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

On Writing by Stephen King
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's review
May 01, 2012

really liked it
Read in April, 2012

I listened to this book because I teach writing and know that many of my students love anything "Stephen King." The title should be On Writing: The Stephen King Method of Becoming a Huge Success like Stephen King. While he does have sound advice (“avoid adverbs,” “memorize Elements of Style by Strunk and White,” "write everyday," and the like), and he does have a good regimen for his writing, he does not acknowledge that there might be variations of how to build a life around writing. I suppose the word "memoir" in the title allows for this striking omission. He doesn’t acknowledge that other writers might arrange their lives a bit differently. As for academics who are writers (like myself and many of King's writer friends), we have a day job to support our writing, and, King claims, we have a job that provides us time to write. Really? No.

I do think the reader should be cautioned that King, though he claims to not have forgotten, seems indeed to have forgotten what it is like to be a beginning- to fledgling- writer. He gives his formula for his proliferation (write in the morning, revise and read in the afternoon, family time in evening); however, I don't know how realistic this is for young writers. To King's credit, he does acknowledge that before he had this luxury of writing all day, he became a writer in the mill houses and other odd jobs he held. He does talk about how writing should be part of your life even if you're packing fries into little paper sleeves, but he doesn't suggest how one might do that. Just makes me wonder what the King bibliography would look like if he hadn't had the success, if Carrie hadn't been picked up by Doubleday. Also implied is that if you write every day (7 days a week), you will become a successful writer. Only at the very end does he directly talk about writing for the sake of writing, writing to enhance one's life, whether success follows or not.

I really appreciated his hammering of the "toolbox," reserving the top shelf for vocabulary, with the other tools (elements of craft) in the toolbox. King is not afraid to name some very weak books (Bridges of Madison County, for example), and he focuses a great deal on the importance of language. What I loved most was the discussion of craft with the stories from his childhood. He selected carefully. It was a thrill to connect scenes from various books/stories with his childhood experiences.


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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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John Herceg I really enjoyed this book, but your comments helped me realize that I do not have the experience to spot when I am reading idealized advice! As a beginning to fledgling writer, I can still be naive when it comes to imagining what is possible through hard work alone. King is a great example of success, but his life story is an exceptional success...not a common one. I appreciate your view on this text because it helped me put "On Writing" in perspective!

Terry I read the book because of your review. I now use Goodreads (after having required it of my students) to find books to read and listen to. All through the first half or so of the book, I thought, "I'm going to assign this when I teach the "Introduction to CRW" class. I love his focus on language and hard work and writing despite jobs and family. But then came King's success and he kind of veers off into "this is how you become able to support yourself on your writing of fiction" a bit too much. I could imagine new writers thinking that all you have to do is write all day, and wa-la! money and success and movie options, etc.

I have no doubt King worked hard in those early years, and that he still does. I'd still recommend this book to new writers (with a caution, or while reading other biographies or autobiographies of writers). And perhaps my take on it has to do with the fact that I'm a poet, and I'm still waiting on that movie option for the poems!

John Herceg Well, I'll just give my friends in Hollywood a call and we'll see what we can do ;)

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