On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft Book Review
Updated: Jun 24
Whether or not you're a fan of horror and suspense, you know the name Stephen King. There's little room for argument about his success as a writer. And who better to seek writing advice from than a pro?
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is part biography, part advice, and (spoiler alert) one-hundred percent worth the read.
Genre: Nonfiction; Writing
Rating: 5/5 STARS
...books are a uniquely portable magic.
We all know the magic of getting lost in fiction, and writers know creating fiction can be just as enchanting as reading it; though at times, it feels more akin to beating your head against a wall. Sometimes we need advice, encouragement, or a kick in the ass. Stephen King is here to deliver all of the above.
On Writing begins with three forwards followed by short, entertaining stories from King’s life—moments that shaped him as a writer and inspired his stories. Seeing how he strung together mundane experiences and observances with random thoughts to create fantastical situations and stories is fascinating.
Next is the “Toolbox” section, where he gives advice in a conversational yet no-nonsense tone. In this section, readers will find to-dos and do-nots; general advice on setting up a space, writing, editing, and publishing; inspiration; reading recommendations and source material; and an exercise or two.
King rounds it all out with a story about how this book almost didn’t make it out of his desk drawer, and how the craft helped him through one of the toughest moments of his life. He also includes an example of a first draft and edits with an excerpt of 1408, as well as a list of books he’s personally enjoyed and feels he’s learned from.
You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.
While doling out advice, King is also quick to admit that he, like everyone else, is human, and that he breaks his own rules from time to time, resorting to the use of adverbs and passive voice (both of which he has strong opinions on). This goes to show that even the Big Writing Names are imperfect; that imperfection is a given, not something to be so terrified of that you go into paralysis-by-analysis.
You need only look back through some of my own fiction to know that I'm just another ordinary sinner. [...] No writer is entirely without sin in these matters.
King’s encouragement to use intuition and trust yourself is inspiring. Whether or not you agree with some of his writing opinions, you're sure to feel inspired by the way he speaks about the process. Here are a few of my favorite bits:
...stopping a piece of work just because it's hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don't feel like it, and sometimes you're doing good work when it feels like all you're managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.
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 will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It's about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy." [...] Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.
The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things only get better.
Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want. Anything at all...as long as you tell the truth. The dictum in writing classes used to be "write what you know." Which sounds good, but [...] the heart also knows things, and so does the imagination. Thank God. If not for the heart and imagination, the world of fiction would be a pretty seedy place. It might not even exist at all.
Aside from all the useful intel and inspiring messages, I quite enjoyed King's life stories. I feel I learned from even these segments. I also swooned over the way he talks about his wife and her impact on his career. For instance, when discussing how each writer has an "Ideal Reader," King says this:
Do all opinions weigh the same? Not for me. In the end I listen most closely to Tabby, because she's the one I write for, the one I want to wow.
If you are looking for a little sweetness, pick up this book and find the sections where he mentions his wife. Sure, that isn't really the purpose of this book, but those sections are sure to tug at your heartstrings.
Reading this book, especially as someone who’s read none of his fiction, it becomes obvious that King has a way with words, a knack for storytelling. I enjoyed the funny, conversational tone that reminds me of my blog partner Jordan's writing.
I would highly recommend this book to writers at any stage in their career, and would go so far as to say this is THE book on writing (see what I did there?) any aspiring fiction author should read. Beginners will find the information inside invaluable; seasoned writers will no doubt find inspiration and gain new insights to help them improve further. I tabbed the shit out of this book, and will be coming back to it again and again.
Interested in reading this book? Pick up a copy here or at your local retailer! If you've read it before, share your opinions and favorite parts with us in the comments below or on social media. As always, you can find us lurking around bookstagram and Twitter.