Reading List: ‘On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft’ by Stephen King

Format: Paperback

It’s hard for me to believe I waited so long to read Stephen King’s OnStephen King On Writing Writing.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to read, it’s just that I kept putting if off – though it was first published in 2000, so waiting 14 years is pretty bad.

I inherited my copy from my mom. It’s funny that my mom read it because I don’t remember her reading that many Stephen King books. I, on the other hand, have been reading Stephen King since I was in fifth grade (note: it’s easy to get your grandmother to buy you Firestarter when there is a picture of Drew Barrymore on the cover).

At the time she was reading it my mom told me of King’s accounts of his struggles with alcoholism and drug abuse. This may have put me off a bit because I wasn’t sure I wanted to read about that.

So, many years later I finally decided to give the book a try. I’m glad I did. I could barely put it down. I finished it in less than a week, which is fast for me – especially with a paperback that I have to have with me in order to read it.

The first half is more of a memoir where King talks about his childhood and a few of the things that influenced his tastes and writing. As I was reading it, I thought of other memoirs I have read and I thought,” everyone’s childhood is way more interesting than mine.”

He then moves on to adulthood his marriage, his kids, his work as a teacher (and his work at many other jobs), and his struggles and then success as a writer.

The second half focuses on the craft of writing. And then there is the post-script where he details (vividly) the entire experience of being hit by a car in June of 1999.

What I love about this book is the honesty. King isn’t afraid to let his readers know where he is coming from. It’s good because his main message to aspiring writers is to not be afraid.

“I’m convinced fear is at the root of most bad writing,” – Stephen King, On Writing.

I could’t agree more. Being afraid of what the reader will think is a hindrance to any writer – whether they write copy, screenplays, poetry or fiction.

King also dispels that old adage that writers should write what they know.

“if you’re a plumber you know plumbing, but that is far from the extent of your knowledge; the heart also knows things, and so does the imagination.” – Stephen King, On Writing.

Not that he says you should throw out what you know, but sticking to only that limits the boundaries of imagination.

This book is not a technical guide, though there are some bits on grammar and other writing basics, He also discusses creating themes, developing plot and the all-important act of revision. But if you’re looking for a step-by-step process you won’t get it.

As a writer, I found this book to be the one of the most inspirational books on writing I have ever read – not that there are not other great books out there. But in this book, King tells aspiring writers to get out there and write. You can read all the books on writing you want, but starting is the most important part.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a very valuable asset in this book. Well, there are two. One is King’s formula for editing, which I won’t give away, because you should really read this book. The other is an example of a revision. King gives us a draft of one scene of a story and then shows the revisions he made. He even outlines his reasons for each revision. If you want a quick lesson in revision, this is it.

” The scariest moment is always just before you start.”  – Stephen King, On Writing.

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