Book Review — On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

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Title: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Edition: Audible Audio
Year: 2000

I debated, whether this was going to be a real review or only personal thoughts on the book. I opted to do both. I cannot look at this book as a reader; the reader in me isn’t the one who wanted to read this book. I read this book for the writer, therefore it was only the writer who was listening.

I’m sure many of you writers out there have heard good things about this book. I had. I had been told from numerous sources, most of them not Stephen King readers, that this book was an absolute must for any writer. Yeah, okay, that’s nice. I’ve heard that about a lot of books.

Well, I’ve been sold on that. This is a book every writer should read. Why? Well, it’s not geared to any particularly genre. He mentions genres—certainly horror gets its share of the spotlight, which it deserves seeing as this is Stephen King—but he makes it clear that he loves the literary stuff, too. His advice is not the advice for a specific kind of writer, but for every writer. He doesn’t apologize, he doesn’t water down, and he doesn’t fluff anything up. He also doesn’t make you despair. Stephen King has been there, and he wants to make sure that you the reader understand that he understands.

So, format of the book. The first half of the book is his own personal memoir. I probably learned more about the King family than I cared to know, but it was interesting, captivating, and it’s good to know where King came from before he was STEPHEN KING. The second half of the book is King’s advice to writers: what he thinks every writer should keep in their “toolbox,” his advice to becoming a good writer, and what he considers the best methods for getting your manuscript ready to send off. The book also has a postscript in which he talks about the 1999 accident he was in, and how that affected his writing of this book and the rest of his writing.

So here’s a quick summary of what I picked up from his book. Number One: I fill up the wrong parts of my “toolbox.” I love research, I always have, and I get too caught up in the minute details because I’m OCD and need very odd kinds of perfection even from my first draft. I need to keep in mind that those are the things I can fix later and return to in my later drafts.

Number Two: I share my work too soon. As soon as I write the first chapter of a new piece, I want to share. Well, I need to kill that impulse and return to my high school impulse: keep it locked away and tell NO ONE what you’re doing. I had a better writing ethic in high school when I was writing my truly horrific novel about elves (trust me, it was special on so many levels) than on the stuff I’m writing now. King talks about leaving the door closed through the entire first draft process, meaning keep it to yourself and speed write your way through. I can’t quite do that; when I get writer’s block, I like to have someone to help walk me through it; something they say will generally trigger a lightbulb. If I can’t keep the door closed the entire first draft, at least I need to make it awfully close. Only open a crack.

Number Three: Remember who you’re writing for. I write for myself, and for my own fun, but when I’m writing original fiction (compared to say fan fiction), I sometimes forget that. King has the advantage of a built-in ideal reader who he always writes for, and wants to please: his wife. I have no ideal reader yet. There is no single person that I hope my work makes smile. I haven’t found that person yet. But the idea of keeping a person like that in the back of my mind I think will help keep me motivated.

Finally, I think I need to address what it was that made this book work more than most. It’s personal. Stephen King throws the doors open and basically welcomes everyone into his private life. His devotion and love for his wife and family are wonderful. You can feel his love for Tabby through the way he writes about her, just by how much he values her opinion. The sincerity of his voice begs for anyone to sit up and listen.

Final thoughts. If you want to be a writer, take the time for this book. Something will stand out to you. If you can, find an audio version. This was my trial download for Audible.com and I don’t regret it one bit. Listening to Stephen King read made it that much better.

Grade: A

Blog Comments

This is a great review, Ashley! And it makes me want to go out and get this book. We talked a lot about Stephen King at Taos Toolbox (he shares an agent with Nancy Kress and Walter Jon Williams).

I also become very impatient about sharing initial drafts. And I totally want to read this elven story of yours now, haha! But working and reworking a story is one of the chores of this profession. Should really just sack up and do that…

Again thanks for this review!

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