Yet another book that takes on different meanings each time I read through it, Misery by Stephen King did not disappoint. Yes, Annie Wilkes was still crazy as she wanted to be. Yes, Paul Sheldon was still as abused as he’d been through a couple of previous readings of the book, as well as several viewings of the movie based on the book. But this time through, different things stood out. The theme from this reading was…wait for it…Simply Good Writing Advice.
I know it’s not the most original thought. Might even be one that was obvious to anyone else who’s read Misery. I, however, had been pretty oblivious to all the writerly dialogue infused in this novel until my latest read. I understand that one of the main characters being a writer might make this a logical idea, but not necessarily. It would seem the book was written to highlight a certain brand of crazy that could strike just about anybody of any sort of celebrity, and the celebrity just so happened to be a writer. I don’t think so, though. I think King took a moment to impart some ideas that just might be of use to writers.
Good writing is good writing is good writing…
Paul Sheldon was one of those writers who wanted to do “bigger” things that what he’d been a success at doing. He “fell through the hole in the paper” (King, 162) with his Misery Chastain series, and found himself a rather successful popular fiction writer. He and Misery made a comfortable living, but Paul yearned to be viewed as a “serious writer”. He deemed his Misery series as “whoredom” and had written a Serious Literary Work of Art in order to “[be liberated] from a state of whoredom” (King, 72). In his opinion, he was at the mercy of the general reading public who devoured his Misery books and clamored for more, as well as that of the editors and publishing house he worked for. The Serious Literary Works reviewers gave him the blues with their refusal to give him his due as a Real Writer. But Paul ‘s Misery books had served a larger purpose than he thought important: it was widely read and it was “pervasive…even of such a degenerate [work] as popular fiction” (King, 249).
Writers must actually write, even when they don’t feel like it
Paul lost his zeal for his main writing subject and blamed the end of the love affair on everything around him. He couldn’t write if the circumstances weren’t absolutely perfect. And once they were, he found other reasons not to allow The Muse to have her way with him. What Paul hadn’t counted on was a psychotic nurse becoming the most powerful inspiration for good writing that he’d ever encountered. Annie did not cause the accident that created his initial injuries. I believe she thought she was helping him when she began giving him the painkillers, because she knew he was in pain and needed to be relieved. Of course his recovery period was really one of captivity, and yet Paul found that after his initial lapse into his habitual writing, he was able to produce better writing than he ever had before. Without any of the trappings he thought he’d needed in his other life. In, quite honestly, some of the most abject conditions any human being could experience. His Manic Muse pulled from him the best book of his career. Better even, than the Serious Literary Work of Art he’d revered.
The vivid imagination most writers have is a good thing to be in possession of if getting paid to make things up is a desire
Paul also had been plagued by the vivid imagination that stalks most writers. Since his childhood, he’d had the ability to breathe intricate details into ordinary events and make them more colorful and vivid. This might not have been the best quirk to have while being tortured in captivity by a crazy woman, because he was never free of nightmares during his time there. However, this quality did serve him well in that he never had to call it quits in the game of “Can You?” (King, 117) that he says all writers play when working. Writing is one of the fields where it’s completely okay to let your mind wander.
Writing can be cathartic
Paul recognized that though his situation was dire, he could alleviate a minimal amount of the terror through the constant in his life: writing. “But nothing had ever spoiled it, somehow…nothing had ever been able to pollute that crazy well of dreams…he fled to that well now, like a thirsty animal finding a waterhole at dusk…” (King, 162). During times of duress, writing may be a healthy outlet. Paul was literally writing for his life, and even though many situations aren’t as desperate as that, many times things can seem so much better when we have our best friend alongside us. This thought gives way to something else to consider.
In order to be a great writer, you have to write from your heart
Once Paul had begun to resent Misery, his writing had likely become formulaic and flat, just as his first start at Misery’s Return had been. He admitted, “he had been surprised, really, at how easy it had been to slip back into Misery’s world…it had been…like putting on a pair of old slippers” (King, 103). But he was so comfortable that the writing lacked feeling. The difference between what he wrote then and the revision is huge. After he allowed himself to put himself honestly into the book (not that he had a choice), not only did he feel better about the work, but his reader did, too.
Follow your instincts
There was much more present in Misery that serves as good fodder for thought, but I think the most important for me was the notion of grabbing an idea that springs into your head and following your gut reaction to it. When Paul had what King called “an H-bomb explosion” (King, 165) of an idea, he ran with it. He yelled for Annie’s assistance, even though he knew he risked her unleashing the crazy on him for his being so demanding. He insisted on getting out of bed and taking down notes to work through his idea. The result was a “more richly plotted[Misery novel since the first]” (King, 167). Sometimes those sudden ideas can be rich, and should be examined more closely rather than instantly discarded.
King, Stephen. Misery. New York: Penguin Group, 1988. Print.