He is considered one of the bestselling writers in the world, with over fifty novels, hundreds of short-stories, several movie adaptations and television series, as well as comic book adaptations, so it’s probably safe to say that Stephen King knows a thing or two about writing. His nonfiction tome, Danse Macabre, is considered one of the most influential books about horror ever written and is a Horror 101 requirement in your on-going writing education. Whether you like his works of fiction, or if you think he can’t write himself out of a wet paper bag, there is no doubt of King’s influence over the genre. After a nasty accident in 2000 when King was run over by a drunk driver, and subsequent recovery, King took stock of his life, his accomplishments, and failures, and wrote On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Part auto-biographical, part How-To book, and 100% compelling, this is a book I return to again and again when things aren’t working out too well in the fiction department.
If there’s one thing to say about this book it is that it’s important to read it front to back the first time. Why? Well, like any good book written by an exceptional writer, King is a natural storyteller, and you’re going to want to know this story. Nothing is glossed over, or out of place. King lays it all bare, warts and all, and gives you an insider’s view of what can happen when instant fame and fortune comes your way and you lose sight of what’s really important. And lose sight he did, almost to the point of losing everything he ever cared about. Fortunately, he got it all together and continued to write.
The beginning part, C.V., goes through King’s earliest memories. The parts about when he and his brother started their own publishing company, and exactly what King was writing for that publishing company will have you grinning from ear to ear. At times heartfelt and surprisingly honest, King takes his time going through his memories, which is an excellent insight into the next sections, where he breaks down the craft of writing. Starting with TOOLBOX, King gives us his personal version of The Elements of Style, without sounding like a complete snob. He writes here about your vocabulary, recommending placing it at the top with the added warning of not trying to improve it, as your reading habits will do that naturally. Grammar comes next, then a nice bit about form, especially the form of paragraphs. The following section, ON WRITING, continues in the same, folksy voice we know King for, where he flows through the things he’s learned through many years about the nuts and bolts of writing. There’s a strong emphasis on reading here, which is not surprising, as often the best writers are really more readers than anything else. Finally, King’s postscript, ON LIFE, brings everything around full circle, closing out this memoir with a satisfying and inspiring finish.
This book should be on every writer’s shelf. It is not just for horror writers, and if you know your King, you already know that a lot of his stories fall more into science-fiction and suspense than anything else, so it easy to see how any writer can benefit from reading it. If you have it on your shelf now, take some time and revisit it. And if you’ve never read it, Stephen King’s On Writing needs to be on your To-Be-Read pile at the very top, you won’t regret it.
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