Book: On Writing (Stephen King)
Love or hate his work, Stephen King is by most standards a prolific and successful writer. His memoir, On Writing is a fascinating look inside his life and profession that I’ve come back to several times in the past 10+ years since its original release. As a bonus, it’s the only Stephen King book I dare read before bed.
Fans of King’s work will appreciate this behind-the-scene look at his process. It’s fascinating to see him apply the same skills he uses in his fiction to telling his own story. Aspiring writers will enjoy the many lessons contained within. Even when he’s not talking about writing, he’s talking about events in his life that have shaped his approach to the craft.
The book begins with a look at his history and the things that make him Stephen King, best selling author. He shares how some common everyday scenarios came together in his mind to create his most popular stories, like Carrie and Misery.
He then moves on to a section focused on his methods and beliefs regarding writing. This section is full of great tidbits, including valuable advice he received from rejection notices (2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%), writing for specific readers, and not worrying about pleasing everyone all the time with every word you write. He cites very specific examples of works he loves, works he hates, and works that teach important lessons.
As with most “how-to” guides for writing, there are things that I disagree with or do differently. He doesn’t plot his stories, being of the firm belief that if he has characters in a situation, he can uncover the fossil of the story as they reveal it to him. I’m more of a planner, though an open-minded one, willing to follow characters down the rabbit hole if they so choose. We share a hatred of adverbs, in theory, but still can’t quite strike them completely from our finished works.
The final short section of the book is called On Living and deals with the accident in 1999 that almost cost him his life and how it was his writing that ultimately saved him.
The middle section with specific advice on writing is one I will return to frequently. When reading it this time, as I worked on writing the first 50k words of my own novel, I noted how useful those pages would be when I begin the editing process. The last few pages of the book include the opening to his work 1408, including his editing markup, which was very helpful.
This book deserves a permanent spot on my shelf of writing resources, right next to The Elements of Style and Bird by Bird. Unfortunately, my copy accidentally ended up in a pile that went to Goodwill. I’ve borrowed it once now from the library and intend to replace my copy soon. It’s not an expensive book, but it’s rare for me to buy a book twice. This one is worth it.
Have you read this book? Are you a fan of King’s stories?