Teen Talk: Working past your limits: a pursuit

Matthew Frederick

Over the span of three months, I’ve listened to Stephen King’s audiobook “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.” As an aspiring writer who has experienced my fair share of writer’s block, I sought some sort of inspiration from King’s work that would propel my own craft to bounce back from the creative impasse which had been bogging me down for a longer span of time than I care to admit.

Though I am often hesitant to “review” books or movies in the traditional sense, King’s amalgam of memory and advice affected me deeply — enough to feel compelled to share my experience.

I can’t say I finished King’s guide and began to write without a moment’s pause; it’s been a few weeks, actually, and I’ve just begun to write again. Now, though, I feel more confident in the pages I write, in a way that has eluded me for the majority of the time that I’ve been interested in writing at all.

I was slightly disappointed in King’s work because it did not contain any esoteric knowledge that immediately changed my perspective. Rather, King narrates the story of his own life as he transitions from each stage of life to the next, but always with his focus on the way that writing and creativity facilitated his emotional development.

King tells the story — his story — with an emphasis on his approach to writing from the time when he was a child to his late adulthood, and eventually his age when the text was originally published. Subsequently, he steers away from memoir and the tone shifts to general advice as to the technical aspects of writing — many of which the author sources from Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style,” which King views with a reverential fondness.

While the latter section of “On Writing” was helpful in honing the finer details of my voice, I found I identified more with the former. By elaborating his personal experience with writing, King imbues the reader with a holistic outlook on the pursuit of literature — as opposed to a structured and rigid system of planning, charting, plotting, etc. As an individual who doesn’t particularly care for any of those, I appreciated King’s words, which seemed to oppose the thousands of online articles I had previously read which extolled complicated processes of character creation and plot diagramming.

In retrospect, the concept that writing must be a rigid practice caused my stifled creativity. As I’ve rediscovered my love for writing in the past few weeks, I’ve come to the realization that writing must be an organic practice if my work is to satisfy my urge for originality.

At the end of his personal narrative, King mentions a phrase which I still think about nearly a month after I’ve finished listening. He says “Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”

This quote struck me. King had pinpointed my own artistic dilemma, which had unconsciously dogged my writing, but other aspects of my artistic journey too. I attributed much of my lack of inspiration to a loss of imagination, and so I sought to fill the empty space with the events of my own life that I could alter and call fiction. Not until King brought light to this practice to which I had grown accustomed did I recognize the fault in it. In a broader sense, I had lost sight of the reason why I am an artist and a writer at all. I do these activities so I can inch closer to inner peace — which I suppose we’re all trying to do in the grand scheme of things.

I recommend to all my readers, no matter your interest in writing, to either read or listen to Stephen King’s “On Writing.” His insight extends beyond the scope of creativity, and as a young adult, I found it particularly valuable as I prepare to transition into life as a college student, and eventually, adulthood.

To all my readers, this I implore you: take a more holistic approach to something, anything, in your life. For me, it took the guidance of a renowned author to recognize the boundaries which I had placed upon myself and how I inadvertently restricted myself from any progress. Think to yourself, as I have done and continue to do, “How am I preventing myself from achieving what I want?” Ultimately, it wasn’t until I asked myself that question that I rediscovered my passion for writing. Dare to defy the odds which you, yourself, have imposed.

Matthew Frederick is a senior at Oneonta High School. He can be contacted at mfrederick.teentalk@gmail.com.

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