On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
By Stephen King
291 pages, $17.99
The world’s best-known writer of horror fiction —Stephen King— wrote a memoir praised by novice and expert writers for its candour and wealth of writing tips. Do you have an itch to start writing or want to improve your skills? Read On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. You will learn almost everything you need to know. King shares stories about his childhood, his addiction, and his near-fatal accident in 1999, all of which helped shape him into the best-selling author (and compassionate man) he is today. He’s encouraging while maintaining a no-bullshit attitude towards writing —you need skills and you must work hard. His book will make you chuckle out loud, hold back tears, and avoid adverbs like the plague.
Here are the top ten highlights of this book:
10) You will learn why having a writing desk in a quiet location (out-of-bounds for family members or housemates) isn’t a quaint fantasy —it’s a necessity.
9) It seems obvious, but King states, if “you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” You practice your skills by writing often, you hone them by reading. You learn about language, dialogue, and characterisation not only when reading a well-crafted book, but also when reading one that is, well, the pits. For instance, I love Carol Shields’s Swann, a marvelous study of characterisation, since each character has a strong voice and distinct personality. I cringe at the mention of Nickolas Butler, in contrast, who missed the mark by creating a slew of flat characters with indistinct voices in Shotgun Lovesongs.
8) This quote: “If [symbolism] is there and you notice it, I think you should bring it out as well as you can, polish it until it shines and then cutting it the way a jeweler would cut a piece of precious or semi-precious stone.” Yes! It’s not necessary for symbolism to be abstract or far-reaching, just good.
7) King doesn’t write for the love of money. Never has. He writes for “the buzz” he experiences and “for the pure joy of the thing.” You will realize this even before reaching his revelation on page 248. Why? Well, the guy needs to write as much as he needs to eat or sleep. He loved it as a young boy and still loves it today. He thinks that all writers should feel this way about their craft. Heck, why bother if it doesn’t make you feel good?
6) He doesn’t plot out his stories because “our lives are largely plotless” and doing so would kill the “spontaneity of real creation.” His analogy: creating a story is like discovering a fossil. You use your tools to unearth it, little by little. Got ya, Mr. King. I have my chisel and hammer in hand.
5) The account of his serious accident in June of 1999 is horrific. The story of how he jumped right back into writing, regardless of the pain he felt in a sitting position, is inspiring. That was fifteen years ago, and Stephen King is still going strong. In fact, his latest book, Mr. Mercedes, hit the stores on June 3, 2014.
4) Stephen King doesn’t exclusively read horror books. He has enjoyed many of the same books as me, including Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, Micheal Cunningham’s The Hours, and Joyce Carol Oates’s We Were the Mulvaneys. The reading list he includes is rather comprehensive, and I look forward to getting my hands on some of his suggestions.
3) At the end of the book, King includes a step-by-step example of how he edits his works. First, you get to read the raw, first-draft of a short story. Then, you get to reread the same story with proofreading marks, edits, and side notes.
2) He loves his wife Tabitha. So. Much. He writes with her in mind as an “Ideal Reader”. She is always his first person to read a new, completed story. Her feedback, more than anyone else’s, influences King when polishing his stories. Everyone should have an Ideal Reader they trust.
1) Stephen King gives you his blessing to write, or rather “a permission slip: you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up. ”