Thursday, February 3, 2011

Review: On Writing by Stephen King

On Writing: A Memoir of the CraftBook Details:
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
By Stephen King
Genre: Biography
Published 2000, Scribner
Hardback, 288 pages
ISBN: 0684853523

"If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write."
In 1999, Stephen King began to write about his craft -- and his life. By midyear, a widely reported accident jeopardized the survival of both. And in his months of recovery, the link between writing and living became more crucial than ever.
Rarely has a book on writing been so clear, so useful, and so revealing. On Writing begins with a mesmerizing account of King's childhood and his uncannily early focus on writing to tell a story. A series of vivid memories from adolescence, college, and the struggling years that led up to his first novel, Carrie, will afford readers a fresh and often very funny perspective on the formation of a writer. King next turns to the basic tools of his trade -- how to sharpen and multiply them through use, and how the writer must always have them close at hand. He takes the reader through crucial aspects of the writer's art and life, offering practical and inspiring advice on everything from plot and character development to work habits and rejection.
Serialized in the New Yorker to vivid acclaim, On Writing culminates with a profoundly moving account of how King's overwhelming need to write spurred him toward recovery, and brought him back to his life.
Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower -- and entertain -- everyone who reads it.
I have not now nor ever been a fan of Stephen King's fiction, nor do I intend to change that pattern. His personal brand of fiction is simply not for me. But since this book is non-fiction, curiosity got the better of me. I am glad that I read this book very much, for both the memoir of his writing life, as well as the writing skills he attempts to impart.
The first half of the book is largely a memoir of King's life, with a focus on his writing career. The reader learns things such as what inspired him, what he liked in fiction, his initial forays into getting published, as well as his many rejections and criticisms. I found it both interesting and ironic that his first big book, Carrie, was accomplished largely thanks to his wife's encouragement, as he never really cared for the main character. He could take the simplest ideas, put two random thoughts together, and make them into these successful stories. All of this is woven into the more mundane aspects of his life, from schooling, to various jobs, to meeting his future wife.
The second part of the book is all about what King considers good writing practices, as well some of the advice that King has received over the years, such as when writing a second draft, subtract 10% from the original. He even goes into the details of good grammar and repeatedly refers to Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. He finishes off this section by showing a section of a first draft he wrote, and then the edited second draft of it to give the reader an idea of how to approach the editing process.
A final section in the book goes into the details of when King was hit and nearly killed by a "blue van" and the effect that it had on his life and his writing. The accident actually occurs before he begins the second part of this book, giving the manuscript the possibility of never being completed. This was probably the most intriguing part of the book for me, as he was able to remember in vivid detail what happened to him, and yet he seemed to be oddly emotionally-detached from its long-term consequences for his life. There is only one short paragraph in which I actually pick up on some emotion, when he discusses how quickly the driver of the blue van will likely be returning to the road. At one point he also made the observation that the driver could have stepped from the pages of one of his novels. What I do love is that his passion for writing helped him to overcome his injuries and regenerate that need to keep putting words to the page.

The Cover: My guess is that the cover features Stephen King's home, though I can't figure out if what is shown was referred to in the book or not. It still seems like a pretty generic picture for a memoir / writing book.

First Line: "In the early nineties (it might have been 1992, but it's hard to remember when you're having a good time) I joined a rock-and-roll band composed mostly of writers."
This is certainly an interesting way to begin a book about writing, since I immediately want to ask - what does this have to do with writing, much less anything??
Favorite Quote: "Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up."

Read For: Twenty-Eleven Challenge


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