On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King

[amazon_image id=”1439156816″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft[/amazon_image]Stephen King’s guide for writers, [amazon_link id=”1439156816″ target=”_blank” ]On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft[/amazon_link], is the best book on writing well that I’ve ever read, and as an English teacher, I have had my hands on all kinds of writing advice. King’s memoir begins with what he calls his C.V.: the story of how he became a writer. The middle section of the book contains King’s advice for writers, including everything from how to start to how to find an agent. It’s practical, no-nonsense advice. The final section chronicles King’s near-fatal accident and how he recovered and was able to write again.

King’s best advice, from the venerable [amazon_link id=”0205313426″ target=”_blank” ]Strunk & White[/amazon_link], is to “omit needless words.” Especially helpful are King’s demonstrations of how he does that in his own writing. I have already found myself applying his advice as I am drafting my NaNo novel. Interestingly, I am not a tremendous fan of King’s books. I grew up with a healthy respect for him as a writer because my parents always had his books around, and I could always find them in the bookstore, grocery store, or library whenever I wanted. I read a few of them when I was in high school, but I have not picked up his writing since that time. Reading this book has just about convinced me I have to pick up [amazon_link id=”0451169522″ target=”_blank” ]Misery[/amazon_link]. I’ve seen the movie, but I have never read the book. Annie Wilkes sounds like an interesting character to read. However, this is not to say I have ever thought he wasn’t a good writer, and to be honest, whether I think that or Harold Bloom thinks that (he doesn’t, by the way, but Neil Gaiman does) doesn’t matter much because a lot of people like his books. He’s doing something right. For what it’s worth, I think Harold Bloom is a sexist, barmy old fart.

King’s advice to read a lot and write a lot if you want to be a writer is the soundest, most succinct advice I’ve ever read. I know my writing has improved by bounds since I began reviewing books in this blog because I have read more. This year, I plan to finish 50 books, which will probably be the most books I’ve ever read in a year. Reading is studying and researching the craft, and I recognized myself in King’s description of that moment a writer has when she has realized for the first time that she could write better than a published writer she has read. I am also writing a lot more. I wrote over 2,000 words in my NaNo novel yesterday, and that really wasn’t even all I wrote that day. I write something every day. Last year, I couldn’t finish, and the year before that, writing even the daily 1,667 was difficult. It’s easier now. Not to say it’s easy, but it’s easier. I have to attribute that to the reading and writing I’ve done this year. If I could add anything to King’s advice, I’d recommend reflecting in writing on the books you read, whether it’s a blog or a reading journal. I find that thinking about the reading in that way is a bit like tinkering under the hood. You learn more about how others use words and how paragraphs fit together. Just reading is enough, but the reflection helps you process what you’ve read.

I didn’t expect this book to be so personal. It’s very clear that King is deeply in love with his wife, and given the length of their marriage, it’s refreshing and encouraging. He respects her opinion and views her as his partner in every sense. I have to admit I did tear up near the end as I read about his fear that he would die as a result of his injuries and how his wife helped him start writing again. I know she is very much in his shadow. I did try to read a book she wrote when I was in high school, but I didn’t get far, and I just haven’t picked up anything else.

On Writing is readable and direct as well as entertaining and informative. If you harbor any secret desires to be a writer, this book is an essential part of your collection, and dipping into it again every once in a while as a refresher is a good idea.

And now I really need to turn to my own writing, if you’ll excuse me.

Rating: ★★★★★

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6 thoughts on “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King

  1. I may have to read this book. I've heard so many mixed reviews of it. Some say there is too much memoir not enough advice, some vice versa. I thought it seemed strange that the two were mixed, but you make it sounds like it works. I have never read his novels because I am extremely sensitive to horror, but as a successful and respected (by most anyway) author, I'd like to see what advice he has to give.

    • I read some of those reviews, too, but I think it has a good balance. And the memoir parts were actually quite interesting and did not seem at all unnecessary. I thought his advice was excellent. Give it a shot!

  2. I've had this on my shelf for a while but haven't picked it up. I am definitely convinced I need to read this sooner than later!

  3. I felt the same way when I read this book years ago. You are inspiring me to reread it. And King can write. If you want a good one that isn't his classic "horror" stuff, try Bag of Bones.

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