I've just reread Stephen King's On Writing. I've now read it four times start to finish. It's simply one of the best books I've found on the writing process and being a writer. King chats with his reader, as if over a coffee and slice of Victoria sponge, generously imparting his immense knowledge and encouragement. It's an inspirational kick up the jacksie for all of us - writers or otherwise - highlighting the importance of persistence and hard work in achieving your goals. His own dedication and tenacity is impressive. He started sending bits and pieces he'd written to magazines when he was very young, and by the time he was fourteen, he says '...the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of rejection slips impaled on it. I replaced the nail with a spike and kept on writing'. You might be the most talented writer in the world, but without graft (and the hide of an elderly Italian socialite) you'll struggle.
In his book Stephen King discusses the 'ideal reader'. This is the person you write for, who you imagine reading your words first, before they go anywhere near the harsh judgement of an agent or editor. In any creative pursuit it would be unrealistic to expect to please everyone simultaneously. There is huge disparity in how individuals react to a film, book, or piece of art, etc. Is Titanic the best film of 1997? Or an over-sentimentalised load of tosh? Blimey, even professional critics disagree (and generally vociferously). If you write (or indeed live) with a trying-to-please-all mentality you will not only short-circuit your brain with the effort, but risk losing your vitality. My ideal reader is my husband. I know. Isn't that sweet? (Puke, puke, cringe). But it's true. It's my husband I try to shock or move, make laugh or shudder. It's he who can tease my writing from sub-standard to acceptable, push me, stretch me, pose questions, raise doubts. He makes me a better writer.
Unusually, perhaps, he reads as I go along. I need him to vet the first draft as it unfolds. I need to know I'm on track. That I'm not shooting off on ridiculous tangents. The moment he walks through the door from his long day and longer commute, I'm there, leaping around him like an irritating spaniel, waving pages of printout beneath his nose. Poor thing. There'll be no supper, the kids have turned feral, the kitchen's a bombsite, and there I am flapping around, as good as shouting forget you, forget them, it's all about ME, ME, ME!! I wish I didn't do this, but I physically can't control myself. So I wait for him to read, biting my nails with nervous energy. If he thinks it's good, I'm over the moon. If he thinks it's crap, I'll tear the words up.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not some kind of namby-pamby '50's housewife [chokes on tea at the thought]. I don't do whatever he says. In fact, mostly I tend to do the opposite of what he says. We can argue about anything and everything. Tired or bored enough, we could have a full-blown-smash-the-plates argument over who likes chocolate more (obviously, it's me). We've had many memorable (and risible) arguments. Once, whilst on holiday in a Spanish apartment, we had a particularly pointless, vicious row, the subject of which is of course forgotten. He'd had enough, and mid-shout marched off to the bedroom. He appeared with a blanket wrapped around his stroppy shoulders.
"I've had it with you. I've had it with this. I'm leaving!"
"Don't be idiotic," I snapped. "It's dark. Where are you going to go? We're miles from anywhere. It's a bloody forest out there."
"I'd rather sleep in a forest than here! With you!"
And then spitting with rage he flounced (this is literally the only word I can use for it) out of the the door. I grabbed at the remote and snapped through channels, ending up on a French shopping channel where a plastic woman with neon-pink lips tried to sell me a turquoise Velor tracksuit. Then I heard him at the door. I set my mouth into a grimace. Narrowed my eyes and fixed on the television. As he stomped past me on the way to the bedroom, he announced, with a totally straight face, chin in the air: "It is actually VERY scary out there."
And this is the man with editorial control.
Which is why I read Stephen King's On Writing...a lot.