Book Review: OnWriting – A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Stephen King

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King is part mini-biography, part “how to” on writing. Ironically, I have never read a Stephen King novel. I found this book in the reference section at my favorite B&N down the street from my house. I don’t live under a rock. Of course, I knew who Stephen King was. I also knew that his genre of preference was the furthest from my own. Psychotic episodes, gore and guts, mystery and suspense are not the kinds of things I consider enjoyable when reading; much less when watching something. You will never catch me intentionally watching a scary movie. I feel enough anxiety at work every day; don’t need a scary movie to pile it on, thank you very much.

Any book that starts off with not one, not two but three forewards simply has to be either pretty good or overindulgent. Even though the three forewards turned out to be more enjoyable than overindulgent, the real reason why this book had any real chance of coming home with me was because of the first couple of sentences in chapter one. “I was stunned by Mary Karr’s memoir…she is a woman that remembers everything about her early years. I’m not that way.” Neither am I, Mr. King. I hardly remember anything at all about my earlier life. And there you have it. That’s how Mr. King and I first connected.

Having never read any of his books, I didn’t have an understanding of the quality of his writing. But I figured anyone who has written more than sixty-five books and adapted more than five of them into movies must know a little something about writing. My other dilemma was that I wasn’t entirely sure I was “allowed” to read this instructional book since I had never read any of his other books. It seemed somewhat hypocritical of me. “Who’s cares?” I thought. Then I snapped out of it when I realized the foolishness of my concern. It’s not like there are literary policemen watching over my shoulder forbidding me from taking instruction from a renowned author whose books I’ve never read. So off I went back home with this fine book in hand.

Like Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington, On Writing by Stephen King is one of those books that felt to me like reading a letter from an old friend. I found myself laughing out loud on several occasions. He is blunt, unapologetic and intrepid. “As all sophomoric humorists must be, I was totally blown away by my own wit. What a funny fellow I was! A regular mill-town H.L. Mencken! I simply must take the Vomit to school and show all my friends! They would bust a collective gut!” Ha! I love the confidence. And he was right, they did collectively bust a gut. However, it landed him in the principle’s office since the Vomit poked fun of the school’s faculty. With the exception of one teacher, the rest of the faculty thought it equally entertaining (including the principle).

In the first half of the book, Mr. King writes briefly about his life and his talent. He realized at a fairly early age that he had a real knack for writing. He was a sickly child who suffered often from acute ear infections which all started from a mild case of the measles which later progressively worsened. He spent nine months in bed. Then he had to have his tonsils removed shortly thereafter. He had missed too much of the school year so he was pulled out. During the time he was sick in bed all he could do was read. Mr. King read voraciously. He would copy comics verbatim until one day his mother suggested he write his own. “Those Combat Casey funny books are just junk – he’s always knocking someone’s teeth out. I bet you could do better. Write one of your own.”

Mr. King took her words to heart and the rest, as they say, is history.

Stephen King

The second half of the book is the instructional part. So much of it, if not all of it, is very good advice on writing. His most important piece of advice for becoming a better writer is by becoming an avid reader. “You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own as you do so…If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” He explains his advice in detail even providing plenty of examples from his own work which makes it all the more useful for the reader. He warns about the dangers of spending too much time watching television. He emphasizes the absolute need to learn how to accurately describe things, people, and situations. Descriptions are imperative for a good narrative. He gives useful advice on how to correct one’s own work through working on more than one draft. He makes it abundantly clear that he’s not a fan of writing workshops. He advises us to find an “Ideal Reader” (IR) to critique one’s manuscript.

On Writing is a wonderfully written unconventional reference book. It doesn’t bore the reader to death with “how to” and “what not to do” instruction. Mr. King shares with the reader several stories about his life and his writing while he instructs the reader on how something should be accomplished. As I mentioned previously, I’ve never read any of his novels but if you’re a true Stephen King fan looking to learn how to improve your writing then you’ll absolutely love this book. I was able to keep up with some of his references such as the mention of The Shining and IT. I may have recalled another one or two but can’t remember right now.

But above all, my favorite piece of advice is to write for yourself and to be proud to be a writer. “I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given-talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.” “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”

Mr. King can be quite judgmental of other authors and the excessive use of expletives was unnecessary. Other than that, I thought the book was fantastic so I gave it a five (5) on Goodreads. As always, I’d love to know whether you get a chance to read it! Looking forward to hearing from you. ๐Ÿ™‚

 

Much Love,

Globetrotter Momma

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30 Comments Add yours

  1. Enjoyed reading your review, GTM, and your take on the book. Some of those quotes are memorable and enjoyed reading them!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you my friend. I noticed that you read it as well. Did you love it as much as I did?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I did. I read it shortly after โ€œBird By Birdโ€ by Anne Lamott, and it was interesting from that perspective as well ๐Ÿ˜Š

        Like

  2. Sarah Lea Stories says:

    Keel dem darlins!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. mirymalu says:

    I read this in grad school and have been meaning to pick it up again. Thanks for the reminder!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome. I thought it was a great read. Loved getting to know a more personal aspect of him. I’m referring to his writing style. It’s always interesting to see a master showcasing her/his techniques. Enjoy!

