December 3, 2019

On Writing

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Nonfiction - Memoir
2000 Scribner
Finished on November 30, 2019
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

"If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write."

In 1999, Stephen King began to write about his craft -- and his life. By midyear, a widely reported accident jeopardized the survival of both. And in his months of recovery, the link between writing and living became more crucial than ever.

Rarely has a book on writing been so clear, so useful, and so revealing. On Writing begins with a mesmerizing account of King's childhood and his uncannily early focus on writing to tell a story. A series of vivid memories from adolescence, college, and the struggling years that led up to his first novel, Carrie, will afford readers a fresh and often very funny perspective on the formation of a writer. King next turns to the basic tools of his trade -- how to sharpen and multiply them through use, and how the writer must always have them close at hand. He takes the reader through crucial aspects of the writer's art and life, offering practical and inspiring advice on everything from plot and character development to work habits and rejection.

Serialized in the New Yorker to vivid acclaim, On Writing culminates with a profoundly moving account of how King's overwhelming need to write spurred him toward recovery, and brought him back to his life.

Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower -- and entertain -- everyone who reads it.

Memoirs are my favorite type of nonfiction, so I don't know why I left On Writing to languish on my TBR shelf for nearly 20 years. When this year's Nonfiction November blogging challenge rolled around, I decided to add it to my stack and managed to finish it on the very last day of the month. 

As with most of King's books, I was instantly drawn into the writing, reaching for my Post-It notes, reading passages aloud to Rod, chuckling at King's humor while making notes of books to add to my TBR list. I loved reading about King's childhood and his early days as an aspiring writer. I enjoyed getting to peek into his life as a new husband and father and the struggles he and Tabitha endured in those early days as a young family. I was also spellbound as I read about King's recounting of his nearly fatal accident in 1999. At the time, I knew he was hit by a van and nearly died, but I didn't know many of the details until I read the final section of this book. Wow. What a story. Unfortunately, it wasn't one of his horror stories, but true life.

I was disappointed as I reached the final pages of On Writing, not because it was over, but because I didn't love it. About halfway in, I realized I wasn't the target audience for this book, which is less memoir and more instructional. While I loved the segments about his childhood and early adult life, I didn't care about the nuts & bolts about writing. I picked up a few tips (grammar rules for possessives and the dreaded passive voice), but most of these have been drilled into my brain from years of being married to a writer/editor who has kindly proofread my blog posts for over a dozen years. Reading Stephen King's thoughts on the art of writing for publication was interesting, but I was tempted to skim not just paragraphs, but entire pages of his book. I never skim, so this was not a good sign. I kept reading and eventually got to the last section (a dozen plus pages about his accident) where I was rewarded for my perseverance. When it came time to think about how I would rate this book, I initially thought I would just give it a 3/5 (Good) rating, but since I accept that I was not the target audience, and I loved the sections that didn't deal with writing, I decided to bump up that mediocre rating.

A Favorite Passage:
Book-buyers aren't attracted, by and large, by the literary merits of a novel; book-buyers want a good story to take with them on the airplane, something that will first fascinate them, then pull them in and keep them turning the pages. This happens, I think, when readers recognize the people in the book, their behaviors, their surroundings, and their talk. When the reader hears strong echoes of his or her own life and beliefs, he or she is apt to become more invested in the story. I'd argue that it's impossible to make this sort of connection in a premeditated way, gauging the market like a racetrack tout with a hot tip. 
I've been reading Stephen King novels for decades. He's a masterful, if not genius, storyteller and I have enjoyed so many of his books. Back in the day of the Thursday Thirteen blogging meme, I compiled a list of King's books that I've read. I could add a few more titles to that outdated list, but even with those additions, there are still so many more books yet to read. I'm not sure I want to read any that give me nightmares, but after reading this memoir, I'm eager to give his earlier novels a chance. I never did read Carrie, Salem's Lot, The Deadzone, or Christine. And the last book I read of his was 11/22/63, so I've missed out on a dozen more recent titles. Everyone seems to have a favorite (or two or three) Stephen King book. What's yours?


  1. I became a Stephen King fan way back in the 70's when I was in college. My first book of his was 'Salem's Lot and I loved it. I have read CARRIE and THE DEAD ZONE and CHRISTINE. All were fine, but not my favorites. I do really love and have reread THE STAND several times. I have not read his later works, but have liked most of his film and TV adaptations. Haven't read this one either, but I have seen it mentioned over and over as a wonderful book for writers.

    1. Kay, I want to reread The Stand, but whenever I pick it up, I'm discouraged by the length. Plus, my copy is a mass market, which is no longer an option for my aging eyes! Time to put it on my Nook and just go for it, right? Maybe I'll start with Salem's Lot first, though.


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