Review: “On Writing”

On WritingOn Writing by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was leery of this book: It was recommended a lot, and I don’t read Stephen King (it’s his fault, his stories scare the bejeezus out of me), and I was afraid it was going to be full of platitudes and useless, generic advice.

I have never before been unable to sleep because of a book, nor have I ever finished a book only to immediately go back and read it again — until now. This book is outstanding, both as a memoir and as practical advice for writers. I recommend it to everyone who is literate. I’m serious.

“On Writing” is 2/3 memoir and 1/3 writing advice, and it will leave you feeling as if you’ve just enjoyed a long and intimate chat with repeat-best-selling novelist Stevie King over a cup of tea on the back porch. In some cases, it’s as if he actually unzipped himself and let you step in and see the world from his eyes. It’s incredible.

While I loved the introductory “C.V” section on his childhood and his life up until the publication of “Carrie,” the book really endeared itself to me when King proclaims he does not believe every person can be a good writer, or that any good writer can become great. This was the first time in all of the many writing blogs, tools, etc., that I’ve read that someone has admitted that not everyone is cut out for this work.

WHAT A RELIEF! (Of course, I’m fervently hoping that I DO make the cut one day, but at least I can believe King because of his honesty). I am beyond exhausted with this “everyone can be a great storyteller!” meme because it’s so patently false–even in an age where loose spinoffs of “Twilight” see mass publication and sales, not everyone can get that (and in some cases, those that do shouldn’t).

He doesn’t say it is easy even for those who are writers, but he opens the door for hard work and practice. Even though this sounds like negative advice, I found it uplifting and energizing.

Even though much of his advice runs directly counter to other advice I’ve heard/read/picked up along the way, I believe him wholeheartedly. Perhaps it’s because I’m a wannabe writer born in the wrong time period, making my belief in his methods self-serving.

Some of his thoughts:
-He doesn’t put much stock in writing seminars or criticism groups.
-Write “with the door closed” (I interpret this as counter to the “post everything immediately!” trend in blogging)
-It’s ok to do your research after you’ve already completed a draft.
-You ought to expect to (sometimes) change your draft based on your first readers’ reactions.
-He recommends a general form letter for query letters (I have a feeling these would be rejected now, but my attempts to ask agents have gone unanswered so far. Still, it’s a relief that even those who know what they’re doing seem to have no idea how best to get an agent’s/publisher’s attention. It’s all a crapshoot).

And, which resonates most of all:
-Don’t write a story just because it’s currently popular or trendy or selling. Write it because you love it.

It’s possible that if Mr. King were an aspiring author today, his experiences would be different–but I hope that isn’t the case. This book invigorated and inspired me more than any other I’ve read, and I hope to replicate well the lessons here learned.

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4 responses to “Review: “On Writing”

  1. “On Writing” is one of my favorite books on the subject. Good review!

  2. Pingback: Stephen King at His Worst | M.E. Kinkade

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