For this review, I read: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King. The book is 291 pages long.
Because I was reading this book for class, of course
I procrastinated and waited to read this book until the last few days before its related assignment, this review, was due. In spite of this, I found that the amount of reading I had to undertake was not at all difficult. In fact, I found I had a hard time putting this book down; when I did read, I would read huge swaths of the book at a time before looking up at the clock and wondering where the time went. I found that King has a way of writing that is honest, concise, and interesting to boot. Also, he writes with such confidence that I as a reader had a hard time not being led where he wanted to lead me. Even though I sometimes doubted some of the advice he was trying to give the reader about writing, I was able to see, and he said so, that he himself believed it. If such a prolific writer believes and lives such techniques for writing, I found that I could probably do a lot worse than taking a few of his suggestions.
The section, “On Writing,”
where King provides most of these writing tips, I found extremely helpful. Especially the sub-section on publication which I have zero knowledge but a large interest in. He also covers the topics of dialogue and character development, theme, symbolism, and how to structure your reading and writing, to name a few. On writing specifically, he says that:
Stories are found things, like fossils in the ground (pg. 163)
The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible. Sometimes the fossil you uncover is small, a seashell. Sometimes it’s enormous, a Tyrannosaurus Rex with all those gigantic ribs and grinning teeth. Either way, short story or thousand-page whopper of a novel, the techniques of excavation remain basically the same. (pg. 164)
While just a metaphor for the writing process, I found it encouraging. Earlier, King states that he doesn’t believe that bad writers can be made into great writers; however, It makes me feel that I have at least the opportunity to excavate my stories fully intact. That I have the opportunity to write decently.
Because I’m reviewing this book for my fiction workshop class, I found it interesting that King actually had a view on whether or not they serve to benefit the fledgling writer. One of the things that stuck with me, and no offense to the workshop process, as I’ve found it extremely helpful so far, is that it makes writing something you have to do rather than something you want to do, and I’ve felt this myself in my own writing. It’s impossible for the instructor to say, “OK everyone, write what you want and I’ll make sure to grade everyone equally.” There has to be some assignment and grading structure. I just hope it doesn’t change how I view writing from an enjoyment standpoint.
The only part I felt I didn’t like about this book,
and it’s not a critique of the writing, just the way it made me feel, is that the auto-biography of his childhood made me feel that if I didn’t write a lot as growing up that I wasn’t meant to be an author. Perhaps it’s petty to think this way, but as someone who is still in the process of figuring out what they want to do after having been in college for a number of years, I’m a bit jealous that King seemingly always knew he wanted to be a writer.
On the whole, as said before, I really enjoyed this book. It’s chock-full of helpful suggestions from the perspective of a person who finds joy, and has been successful, in writing. King had me laughing and shaking my head all the way through the book. I Cheered at his victories and was solemn at his misfortunes. Anyone who writes, or has the notion to write, should give this book a read.