“I think that writers are made, not born or created out of dreams of childhood trauma—that becoming a writer (or a painter, actor, director, dancer, and so on) is a direct result of conscious will. Of course there has to be some talent involved, but talent is a dreadfully cheap commodity, cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work and study; a constant process of honing. Talent is a dull knife that will cut nothing unless it is wielded with great force—a force so great the knife is not really cutting at all but bludgeoning and breaking (and after two or three of these gargantuan swipes it may succeed in breaking itself…which may be what happened to such disparate writers as Ross Lockridge and Robert E. Howard). Discipline and constant work are the whetstones upon which the dull knife of talent is honed until it becomes sharp enough, hopefully, to cut through even the toughest meat and gristle. No writer, painter, or actor—no artist—is ever handed a sharp knife (although a few are handed almighty big ones; the name we give to the artist with the big knife is “genius”), and we hone with varying degrees of zeal and aptitude.”
― Stephen King,
Can you write, if you weren’t given the tools? If not born with knife in hand (sorry, Mom…), can you find one, somewhere out there, buried under autumn leaves? Or maybe you have to learn to disarm someone who does have a knife, pry it from their stiff fingers and claim it for your own. See, that’s what happens when you extend a metaphor too far.
In the book, King points out that he’s not a great guitar player, no matter how many years he’s been at it. I can sympathize. I can barely keep a rhythm; perhaps it’s something inherent in the writer’s brain that they can only follow the beat of the sounds inside their own heads? The point is that some people weren’t born with talent, in one area or another. The trick is to find what you’re talented at, plunge your face in, and eat the whole damn thing, heart and all.
The book is great, filled with all the candid, black humor that you’d expect if you’ve read On Writing, a more directly applicable piece of nonfiction for the aspiring author. It’s also a brilliant meditation on the horror genre in film, although I’ve learned that King’s taste in movies and my own deviate beyond his distaste for Kubrick’s The Shining, which I think is one of the greatest films to have been put to celluloid. Put it on your shelf, Constant Reader, and take it down some dark night when the tree branches scratch at the window panes.