What Stephen King Taught My Husband About Writing
May 16, 2023 § 11 Comments
By Marie F. Cahalane
I looked busy—piano, interior design projects, laundry, Candy Crush Saga—but the swirl of activity I generated belied a larger issue.
I couldn’t fool my husband, Tim. He noted my lack of engagement in revising my memoir, or in any writing task, but fortunately for him, he stayed quiet.
Until he didn’t.
Tim’s no writer but he reads—a lot, and as much as I love to read, we differ stylistically in how we attack a good book. Tim reads like he consumes a pasta dinner—with voracious gusto. He reads for enrichment, not technique.
I read to enhance my craft, examining word usage while appreciating the storytelling and meaning making in each scene. While I question my husband’s level of retention, considering his reading speed, his ability to engage me in cogent, topical, book-related conversation always amazes me. His nightly reading habit brings him to the dinner table ready to share interesting tidbits, and I always enjoy his off-handed observations and spontaneous reviews.
One evening, Tim picked up my copy of Stephen King’s On Writing from a pile of books in the living room. He hunkered down to read until dinner was ready.
A while later, Tim strutted into the kitchen and announced, “You need to write every day.”
His unexpected, out-of-character mandate surprised me. As a temporarily inert writer, it was a horrific turn of events. Every writing instructor I have ever known has touted the importance of a daily writing habit, and now, under King’s literary tutelage, Tim apparently fancied himself an expert. His directive failed to inspire me, even if it did come straight from the prolific Stephen King via a most unexpected mouthpiece.
A few nights later, I braced myself as Tim sat down at the dinner table.
“You know, it’s as important for a writer to read as much as it is to write,” he said with authority.
“Yes, I know,” I said. “You see me read.”
He looked at me quizzically, clearly doubtful. I stared back blankly, hoping to disarm any further advice. I admit his channeling of King got under my skin, and not in a good way. He hoped to motivate me; instead, his prodding shredded any remnant of desire I had to write.
It wasn’t long before Tim assumed his King-inspired coaching persona in one last attempt to break the back of my writing malaise and get my butt into the chair.
“Don’t worry about grammar and spelling when you are writing a draft,” he said, as he sat down to his chicken cacciatore and penne. “Just get the words on paper.”
My dear husband meant well but I began to draw parallels between him and Annie Wilkes, the sadistic antagonist from King’s thriller, Misery. Annie resorts to torture to coax her favorite author, Paul Sheldon, to write, while professing to be Paul’s “number one fan.” Tim’s no Annie (I had no fears I’d get a foot, or a thumb, chopped off) but he is my most fervent supporter. He thought he could help me by sharing what he had learned from reading King, and in a way, he did.
He had irritated me enough to exorcize my writing demons. Thanks to Tim and his “encouragement,” I managed to write this essay.
Thankfully, Tim has finished reading On Writing and I am writing on a more consistent schedule. In the meantime, to preserve my sanity, I’ll stash the rest of my craft books where they are less readily accessible.
Marie F. Cahalane is a writer based in the greater Boston area. Her work has been published in WBUR’s Cognoscenti, Grand Magazine, Herstry, and her blog, Mami Knows Everything. She is a graduate of both the Memoir Generator and the Memoir Incubator at Boston’s prestigious GrubStreet writing center. When she’s not writing, Marie works with college-bound students as an independent college advisor. Find Marie at her website.
What a beautiful piece of writing.
I am in a sort of dry spell myself, my “medium” being blogging. I have read the Stephen King book. Currently reading a book by Vinita Hampton Wright “The Soul tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life.” Thank you for your posting.
I could see that scenario play out in my house. Hide those books! But, you did write an engaging post.
Funny! I enjoyed this. My husband is the opposite. He’s not interested in my writing, which actually works for me. He has, however, come to an understanding that it’s important to me.
Love this! My husband (Not A Writer) too offers me (A Writer) advice and I grit my teeth… but he is often right and it helps to hear it.
Over the years I have read many, many writing books. My husband, fortunately, has not read any of them. He will read or listen to me read my work. He might cry (a good sign) or he might say as tactfully as he can manage, “It needs work?”
Most of the writing books were helpful. On Writing was, to me, surprisingly useful, but I would add Ursula K. Le Guin’s Steering the Craft to every library.
Aw, Tim is lovely to care so much. Better that than partners who denigrate their spouse’s writing efforts.
This made me laugh out loud. Especially: “Thanks to Tim and his “encouragement,” I managed to write this essay.” Yeah, that would have gone over just as well in my household. Thanks for writing this!
Good story (as well as a good reminder) that started my day with a smile. Here’s to a good marriage and happy writing!
I love this essay. It’s so great he’s an annoying writing coach. We’ve all been there. And it worked!