished On Writing in early June, I knew I had added a permanent reference work to my collection. I have since bought copies for three of my friends (including my father). None of them write professionally (although one is an aspiring novelist), but all write occasional blogs, newspaper columns, and op-eds.
Coincidentally, I finished your book around the same time I returned from a trip to New England and at the same time my wife and I were streaming Castle Rock (which, unknowingly or not, has may have been influenced by reading your book). Anyway, due to the confluence of events, I felt compelled to thank you for a job well done.
Finally, although I am not a novelist, I write the column for the periodical and I was struck by the similarities in the process. Like Tabitha to you, my wife M’lee is my ideal reader. Every column I write goes through his screen before sending it to print. I also believe in the value of the cut and that less is more. (Of course, the newspaper format enforces this discipline as you remember.)
One thing that seems different to me is that as a novelist you don’t know where you will end up but you trust the story to take you there, me as a columnist I know where I want to finish but I never really know how I will get there. I include a copy of a recent column referring to my experience in the Boston Garden. You can decide how well (or badly) I followed your rules.
With appreciation for your work,
Kelley Williams is a Northsider.