On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft [Book Review] (Scribner; 10 Anv edition, 2010)

The only horror in Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is that he preaches hard work as the foundation to good writing.

With a steady dose of encouragement, King challenges writers of all levels to employ discipline as the key to developing one’s craft.

He also affirms his disdain of the passive voice and sings the praises of standard writing volumes like Strunk and Whites’ The Elements of Style and William Zinsser’s On Writing Well.

If you skip the first 100 pages and head straight to the “Tools” section of the book, you will find distilled guidance on writing fiction. With the exception of his advice to just let the plot happen (something only buffoons or geniuses like King should attempt), the book offers useful principles anyone can use. For example:

  • “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time (or the tools) to write.”
  • “Until you get [a place of your own to write] you’ll find your new resolution to write a lot hard to take seriously.”
  • Set a daily writing goal and don’t quit until it’s done.
  • Write what you know, but use imagination. Describe what you see, but then get back to the story.
  • Never tell the reader a thing if you can show it.
  • Good dialogue comes from listening to real people talk—and to how they talk.

The book would get five stars if not for a couple of gripes.

King used the first 100 pages to recount his life story and—in justification for doing so—his development as a writer. Granted, the memoir offers occasional kernels of wisdom on the craft of writing. But for the most part, the story of King’s life betrays the fact that successful horror novelists have little opportunity to publish an autobiography. (So squeeze it in wherever you can.)

Also, a writer as gifted as King doesn’t need to use profanity to make me laugh (that’s too easy). But hey, you write what you know.

In short, if you don’t mind spitting out a few bones, On Writing has some great stuff to chew on.

Tell me what you think: Have you read King’s book? What is your take on it? To leave a comment, just click here.

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