On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
By Stephen King
Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster, 2000
(Hardcover by Scribner, 2000)
Whatever you may think of Stephen King’s writing, there is no denying his huge presence over at least the US and really the English-speaking world’s writing. This book as an interesting as its author.
In On Writing, King sets out to do two things: provide a short autobiography that is particularly oriented to what has impacted his writing career and a very practical book on how to write fiction.
The first 90-odd pages is the autobiography. It is an extremely likeable, very open description of his life, the highs and lows and, through it all, how his writing was going. I am impressed by the openness and honesty of this part of the book. I found it fascinating, relating events in his life to the book he was writing at the time and the motivations and triggers. This is great stuff, as it helps you, to a greater degree than many other books, to get inside the head of a bestselling author and see that they are just as human as you, with the same tendency to stuff up, if not in the same ways.
The second part of the book, some 200 pages, is almost like sitting down with King and having a one-on-one writing workshop. He is quite blunt and to the point, and has little time for pretentious literary writing. Using many examples, King illustrates the common and not so common mistakes people make and how to learn from them and then avoid them. He talks about inspiration and ideas, how he turns them into a story and the ways he has found are effective to work. These may not be valid for everyone but they are well reasoned and make good sense. King is a believer in the character-driven approach to novel writing and makes a good case for it. He also makes a great case for a disciplined approach to writing through writing everyday and working to a set target word count per day. He even shows the first draft of a section of 1408 and the edits he made, as a great learning exercise in tightening up a piece of text.
This is not only a must read, it is also a must re-read fairly frequently. I know I will be. It is a great book and something that I believe any aspiring writer will learn so much from. Buy it and keep it close to where you write.
On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft on Amazon US
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft on Amazon UK