“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon 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 the 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.
(Synopsis from July 2010 Scribner edition; cover photo from goodreads.com)
The first time I came across Stephen King’s On Writing a few of my students (a few years ago) were using it for their online English college class. A couple of them asked if they could use it for the book review papers, and I agreed. I also came across the title a few times as I was browsing through different book lists, and soon enough On Writing earned a spot on my TBR list.
As with The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (you can read my review of it here), On Writing arrived at my house after I ordered a few books for myself while doing some Christmas shopping (Merry Christmas to me!). For most of the past week I have been reading On Writing. This is probably one of the longest amounts of time that I have taken to read a book, but I think part of this is because I was trying to absorb as much of Stephen King’s wisdom as I could.
On Writing is broken up into different parts, and the first part of the book is pretty much a memoir of how Stephen King began his life a s a writer and what has driven him to continue to write. It is also in this section that King tells us how some of the inspirations for his stories have come about. (I was especially intrigued to read about how he came up with the idea for Carrie.) The second part of the book is King’s advice on the actual writing of a novel. He uses a metaphor of a toolbox for writers and what writers should contain within that toolbox.
I found myself both inspired and intimidated as I read On Writing. I could feel the nervousness starting to develop in the pit of my stomach as I began to wonder if I could reach the goals I have set for myself. Stephen King does not sugarcoat the life of a writer, or the struggles that writers face as they attempt to create their works. In fact there are times when King writes about writing and says that you need to take it seriously. If you don’t, then do something else. In Stephen King’s own words:
You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement,hopefulness, or even despair–the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names…Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.
I’m not asking you to come reverently or unquestioningly; I’m not asking you to be politically correct or cast aside your sense of humor (please God you have one)…But it’s writing damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else.
To say that reading this wasn’t intimidating would be a lie, but it was also enough of a motivator to keep me reading on. King has great advice that he gives throughout the book, and he is so honest about it that even though he’s honest about the struggles, I also found myself saying, “yeah, I can do this too if I put my mind to it.” One piece of advice that he continually gives is that in order to become a better writer, you must read and do lots of reading. That you must read a lot and write a lot. I can honestly say that I certainly have the reading part down…it’s the writing part. (And I mean outside of my blog writing.) I probably need to do as King does, and schedule times for myself to just sit and write.
For someone who is new to writing (or even if not but are looking some place for advice), On Writing is a great book to read and take notes from. The revision process is talked about quite a bit, and while this information is just from one perspective, there is freedom to take King’s advice and mold it to your own purposes. I know that On Writing is a book that I will keep coming back to.
Merry Christmas Eve and happy writing!
(Keep an eye out for another post later on that will be especially for my like-minded literary friends and readers!)