ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT
Stephen King


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Pocket Books, June 2001
Reviewed by Barbara Fielding

Revealing stories and funny moments of Stephen King's writing life have been woven into a fine memoir. Much like King's horror fiction - served up with his dark and unvarnished views of life - he explains the origins of a few of his best-selling novels. King begins with his first attempts at storytelling in early childhood, sharing his most embarrassing moments and earliest story rejections. He chronicles the laborious process of writing his first hit, CARRIE, while teaching school, grading papers and supporting his family.

ON WRITING is filled with interesting anecdotes of his teachers, editors and fellow authors. King gives readers an insiders view of his personal thoughts on writers and writing. The tributes to the most influential people in his life, his wife Tabby and his Mom, were special passages. His honesty about the effects of his drinking and drug use, as well as the intervention of family and friends, is moving.

The book is an interesting stew pot of writing instruction, biography, artistic courage and recovery. It was so compelling, I read the entire book in one day and was surprised at the laugh-out-loud moments and his startling candor.

In one passage, King shares how he developed the story idea for his novel, MISERY, on a flight to London. He fell asleep and had a dream about being in a plane crash and taken captive by a psychotic fan. When he arrived at the hotel in London he couldn't sleep until he had developed the story idea further. The concierge showed King to a quiet corner with a desk that once belonged to Rudyard Kipling. After many cups of tea and hours of writing, he went to thank the gentleman for letting him use the beautiful desk. The man then told him Kipling died at the desk of a stroke while he was writing. It's a fascinating and chilling tale that seems entirely fitting for a horror writer.

King compares writing to carpentry and outlines the necessary writing tools: vocabulary, grammar, and style. He says, "Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation." His thoughts on plotting, pacing and dialogue are well worth reading. King defines many of his books as situational novels--where you put characters into a situation and let them find their way out. It also includes a writing assignment and an invitation to send your scenes to him online. This is no dry instructional manual; I found his personal stories and writing advice incredibly interesting and entertaining.

 

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