I haven’t read any Stephen King books because I’m not into the thriller/horror/mystery genre, but I decided I wanted to read his On Writing, and I’m really enjoying it. The man values the literary arts more than I had expected. His turn of phrase is entertaining and delightful. I particularly love his humility in sharing an excerpt of his own work, unedited and then rewritten, for the reader to see how he goes about the process of refining his work.
But when he gets to the heart of his book and states that while he believes an incompetent writer can become competent, a good writer can never be great, I cannot agree.
To begin with, there is no such thing as an absolute standard of ‘great' that all readers around the world hold to. There are plenty of ‘great’ books that leave me cold, while others make me laugh, cry, or ponder; the number of famous, best-selling and classic authors who were rejected, often rudely and often for a long period of time before making their mark, is significant, suggesting that there is not widespread agreement about what makes writing ‘great’.
I’ve often shared a story with my writing students about the time I attended a panel discussion at the Writers Victoria Centre in Melbourne. The panel consisted of a publisher, a literary agent and another ‘expert’. One of the audience asked the question, ‘How do you know when you’ve come across a great work?’ or something to that effect, and the publisher answered it by saying, ‘I get a tingle down my spine.’
How ridiculous, I thought. How utterly absurd!