My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’ve never read a single book by Stephen King, so this makes my first. While reading On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000), I decided, however, that I’ll very likely read a few of his books.
On Writing is down-to-earth, humble, honest, and enlightening. King doesn’t speak down to the reader-wanna-be-writer, but rather plainly and on equal terms. The book is divided into about three equal parts (out of 291 pages, can be read in a few days):
1) King’s Past, growing up and as struggling writer; 2) The Mechanics of Effective Writing; and, 3) On Living.
The first part of the book about King’s past really opens the door into King’s personal life, and the reader comes out respecting the man more. Coming from a middle-class, broken home, King swiftly pinpoints and relates key moments in his childhood and adolescence that had some influence on him becoming a writer. The memories (at times he says are “snapshots”) are sometimes a page in length, and are usually quite funny and charming.
King writes, “At some point I began to write my own stories. Imitation preceded creation” (p 27). As the reader follows King from a small child to his first big sale of Carrie for $400,000 (he’d get half of that) on Mother’s Day in 1973, the reader is watching history unfold—how an unknown writer-high school teacher has his dreams come true, and the story is gripping and inspirational, to say the least.
The second part of this book is primarily about the mechanics of writing. At several times King mentions Strunk and White’s book The Elements of Style (which I highly recommend for any writer, new or not).
Much of what King has to relate here is nothing new or special and has been repeated a hundred plus times in many other craft books on writing. But he explains it simply and briefly, and one can tell he is adept at what he does.
The last section of the book focuses on two areas: a) King’s near-death accident when he was hit by a van in June 1999; b) the story “1408” before and after edits. King’s traumatic event is told with clarity and is quite interesting, and shows that he is a man like other men, just one who really enjoys writing. After the accident, King explains how difficult it was to finish a book he was working on, which turns out to be the very book being read, On Writing.
King writes: “The pain in my hip was just short of apocalyptic. And the first five hundred words were uniquely terrifying—it was as if I’d never written anything before them in my life. All my old tricks seemed to have deserted me. I stepped from one word to the next like a very old man finding his way across a stream on a zigzag line of wet stones.
There was no inspiration that first afternoon, only a kind of stubborn determination and the hope that things would get better if I kept at it” (p 268) and later, after the writing becomes easier, he says that it makes him happy “because it’s what I was made to do” (p 269).
One more quote I’d like to add really sums up King’s view on writing, which is there’s no bullshit, and he’s right. In this book, he has kept the bullshit out of it. Toward the end, he writes: “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well” (p 269). No bullshit there.
Exactly a book any writer needs along the way to enrich his/her life. A strong recommend for any writer at any level, whether you’re a fan of King or not. After reading On Writing by Stephen King, I won’t hesitate to try out his other books.
CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), and a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU. He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; Little Hometown, America: A Look Back; A Time to Forget in East Berlin; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
You can also follow the author on Facebook @ cg.fewston – where he has 400,000+ followers