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On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft Paperback – Special Edition, July 6, 2010
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"A one-of-a-kind classic."--The Wall Street Journal
"This is a special book, animated by a unique intelligence, and filled with useful truth."—Michael Chabon
"On Writing had more useful and observant things to say about the craft than any book since Strunk and White's The Elements of Style."--Roger Ebert
“The best book on writing. Ever.”--The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
About the Author
Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes Sleeping Beauties (cowritten with his son Owen King), the short story collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, the Bill Hodges trilogy End of Watch, Finders Keepers, and Mr. Mercedes (an Edgar Award winner for Best Novel and now an AT&T Audience Network original television series), Doctor Sleep, and Under the Dome. His novel 11/22/63—a Hulu original television series event—was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller. His epic works The Dark Tower and It are the basis for major motion pictures. He is the recipient of the 2014 National Medal of Arts and the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.
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.....There are a plethora of takeaways from this fine reference, far too many to include in my review. I will attempt to prioritize the more important ones for myself and relay them to anyone kind enough to read my review on Amazon. If I have neglected to mention any of value, they have probably been mentioned or discussed before in countless other reviews of this work.
Takeaway 1--Omit needless words, adverbs, the passive voice, and excessive description whenever possible.
Takeaway 2--Imitation often precedes creation. SK related how as a child he often copied stories from authors he enjoyed verbatim; sometimes omitting and sometimes adding story fragments of his own creation. There is no shame in imitation if it is part of the learning process!
Takeaway 3--King lists his wife/marriage and his physical health as his two keys for success. The message for aspiring authors should be to exercise regularly and marry someone who is both positive and supporting of your endeavors.
Takeaway 4--Read a lot and write a lot. The art of description is a learned skill that develops and improves with copious reading and voluminous writing. There is no substitute for time invested in this make-or-break skill set.
Takeaway 5--Keep your story chronological whenever possible. Flashback sequences sometimes work well in the movies or on television, but often come across as corny or cliche in novels..
Takeaway 7--Find a network of trustworthy individuals to read and give feedback on your first draft in its rawest form.
.......Affably written and educational, this well organized book is a delight to read. There were several revelations in this book, the most important one revealed as Mr.King recounted his near-fatal accident in 1999(he was hit by a drunk driver in a van while out for his afternoon walk). He professes that life isn't a support system for art --the reverse is actually true. Art is a support system for life. Mr King recounts vividly how the inseparable link between his writing and his life helped motivate him during the many months of his painful recuperation. My favorite quote of his is near the end of the book: "Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it's about enriching the lives of those who read your work, and enriching your own life, as well." I cannot recommend this inspirational and entertaining book highly enough to readers. Pubished in 2001? Seems like it was written yesterday!
The breadth of this memoir comes as a surprise—what is a memoir of a craft anyway? King divides his memoir into several parts, including:
• C.V. (17-101).
• What Writing Is (103-137).
• On Writing (141-249).
• On Living: A Postscript (253-270).
• And Furthermore, Part I: Door Shut, Door Open (271-284).
• And Furthermore, Part II: A Booklike (285-288).
• Further to Furthermore, Part III (289-291).
His chapters are preceded by three forewords and, in spite of its length, this memoir reads quickly—but not too quickly. Still, the breadth of this work comes from the way that King weaves his life and his craft together—a visitor to the King house might be advised to forbear exploring the closets! What the heck; let’s explore.
King is an author and a household name. He has written numerous (35+) books, many of which have also appeared in film. As an example, his breakout work, Carrie, sold first as a paperback novel (1973) and was released three years later as a horror film.
Interestingly, Tabitha, King’s wife, rescued an early manuscript of Carrie from the trash, as King recalls:
“I had four problems with what I’d written. First, … the story didn’t move me emotionally. Second, ... I didn’t much like the lead character. Carrie White seemed thick and passive, a ready-made victim. … Third, … [I] was not feeling at home with either the surroundings or my all-girl cast of supporting characters. … Fourth, … the story wouldn’t pay unless it was pretty long. … I couldn’t see wasting two weeks, maybe even a month, creating a novella I didn’t like and wouldn’t be able to sell. So I threw it away.” (76-77)
But, confronted with his Ideal Reader (Tabitha) telling him that this manuscript had promise, King went back and gave Carrie his best shot.
This notion of an Ideal Reader is interesting. King writes for his wife, Tabitha, who happens also to be an author, which seems most fortunate because she can articulate her opinions to King in actionable language. King explains:
“Call that one person you write for Ideal Reader. He or she is going to be in your writing room all the time: in the flesh once you open the door and let the world back in to shine on the bubble of your dream, in spirit during the sometimes troubling and often exhilarating days of the first draft, when the door is closed.” (219)
King sees the Ideal Reader as particularly helpful in judging story pace—“the speed at which your narrative unfolds”—and the details to include in your backstory—“all the stuff that happened before your tale began but which has an impact on the front story” (220-223).
Part of the back story in King’s memoir evolves into front story in his postscript where he describes in detail his experience of being run over by a Dodge van in June of 1999, while walking down a country road in rural Maine (253-255). This story of his near-death experience might have been just an interesting aside, except for the fact that King had motivational problems in finishing this memoir back in that summer (265). I suspect that his life story suddenly became a slightly higher priority, having been thrown 14 feet in the air (259) and improbably lived through the experience.
Before I wrap up this review, let me make one more observation. King has an interesting view of plot. He describes plot as too big a hammer (a jackhammer) for normal use by fiction author and he prefers to motivate his characters through stressful situations (164). If you believe that we act out of our identities, then no two characters will respond the same way to a given tricky situation. How a story evolves out of a situation is therefore interesting and potentially surprising because people discover the character in themselves as they are challenged by life’s situations—we are ultimately strangers to ourselves; that is, until we are not. The thrill in the thriller is therefore hard to duplicate with a plot-line where the author already knows where the story will go and how it will get there—it is better to scrape the plot and discover the character the same way that a reader might. Therefore, King looks for strong situations and explores interesting what-if scenarios to challenge his characters and writes intuitively about how they respond (169).
Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing, is an interesting and helpful book for wannabe and experienced authors both, because he explores both writing and the writing life. Film buffs might also read this book to garner the backstory on his films, many of which are now cult classics. Personally, I read this book mostly because I like to read and love to write—perhaps, you do too.