22 October 2019

Book Review: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
by Stephen King

5 stars

Plot Summary:

"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.


This memoir was published back in 2000, and it has taken me this long to finally read it.  Given how much praise I've heard about "On Writing", I don't know why I haven't gotten to it sooner, but I'm happy to say it's absolutely worth the read.  I'm not very familiar with Stephen King's work (I've only read a couple of his novels) so before picking up this book, my opinion of him was just as a very accomplished and successful writer.  Also, he writes some scary stories.  After reading this book, I'm impressed by his talent and his awareness of the craft - because he has so winningly and clearly distilled what goes into storytelling.

In the first part of the memoir, Stephen King talks about his childhood and about some of the influences in his life that led to him becoming an author.  It was an interesting section because understanding his influences helped me to understand what draws me to reading and writing.  I identified with King's experiences and even his upbringing in a way.  Although he seemed more mischievous than I ever was.

There have been many reviews on why this book is an important look at a writer's experience and the unique ways in which a story is created from an idea.   I feel like I can't add much more to the praise, but I do want to talk about some specific things that spoke to me while I was reading it.

When drafting a story, King emphasized "Writing with an open door", or writing for yourself first, and then going over it again with the audience in mind.  Getting started on any piece of art can be difficult and there is freedom in just starting without worrying about what other people will think. Editing afterward will be your friend.  This brings me to another important tidbit -  the second draft should be 10% less than the first draft.  King mentioned he got this advice from another person but has taken it to heart ever since.  To me, if you accept that some of your first draft is going to be awful, then there is comfort in knowing that you will take it out later.  It gives you the freedom to be creative and not worry about being perfect the first time.

Although this book is about writing, King stresses the importance of reading, which I completely agreed with.  I love that he talked about bringing a book with you everywhere you go - because you never know when you might have a spare moment to read.  He also advocated reading in bits and pieces as well as finding time for extended reading sessions.  That is something I find myself doing often.

The book wraps up with King's account of his horrible car accident in 1999.  I was surprised he would talk so candidly about the event, but it is clear that writing about it was also a catharsis for him, and seeing that hits home another meaningful aspect of the importance of writing.


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