On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft | book review


Title: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: October 2000
Rating: 4 stars

Being an English major, I’m sure you can all guess what absolute favorite activities are. Go on, give it a shot.

Did you guess reading and writing? If so, congratulations, you assumed the obvious.

Tomorrow is the last day of my Creative Writing class that I started the first of June. I’d never taken a class on creative writing before, so I was very excited. Our “textbook” for the five-week course was Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing. I was thrilled. Although I’ve only read one of King’s novels (Carrie), I’m still a fan and know the story to dozens of his novels.

King’s memoir not only gives advice on writing, but delves deep into the life of the man himself. The book opens with three Forewards, followed by a section titled C.V., which stands for curriculum vitae – an overview of a person’s experience. These pages detail his life from his earliest memories to sitting at his desk writing the memoir you’re reading. It is his way of showing how his life helped form him into the writer he is today. He does not believe a writer can be made – “the equipment comes with the original package.” In these pages, you learn a lot about King – his childhood, how he started writing, his inspiration for Carrie and other novels, his wife and children, and so much more that I found incredibly interesting to read.

The next section is a short one called What Writing Is. King says it’s simply telepathy. Then, there’s the Toolbox section. Here, King explains that writers must have a toolbox of skills with at least four levels. The first level is vocabulary, followed by grammar, form, and style. He basically says that if these things aren’t already learned and ingrained in you at the most basic levels, you probably aren’t destined to become a writer. He goes on to explain these four levels in enough detail to learn and understand, but not too much that you grow bored. I happen to love grammar and vocabulary, but most people would rather stab their eyes with a fork than learn about those kinds of things. King understands this.

A good chunk of the novel is his section On Writing, in which he attempts to explain how to write good fiction, or rather how he himself has learned to write good fiction. You can argue all you want that his novels are terrible, and you’re entitled to your own opinion, but his success proves that he does have the qualifications to teach these things.

The book ends with a Postscript and three Furthermore’s, the latter of which includes two extensive book recommendation lists that I can’t wait to research and add to my to-read list. The book is just shy of 300 pages, but it doesn’t feel long or arduous in any way, shape, or form. I thought it was a great book that taught me a lot about writing, and about life in general. If you’re a fan of King and his work, you will love this book. If you aren’t really a big fan but can appreciate his work and style, I think you’ll still get a lot out of this book and learn a few things. However, if you’re like a couple of my friends who don’t really like King’s style or stories, then you obviously should not learn about writing from him.

Stephen King writes in the book that there are two things you must do to become a successful writer: you must read and you must write. Looks like I have at least those things going for me.

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