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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft Paperback – 1 Sep 2001
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Short and snappy as it is, Stephen King's On Writing really contains two books: a fondly sardonic autobiography and a tough-love lesson for aspiring novelists. The memoir is terrific stuff, a vivid description of how a writer grew out of a misbehaving kid. You're right there with the young author as he's tormented by poison ivy, gas-passing babysitters, uptight schoolmarms and a laundry job nastier than Jack London's. It's a ripping yarn that casts a sharp light on his fiction. This was a child who dug Yvette Vickers from Attack of the Giant Leeches, not Sandra Dee. "I wanted monsters that ate whole cities, radioactive corpses that came out of the ocean and ate surfers and girls in black bras who looked like trailer trash." But massive reading on all literary levels was a craving just as crucial, and soon King was the published author of "I Was a Teen-Age Graverobber". As a young adult raising a family in a trailer, King started a story inspired by his stint as a caretaker cleaning a high-school girls' locker room. He crumpled it up, but his writer wife retrieved it from the trash, and using her advice about the girl milieu and his own memories of two reviled teenage classmates who died young, he came up with Carrie. King gives us lots of revelations about his life and work. The kidnapper character in Misery, the mind-possessing monsters in The Tommyknockers, and the haunting of the blocked writer in The Shining symbolised his cocaine and booze addiction (overcome thanks to his wife's intervention, which he describes). "There's one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember writing."
King also evokes his college days and his recovery from the van crash that nearly killed him, but the focus is always on what it all means to the craft. He gives you a whole writer's "tool kit": a reading list, writing assignments, a corrected story and nuts-and-bolts advice on dollars and cents, plot and character, the basic building block of the paragraph, and literary models. He shows what you can learn from HP Lovecraft's arcane vocabulary, Hemingway's leanness, Grisham's authenticity, Richard Dooling's artful obscenity, Jonathan Kellerman's sentence fragments. He explains why Kellerman's Hart's War is a great story marred by a tin ear for dialogue, and how Elmore Leonard's Be Cool could be the antidote. King isn't just a writer, he's a true teacher. --Tim Appelo --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Absolutely fascinating (Sunday Times)
Not since Dickens has a writer had so many readers by the throat...King's imagination is vast. He knows how to engage the deepest sympathies of his readers...a bizarre and absorbing story, told brilliantly by one of the great storytellers of our time (Guardian)
The childhood memoir is a triumphant display of wit, story-telling and guts. His advice to writers is hard-nosed, practical and level-headed in the classic journalistic Orwell-Hemingway tradition (Evening Standard)
Energetic, vivid and observant (Daily Telegraph)
This is the written equivalent of Delia Smith's How To Cook. And, like British home cooking, the world of popular fiction will be better off for it (The Times)
Top customer reviews
King's writing advice, however, is by no means the whole focus of the book. A large chunk of it is a nostalgic memoir about King's childhood, adolescence, marriage and struggles with drugs and alcohol, which are reasonably engaging but somewhat digressive and not directly connected to his craft. We learn that King became a keen reader as a child when he was suffering from repeated bouts of ill health, but we don't need a long description of his recurrent ear infections to make this clear.
I didn't expect it to be so hilarious, honest, open, and encouraging. I feel like I can come back to this any time I'm stuck with my writing or feel bad about any part of the writing process, and it'll lift me up. It's such a wonderful book, friends. I can't believe it's sat on my shelf for a few months before I finally read it!
I'm not entirely sure how to review it beyond that, besides telling you that, if you're a writer, you need to read this. We writers tend to put ourselves under a tremendous amount of pressure and self-doubt. It's so important you see that every writer struggles at some point, even legends like Stephen King. You want the encouragement you get from this. And you will learn something. I've made so many notes I had trouble deciding which quotes to include and which ones to leave. Once I've got a bigger shelf (or just a second shelf would do, actually) I will have a separate space for inspiring books, and this one will be right up there at the front.
He came out with the classic statement that all wealthy people do, that he doesn't do it for the money, this is later in the book, while earlier in it he was clearly glad when the money began to come in, even when it was small amounts to start with.
You've heard this before, listen up.
Also, if you're serious about the business of people, of success or of just life, this is a great book.
King exposes himself in a way he didn't need to do, but the book is by far the stronger and rounder for it. A brave tale of a man who stuck at it, even when it looked like it would be little more than pin money.
The lesson here is that there is much to be said for poverty, King hadn't much of a choice, it was either write or live the life that had gone before.
There is no highly strung artiste here -- just a guy with a story, and we know already, that this guy tells a great story.