December 1, 2014

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King


This is pretty much the first book that always comes up when books on writing are mentioned, and frankly, I'm 100% in agreement. It's not a perfect book. For example, I always laugh out loud when I read in the foreword, "This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit." King then proceeds to fill the next ≈300 pages chitchatting about his childhood and car accident and favorite movies (to be fair, his subtitle does say it's a memoir). I've read a lot of Stephen King in my day, and I would never, ever accuse him of being brief or concise in his writing. Second, a lot of his examples about publishing are outdated. He talks about typewriters and S.A.S.Es and taking notes with a pad and pencil. He's not the person to ask if you want to learn about writing apps or current publishing practices or finding an agent.

Still, this book is like sitting at the knee of a gregarious uncle who has been at writing and publishing for a very long time. Any aspiring writer would be crazy to turn down a chance like that. He doesn't offer some ground-breaking new ideas about how he became one of the most influential writers of our time--he sticks to basics like working hard and treating writing like a career and balancing your ambition with your personal life--but still, he gives glimpses into how HE has been so successful by doing very specific things. I really believe that there is something in this book for everyone--it will be different for every single person, but every time I read it, something new strikes me that has helped with my own writing.

I also happen to believe that King is a genius. I've read a lot of his fiction and non-fiction. I think he is brilliant. I think he does things for certain reasons. I think he has done what most of us yearn to do--make a successful career from thinking and exploring and writing. There's a reason he's continually a best-selling author, and I personally don't believe there's anyone in the profession who has nothing to learn from him.

Buy this book--don't borrow it. Own it, mark it up, crease pages, re-read it whenever you're in a rut. Uncle Stephen and his stories will always be in style.

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