Michelle's Reviews > On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

On Writing by Stephen King
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's review
Oct 06, 11

bookshelves: memoir, non-fiction, writing
Read in October, 2011

Well color me all sorts of surprised. I've never read anything, not a paragraph, not a sentence, not a single word that Stephen King has ever written until now. I don't like the horror genre. Mostly because I really don't enjoy being scared, at least not too much, anyway. A little chill from a mild mannered ghost story never hurt me, of course, but my perception of Stephen King was entirely prejudice. I admit it. I heard enough rumors about It, Carrie and The Shining, so I put King in a category labeled "untouchable" and left him there.

My sister actually recommended the book after she and her husband read it. He's in a creative writing class...so, it landed in my lap last week. She told me he was funny and had some really good advice for wanna-be writers like yours truly. And I figured, whatever, can't hurt, right? No indeed. It did not hurt me at all.

Normally I would find a book about how to write a bit...well...counter-intuitive, if you know what I mean. If someone has to tell you how to write, then writing might not be your thing. However, this is not an instructional manual. Sure he instructs and sure he talks about style. But he does a lot...a LOT, a lot...more than just that.

Let's start at the beginning, shall we? King first regales his audience with stories from his misspent youth. And his life story is endearing. In fact, I'm quite sure had Mr. King and I grown up next door to each other, I would have wanted to be pals. Besides being full of adventure, King was curious, smart and worked hard. All these things are traits that I respect. He tells the story of his life in a way that lets us inside his mind. We get a small glimpse of what fueled his later writing career. And he tells us how he started that career - the encouragement from his wife was priceless. I think anyone can become anything they want to be with a cheerleader like Tabitha King. And oh how he does love his wife. Some really romantic stuff going on here...and no, I am not talking about a Nicholas Sparks novel. I'm talking about real romance between two real live people. So there I was, reading this book, learning about how Stephen King became the Stephen King and cooing over his marriage. It is good stuff, folks.

Then he gives you the "instruction manual"...if I must label it. In King's words, the tools of the trade, the elements of style, how to edit, the ins and outs of publishing. Lots and lots of practical, straight forward advice. I don't have to recount the credibility of a writer as proliferate as King is. I know that. Like his work or not, he clearly has experience, and decades of it, to boot. This isn't a treatise on how to write horror stories anyway, so if that isn't your schtick, and it isn't mine, don't worry. His advice is still good. He doesn't preach like it's gospel, and he is completely willing to call out his own faults in his own writing. He gives concrete examples, explains things that don't work (as a rule...and there are always ALWAYS exceptions to rules), and then moves on to the next topic. Trust me, it isn't dry or boring. The man has voice. And it came through in each section of the book. But really, what I loved about this section was his ability to encourage. I honestly finished it, and thought, Yes...YES I CAN! And a big THANKS Mr. King from me to you. I needed that.

Lastly, he tells you a little ditty about his near death when a van hit him in 1999. I actually cried during this section. First of all, I felt like Mr. King and I had become pretty good friends at this point. What with him spilling the dirt on his childhood and falling in love with his wife and all. And then becoming my personal coach and cheerleader. How inspiring is it when I guy nearly gets ripped apart by a van and he comes back and starts to write again. This is a guy who has been to hell and back in more than one way. He's a good husband and father. He's a comeback kid. He's a writer. And if you want to be a writer, I recommend it. Not just because he'll give you good advice or show you how it's done. More because I think he honestly cares about humanity and about the craft. And if you want to read a really really great memoir, you can skip the writing advice and just learn about the master of horror. I think you'll be delightfully caught of guard. I know I was.


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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Sean Camoni I have read King all my life, and I was just as surprised by this book. I despise being taught to write, but this and "Bird by Bird" were both great reads as a young(ish) writer. My favorite point King made was about putting the desk in the corner instead of the center of the room. Always stuck with me.

Michelle I agree, Sean. And I guess that's why I loved it. It felt like advice, honestly given, rather than a "bible" of rules that writers must follow to be successful. I loved the advice about the desk, especially after he'd put his fancy desk away and realized that he needed to be in a space that didn't distract him. I also love the door closed, door open advice.

So since you have been a fan of King, what do you recommend that won't scare the bejeezus out of me?

message 3: by Sean (last edited Oct 12, 2011 07:43PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sean Camoni Not much! His stuff is at the least disturbing, and at the far extreme very gory. But even the non-gory stuff can be terrifying. The Stand has the scariest scene I've ever read in a book, and I've read the book 3 times. The Dark Tower series is pretty incredible. Actually, I can't recall anything too scary about The Dragon's Eye. He wrote that as a fairy tale for his daughter when she was young. It ties tangentially into Dark Tower series, but it's a standalone story. Been a while since I read it, but I liked it. Dead Zone isn't gory as I recall, but freaky. I would recommend the scarey ones though, they're the best. The Shining, The Stand, Salem's Lot, Dark Half. The Talisman is tense and fast-paced, but not a horror novel, though there may be moments I'm forgetting - one of my favorite novels overall. Let me know if you try any, I'd be interested to hear your reaction.

Michelle Thanks. I've been thinking about trying The Stand. Maybe I'll give it a go. I also like the sound of The Talisman. And The Dark Tower series actually seems like something I'd really like. Are any of them gory? I can take the fear as long as they aren't gory. I'll let you know what I think!

Sean Camoni Dark Tower books all have their moments of gore. Talisman not so much, though I may just be forgetting. But it's an amazing book.

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