      Like

  4. I read this book just before I started writing my own first book. It was inspiring. And some (but not all) of King’s books are among my favourites.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pragya says:

    I have always been meaning to read this and your review makes me want to pick this up right away. Lovely review. I love your personal touches and expressions. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so very much for your kind words. I think you’ll really enjoy it. Let me know what you think of it once your done. Enjoy! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Pragya says:

        Absolutely. ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I felt the same way reading this book ๐Ÿ™‚ I loved the way he made his journey personal and his advice reachable. Totally changed my view on writing in general.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You hooked me on your blog with this post. This is my favorite “craft” book, and I also have never read SK’s other books. Growing up “Lassie” was too stressful for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh good! I’m glad to hear you’re officially hooked. ๐Ÿ˜‰ We’ve got lots in common. Lassie was too stressful for me as well! I even had difficulty watching Tarzan (in black and white) because it was too much action and suspense for my young nerves. Wow, I’m really dating myself here. Lol

      Like

  8. I think you’re right. I’m stress-averse….and now that I’m working/writing from home, it’s DELIGHTFUL!! I’ll explore more of your blog as I have time. (Oh, I once won a jingle contest and the prize was a library of Edgar Rice Burroughs books, so I know Tarzan!)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow, we really do have lots in common! I work from home as well. Okay, sounds good. Looking forward to your next visit. See you soon! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I love how you explained the initial dilemma of feeling that you couldn’t read the book as you hadn’t read his fiction. Sounds like you made a good decision. Has reading this made you consider reading any of his novels?

    I read a bunch of SK books when I was younger, and your post has reminded me that I bought On Writing but never read it! In fact, it’s probably gathering dust on the book shelf at my parents’ house. After reading your review, I’m thinking perhaps I should go track it down!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, I think I made a good choice as well. No, I can’t say that I’ve picked up any of his books since. I honestly don’t enjoy suspense, gore or reading about people’s inner most carnal and perverse impulses. It creeps me out! I wouldn’t be able to sleep afterwards and I’m already a very light sleeper as it is. So…I think I’ll pass for now. But I know so many people that enjoy that kind of literature.

      Ooooh, you should take it down and dust it off! If you’re already a fan of his work then I’m certain you’ll enjoy this book. Once you do read it, please be sure to let me know what you think. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

      1. Haha, I see what you mean. Back when I was reading a lot of his books, I remember being surprised by his reputation as a horror writer. Most of the books I read seemed to fit better in the fantasy or supernatural genre. It was his ability to create these vast and complex worlds which always amazed me. Having said that, I did experience some uneasy nights’ sleep whilst reading ‘It’! I saw that they’d made it into a movie a while ago, and judging by the horrifying trailer it looks like they’ve really upped the terror. I shall be avoiding that… ^^

        I’ll let you know if I do get round to reading this oneโ€”thanks!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ah! I didn’t know that about his books. I always learn something new. Maybe I’ll check one out. Thanks for the suggestion.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Probably the second book I would save if my house was on fire. The first? Winnie-the-Pooh ๐Ÿ˜Ž

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! I think I’m with you on this one.

      Like

  12. Loni Keks says:

    Hey!

    I’m so glad that I found this blog entry! I totally love the books by Stephen King and I’m interested in writing. So, I guess this book fits perfect for me. Right now I’m so excited to read this!
    Also, I can recommend his books really. Mostly there aren’t so scary parts. Sometimes it’s just a little disgusting or it’s freaking exciting. Also, it’s totally worth it to read a book by Stephen King. He can write so good. It’s incredible! I could recommend “Delores Clairborne”. This book isn’t any scary. Give it a chance!

    Best regards,
    Loni Keks

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Yeah, I think you’ll love his book on writing if you already like his style. Hmmm…that actually sounds like a viable option. Thanks for the recommendation! I truly appreciate it. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Shak says:

    Might have to give this book a spin๐Ÿ™๐Ÿพ

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh for sure. You shouldn’t miss out on this gem. Enjoy!

      Like

  14. Viola Bleu says:

    Canโ€™t get enough of this book – reading it has been a real turning point for me ๐Ÿฅ‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yay! That’s awesome. I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying it as much as I did. It really IS that good. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Crystal says:

    Thanks for sharing this review. I was recommended to read this book and from what you noted, I find the advice encouraging as a writer. I especially agree with the line he said about writing, “…In the end, itโ€™s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”

    He couldn’t have said it better!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome. I agree. That is a great line. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

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