Start: May 12, 2019
Finish: May 16, 2019
Synopsis: “Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon the publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999 — and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it — fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told. [via Goodreads]
There are plenty of people who love Stephen King and his works. He’s a well-known and well-respected author, having written over 50 novels and hundreds of short stories. Plenty of his stories have been turned into movies. It’s fair to say that King is an influential author and has plenty to say about the craft of writing. I’m a King novice; aside from this book, the only other book of his that I’ve read is The Gunslinger, the first novel in his Dark Tower series. This is my second time reading On Writing, the first being back in 2015 just as I was starting my MFA program. It’s a special book for me because it’s the only writing book that well and truly inspires me.
On Writing opens with vignettes from King’s life, starting from his earliest memory and moving through various memories that highlight his path towards becoming the writer he is today. It’s personal and raw, but there is a humor that underlines most of these snapshots. He treats it with a light-heartedness that makes it easy to trust him. His older brother and mother make frequent appearances and we see how they both had an influence on him. His mother in particular is one of his first supporters:
Eventually I showed one of these copycat hybrids to my mother, and she was charmed– I remember her slightly amazed smile, as if she was unable to believe a kid of hers could be so smart–practically a damned prodigy, for God’s sake. I had never seen that look on her face before–not on my account, anyway–and I absolutely loved it.
These vignettes highlight something that King mentions later in the book: the importance of a support group as a writer. From his mother, to his extended family, to his wife, King was fortunate to have people in his life who helped him as he progressed. This first section of the book also points out how ordinary his childhood was and how this amazing career could happen to anyone. There was no severe tragic incident that compelled him to write. He just loved stories and attempted to recreate some of the magic he encountered when he read or watched movies. It’s a subtle, but powerful message: anyone can be a writer if they love the craft enough.
The second and third parts of the book focus on the practical tools writers need in order to succeed. These sections are some of the best in the book. The simple truth is this: no matter where you are in your writing career, this is a book you must read at least once. While I don’t agree with everything Stephen King writes, On Writing is filled with many gems that will inspire you and push you to sit down and write. There are plenty of writing adages available to us and sometimes it feels like the “rules” of writing hinder us and the creative process. King breaks down a lot of these “rules,” sometimes commenting on how restrictive they are, before explaining his interpretation in a clear way.
I think you begin by interpreting “write what you know” as broadly and inclusively as possible. If you’re a plumber, you know plumbing, but that is far from the extent of your knowledge; the heart also knows things, and so does the imagination.
To King, there’s no magical formula to follow in order to succeed in this career. There’s no shortcut you can take. It all comes down to loving what you do and sharing that love with the world.
Book-buyers aren’t attracted, by and large, by the literacy merits of a novel; book-buyers want a good story to take with them on the airplane, something that will first fascinate them, then pull them in and keep them turning the pages. This happens, I think, when readers recognize the people in a book, their behaviors, their surroundings, and their talk. When the reader hears strong echoes of his or her own life and beliefs, he or she is apt to become more invested in the story.
I could fill this review with quotes from the book that ring true and had an impact on how I view myself as a writer and how I approach the blank page. King gives writers permission to write the stories the want to write. He recognizes that it’s hard and he doesn’t talk down to the readers. He wants to see people succeed which is why the second and third parts of the book work so well.
I decided to reread this book because I was enrolled in a class on line-editing and On Writing was required reading for the course. I dropped the course just before it started, but I still wanted to read this book and I’m glad I did. It came at a time when I was doubting myself and my career, where I felt like I didn’t have the support I needed and I couldn’t write the stories I wanted to write. But this book helped me feel a bit more confident in myself and my skills. This is why I think it’s an important book. Even if you’re not a writer, On Writing will inspire you to work on your dreams.