On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft – Stephen King
My Rating – Must Read
Level – Easy, quick read
The book is broken up into two main parts, C.V. and What Writing is, Toolbox, and On Writing, plus a longish post-script chapter, which is followed by two more short post-post-script chapters, which King calls ‘And Furthermore’, parts 1 & 2. Throw three different forewords and there is a good deal of interesting and helpful material.
C.V. is basically a brief auto-biography.
What Writing Is, Toolbox, and On Writing, is the part of the book where he explains his writing process as well as tips and procedures to follow in writing fiction.
The first post-script ‘On Living’ is the story of him being struck by and van and his subsequent recovery.
The final two chapters are, first an example of editing a first draft and writing a second, and second, a recommended reading list.
I love the feeling of King’s book, I felt the tone was, you know, it’s hard to describe. Just kidding, that’s a joke. Read the book, you’ll see, it’s funny.
His second foreword, pretty much sets the tone for the book – “This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit.” His one exception to this is Elements of Style, which Mrs. MMT actually gave me before we were even married, but I haven’t read it yet.
I have read many of his books and have always enjoyed his style or writing, his way of telling a story, so it made sense that this would be an enjoyable read. His autobiographical chapter was surprisingly compelling. His books are often morbid or just wild, but he seems like a completely chill, normal, everyday kind of guy. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I was surprised at his life. It was inspiring, for some reason despite me being far too old for this to be applicable, that he started submitting short stories to magazines and journals so early in his life. He couldn’t even drive yet and he was already pitching manuscripts. He is never boastful about his ability, but more importantly, he never plays up any false humility. Acknowledging that he has talent and is a good writer, while still admitting that it does take some luck, was kind of a nice change for autobiographical works. You also get the impression that he’d write regardless of outcome, whether he made $400 or $400 million (his reported net worth).
The second part of the book that focuses on how to write is a must read for anyone interesting in writing, especially if you want to write fiction, but I think any write would benefit from reading it. Laying out what he calls a ‘toolbox’ he explains the things necessary to have good writing. He has an interesting premise about categories of writers: you have bad writers, competent writers, good/really good writers, and finally great/genius writers. I’ll end on this quote that summarizes the previous two sentences and this section of the book, and try to encourage myself with the hope that I may currently be a competent writer:
I am approaching the heart of this book with two theses, both simple. The first is that good writing consists of mastering the fundamentals (vocabulary, grammar, the elements of style) and then filling the third level of your toolbox with the right instruments. The second is that while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.