Stephen King’s On Writing is one of my favorite books in that oh-so-problematic genre of “books about writing.” I love the way King talks about his life and his experiences with writing, and at the same time manages to get across some of his philosophy on the craft he’s undoubtedly really good at.
(A Brief Digression That Will Probably Turn Out to Be a Large Portion of this Post Rather Than the Brief Digression It Claims to Be: Stephen King is probably the first writer I read and really understood after I learned English. There was a brief time when I tried reading “age appropriate” things, hence my grade 8 book report on Little Lord Fauntleroy, of all things—meanwhile, half of my class did their reports on Flowers in the Attic, and let me tell you, when I read it a few years later, I was REALLY SURPRISED that the teacher actually let them get away with that, because seriously, that is not a book for eighth graders to be reading, or at least not a book for them to be present IN CLASS. I soon moved on to more challenging things, and through the many garage sales my parents and I visited, I acquired quite the collection of King’s novels. If I remember correctly, I actually joined some sort of book club, of the “here are some books we’ll send you for free, and then
your soul will be ours you’ll have to buy this many in the next two years” variety, and one of the books I got was a lovely hardcover edition of the unabridged version of the Stand, which to this day remains one of my favorite books. To make a not-so-brief digression even longer, Stephen King is probably my all-time favorite writer, even though I’m so far behind on reading his books that I don’t know how I’ll ever catch up—I stopped reading around the time the last Dark Tower book came out, and Mr. King said he was retiring from writing, which, well, was a few years and a few books ago. Anyway, he’s my favorite writer, and I’m fairly prejudiced in his favor, hence the possibility that my opinion of On Writing is colored by said prejudice.)
I remember reading it the first time, a hardcover edition of the book borrowed from the Edmonton Public Library. Over time, I acquired a trade paperback copy of my own, and then lost it, and then replaced it with the mass market paperback version that’s standing on my bookshelf here in my room right now. I haven’t gone back to in in a while, but I’ve read it quite a few times since that first time, and every time, I end up finding something in it that I hadn’t noticed before, or maybe something that resonates in a way it didn’t before. As much as I’m wary of books about writing, there’s something about On Writing that gets to me. Maybe it’s the way it comes across not as a Here’s How You Should Do It, but Here’s How I Did It, and If It Helps You Do It, Too, Then Good for You instead. Maybe it’s just the way King writes. I think that’s part of why I find Chuck Wendig’s blog, Terrible Minds, so appealing. (Fair warning on that link, if you’re allergic to profanity, you probably shouldn’t read it…) While Wendig’s posts are probably more in the how-to format, he also acknowledges that not every technique works for every writer, which in my book, places him miles above certain other authors, who claim that their way is the only true way to write, and everyone else is just an amateur who’s jealous of said other authors’ success… AHEM.
Anyway. All of that is just a long-winded way to say that I wish I could someday be a famous enough translator that I could write a book on translation (perhaps, creatively titled On Translation) in the vein of Stephen King’s book. Maybe if I was a famous enough translator, I could write a book about the way I work and not have the professional translating world collectively shun me out of the business for setting a bad example. I’m saying all of this on the assumption that, in the event I ever become a famous translator whose book on translation people would actually want to read, my work habits will have stayed the same as they are now. Should they change and become more “professional,” I guess the part of the book that deals with the early days of my career will be filled with amusing anecdotes and/or cautionary tales to young aspiring translators.