Wednesday, January 4, 2012

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King (5 stars)

From Amazon: “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 his 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.

Originally published in 2000, Stephen King updated On Writing for the Tenth Anniversary edition by adding an additional foreword and an updated book list. Prior to reading this, I had never read anything by Stephen King. You see, I’m easily terrified, so King was never at the top of my to be read list. He is now, for many reasons.

To start, I love the way his words seem to convey meaning with such ease. As I was reading about his background and approach to writing, I felt like I was sitting next to him on the front porch while he talked. His childhood was by no means easy, and he points out the effect it had on his writing. If I was a betting woman, I’d say this book only scratches the surface on stories Stephen King could tell you about his younger years.

But I didn’t read this book to find out more about Stephen King. I wanted to find out more about his success as a writer, mine his success for tips. Turns out, his advice is simple but crucial: writers need to read, and read a lot, and they need to write. His suggestion: 1,000 words a day. King states that he writes every day except for Christmas and his birthday, but quickly admits to writing even then. Every single day. It’s a way of life for him. Even after his near-fatal accident, he was back to writing, might even say it saved him.

He also emphasizes the need to understand and use correct grammar and punctuation. He illustrates this by defining the essential tools in a writer’s toolbox: vocabulary and grammar (he recommends The Elements of Style by Strunk and White several times). I completely agree. Too often, a good story is overshadowed by horrible editing. At the end of the book he gives an example of a piece and his edits. I will be referring to it often.

King said what I needed to hear to kickstart my 2012 writing, but don’t read this for specific examples of how to be a better writer. His second foreword clears that up right away: “This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included, don’t understand very much about what they do—not why it works when it’s good, not why it doesn’t when it’s bad.”

I’ll admit, I might be a bit biased about this book. King declares, “You may wonder where plot is in all this. The answer—my answer, anyway—is nowhere. I won’t try to convince you that I’ve never plotted any more than I’d try to convince you that I’ve never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible.” I try to plot, truly I do, but I find myself drawn to just writing and seeing where the story leads me. King’s words comforted me—I have to be the writer I am.

In parting, I’ll leave you with King’s words, “You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”

Rating: 5 stars

I highly recommend this book to several groups: people who love a good story, King devotees, and writers looking for a kick in the butt, old-school style.


This review constitutes my first book read for The Stephen King Project. For more information on this challenge, please see my introduction post.


Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

"I love the way his words convey such meaning with ease." EXACTLY! That is what I've felt as well when reading his work. Even with his novella, The Colorado Kid, while I didn't think a whole heck of a lot happened, I really liked it because of the way he wrote everything so genuinely. He just has such a perfect way of describing human interactions and feelings in a real and honest way, I just love it. His introductions and afterwords are what I've always enjoyed as well, which is why On Writing is a book I do want to pick up!

Side note: Make sure you include the link to the project website, or include the button with the link into the post. I want to make sure everyone who has written an announcement post is included in the monthly prize entries! :)

Let me know if you have any questions - coffeeandabookchick at gmail dot com

I look forward to more of your reviews!

Tia Bach said...

Thanks, Natalie. Great point, and I'll be sure to include The Stephen King Project website and my introduction post links in every review as well as post my linky to the review on your site.

Tia Bach said...

Thanks, Natalie. Great point, and I'll be sure to include The Stephen King Project website and my introduction post links in every review as well as post my linky to the review on your site.

Tia Bach said...

Thanks, Natalie. Great point, and I'll be sure to include The Stephen King Project website and my introduction post links in every review as well as post my linky to the review on your site.

Tia Bach said...

BTW, I'm so excited to read more King. On Writing got me pumped up!

Kathleen said...

I'm so glad you have joined the challenge and I have had the opportunity to discover your blog. I LOVE this book and have recommended it to my teenage son who has dreams of being a writer.

Tia Bach said...

Thanks, Kathleen. I hope he feels as inspired as I did.

Suko said...

Tia, I am new to your blog; I arrived here from The Stephen King Project.

I read On Writing a while ago. Your excellent review refreshed my memory of it--it's an incredible, informative book. Read a lot, write a lot. Don't use fancy language. Simple yet profound advice is found in his book!

Tia Bach said...

Suko, Welcome! I look forward to reading 11/22/63... my first official King and reviewing it for The Stephen King Project.

I so agree... King's advice was simple but it has stuck with me.

Juan Carlos Nuñez said...

Great blog,and interesting analysis of S. King legacy and Life.

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