Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Stephen King's Fascinating Analogy to the Craft of Writing

It shouldn't be any secret to anyone that's read this blog with any sort of regularity that I'm a major Stephen King fan. Some may write him off as a sell-out and an example of someone with moderate talent being in the right place at the right time, but I would argue that he is the ultimate American writer of this generation. His writing is passionate, poignant, and prolific (sorry, we're on an alliteration kick in one of my classes :-)), and I predict that he will eventually be the subject of a required college course for English literature majors, much the way Shakespeare is.

But that's not my point.

I was rereading "The Body", a novella from the 1982 collection Different Seasons, and I found a quote that really resonated with me.

If you haven't read "The Body", by the way, the odds are still pretty good that you've seen Rob Reiner's Stand by Me, a film that comes fairly close to living up to King's story. In case you haven't, though, it's the tale of four small town boys in the throes of early adolescence heading off to locate the dead body of a boy who was lost in the woods while picking blueberries. Anyway, the main character and first-person narrator, Gordie LaChance, grows up to be a bestselling author. "The Body" is essentially a flashback of this particular adventure he had with his friends and how it shaped him into both a man and a writer. I can relate all too well to Gordie's friends constantly clamoring for him to tell one of his magical stories--although I don't write as well as King, my tales did a fair amount of entertaining my friends when I was growing up.

Perhaps that remembering, that curious mix of pride and shame, is what makes this excerpt echo so strongly in my mind:

"The act of writing itself is done in secret, like masturbation--oh, I have a friend who has done things like write stories in the display windows of bookshops and department stores, but this is a man who is nearly crazy with courage, the kind of man you'd like to have with you if you just happened to fall down with a heart attack in a city where no one knew you. For me, it always wants to be sex and always falls short--it's always that adolescent handjob in the bathroom with the door locked."

I hope nobody is too offended by the sexual references there, but King (writing as "Gordie LaChance", of course, but many of King's protagonists are writers, so I think that inferences can certainly be made) seems to capture the essence of writing as a craft there.

What do you think? Is writing intensely private? Is it hard to share? Do you wish you could share with all your heart, but somehow it's too much? Is comparing the act of writing to the act of sex apt? Is there a better analogy to be made?

I'm not sure, but I do know that this quote (not in its entirety, of course, but I knew the gist--and the text of "The Body"--well enough to find it pretty easily) came almost unbidden to my mind when I got thinking about what to blog about.

That must mean something : )