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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft Paperback – 11 Oct 2012
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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 alternate Paperback edition.
Absolutely fascinating . . . basic instructions . . . sensible advice (The Sunday Times)
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)
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)
Stephen King is a genius . . . In this book he tells us what first made him a horror writer . . . I find King fascinating because he writes in the least florid way possible, yet his very direct approach to getting his awesome imagination onto a blank page works. (Jeremy Vine in We Love This Book)
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Apart from an autobiography, I didn't know what to expect, perhaps a few tips on writing. But no, he gives us more. He gives us the tools, and practical advice as to how we should write. He gives rules to follow and things to avoid. He has a "Do as I say, not do as I do" policy in regards to adverbs for example.
As a writer myself, this book makes you want to re-evaluate your writing and sharpen your own tools. Sure, you cannot write like your favourite authors, but you can develop your own style and improve yourself. He tells it like a university lecturer and as a friend. This is the tone that inspires you to work harder. He believes in you.
The autobiography itself tells us about his childhood, the first book he wrote, his inspirations, how his wife contributes to his works, the publication of his first novel, to how he survived a horrible accident. He may not look it, but Stephen King is a fighter, he carried on writing. It kept him going. This is an uplifting book.
Who can possibly give the best advice on writing other than the best storyteller?
Essential for Writers, a Must-have for King fans.
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.
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