On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Thoughts on Stephen King's On Writing

A friend of mine recently approached me with idea of collaborating on a novel.  Intrigued by the idea and needing a creative outlet, I accepted.  He asked me to read On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King before our first writing meeting next weekend.  His thought is that the book will give the two of us a common foundation so I was more than happy to comply.  I am typically a slow reader, taking weeks to get through books of just a few hundred pages, so my fear was that I'd be burning them midnight oil the night before the meeting in an attempt to finish the book in time.  I read On Writing in a little more than a day.

The memoir segment of the book, roughly a third of the page count, is told in brief vignettes.  Some of them are hilarious and some are damned heart-breaking but all of them are beautiful, stained-glass windows into the life of a man who has become an American pop culture icon and how he became the writer he is.  King pulls no punches and directs a good many of them back at himself.  He is candid about and, I dare say, embraces his personal demons where others would conceal theirs at all costs.  King knows these traits define his character and I love and respect him so much more now for being courageous enough to share them with the public.

The rest of the book contains Stephen King's advice on the craft of writing.  He goes out of his way to stay brief because as he notes in his foreword, "the shorter the book, the less the bullshit".  He encourages a writer to just sit down and write, seeming to subscribe to the "use it or lose it" philosophy.  He knows creativity is difficult and knows that a writer must constantly grease the gears or the whole machine will seize up and break down.  This is a philosophy I've heard repeated by many creative people, some of whom I know personally and hold in high regard.  King supplies new writers with a helpful toolkit, cites examples from the work of other authors and provides insight into his own approach to storytelling.  As King puts it, writing a story is like unearthing a fossil.  It must be done carefully and with the right tools.

On Writing is encouraging, pleasant, and funny as I suspect King was to his own students.  Reading this book is less like sitting in a university auditorium and more like relaxing in a cozy parlor with a cup of tea and a crackling fireplace.