Have you ever read Stephen King’s On Writing?
It’s all but required reading for aspiring novelists and King’s most ardent readers. But even if you aren’t a writer or a fan of King’s novels (and you should be—as popular as he is, he is the most underappreciated American writer of our time. He’s the Mark Twain of our generation.)
On Writing is a memoir of King’s writing life. There’s some nuts-and-bolts writing advice, which the non-writer can skip. The gems are found in the sections about how reading and writing has been the creative center of King’s entire life. He has great stories about writing newsletters as a kid, writing in college, falling in love with his future wife’s typewriter, and writing while holding down a full time job and raising kids.
The story of him getting his first big advance for Carrie will bring tears to your eyes.
It’s funny, it’s heartwarming, and it’s wise. It’s a book about writing, and about life. For King they are one in the same.
And I’m beginning this blog with a complete tangent. King would tell me to kill this whole section (“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks you egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings,” he writes, referring to all the bits of writing an author thinks are so clever but either don’t move his story forward or bore the hell out of his reader.) If this was a novel, I’d kill it, Stevie, I promise I would. But if you can’t indulge yourself in your own blog, where can you?
What I really want to tell you about On Writing is this:
Stephen King writes that his family didn’t get a television until 1958, when he was eleven years old. When the television came, he called it, “a vicarious adventure which came packaged in black-and-white, fourteen inches across and sponsored by brand names which still sounded like poetry to me. I loved it all.”
But though he loved television, for him the die was cast: stories were told best in novels.
“But TV came relatively late to the King household, and I’m glad. I am, when you stop to think of it, a member of a fairly select group: the final handful of American novelists who learned to read and write before they learned to eat a daily helping of video bullshit.”
And here’s where I (finally) get to my point.
I too am a member of a fairly select group: the last generation to grow up without constant access to all the world’s knowledge, opinions, and toxic Twitter fights.
We got our first family computer when I was in junior high school. And by computer, I mean a typewriter with a printer and Oregon Trail, not a conduit for the World Wide Web.
I was in high school before the internet came along, in college before dial-up gave way to the Ethernet cable that provided a constant, unbroken connection to the world.
I was working at my first post-college job before I got my first flip phone. I was thirty-five before I owned a smartphone.
And like King, I’m grateful.
I was born in the tech sweet spot. Old enough that the internet did not invade my formative years, and young enough that I have easily mastered it.
I love the internet. I love shopping on Amazon Prime, I love podcasts, I love instant access to TV and movies on Netflix, and Saturday Night Live clips on YouTube. I love having a GPS in my pocket, and the instantaneous communication of an e-mail. I love the inspirational photographs on Instagram. I love being able to text instead of talk.
But I’m not sorry that I didn’t have Facebook during my high school years, so I couldn’t see all the fun my friends were having without me. I’m glad I learned to find books in the library using the card catalogue. I’m glad that I had to go to the store to buy things instead of clicking when I was too young to understand credit card interest.
I wouldn’t wish the internet and all its gifts away.
But I wouldn’t wish it on my childhood self either.