“On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” by Stephen King

Available on Amazon and at your local bookstore.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is the first Stephen King book I’ve ever read. I’ve watched many of his movies on SyFy since I was a little girl and they scared the shit out of me so I decided not to read his books. If the movies are scary, then the books would be worse. My imagination would haunt me, I feared. Because I want to be a writer, and since I’ve heard and read great reviews about this book, I decided to give it a try.

King said that he would keep this one short and to the point. He did. He opened with a short memoir of his life, touching on those events that contributed to his writing and his development as a writer. He then included a brief section on developing a “writer’s toolbox,” which led to another section that discusses writing – how to start, continue, and develop your writing.

King’s answer to these questions is to write, and keep writing, and to read.

Great advice. I find it a bit intimidating. I always go into my scheduled writing sessions intimidated and clam up. I sit and stare at a blank page or screen because I can think of nothing good to write. But the important thing to do is write. So now, after reading this book, I’ve decided to write until something good comes out. If I don’t think it’s good today, it’s possible that I might think it’s great tomorrow.

I appreciate this book. It’s great to get a tiny glimpse into the writing process of one of the best writers. I like how things are broken down and explained. King talks about places from his childhood that show up in his work. He also speaks of his experiences and how he includes them in his work as well. I particularly like when he explained how he came up with the idea for Carrie (reminds me of the imaginative process described in Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine).

Reading that first section of the book, Curriculum Vitae, was like watching how the writer was formed and how the work was created. The entire book is great and the section on writing offers valuable advice, but I believe that this first section is the best part of the book. It’s almost like getting inside King’s head and seeing how he takes a bit here and a piece there from his life and mold it into his story.

Makes you feel as if you can do the same. (You can do the same.)

An important thing to take note of while reading is that King never gave up on writing. No matter how many rejection slips he received from magazines or how low his life got, he kept writing.

My favorite quote from this book appears toward the end of the Curriculum Vitae section:

“Life isn’t a support system for art; it’s the other way around” (101).

King uses writing to get through life. He wrote through his pain and sorrows. He committed to writing and thus became defined by it. He is a writer. It’s what he does every day, no matter what.

The second section of the book is called the Toolbox. It’s about organizing those skills needed to be/become a writer: vocabulary, grammar, elements of style, writing. All of these tools can be developed by reading. If you want to be a writer then you have to read. According to King, you can’t become a writer if you do not read. They go hand-in-hand.

The third section of the book is Writing. What should you do if you want to be a writer? As stated earlier, “read a lot and write a lot” (145). That’s the only way. Through reading, you develop those tools needed for your writer’s toolbox.

“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.

Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life” (147).

What I’ve gleaned from this section is that by reading, we develop our writer’s toolbox and by writing, we exercise those tools. Like athletes, we have to ensure that our tools (our muscles) are in tip-top shape and ready for when we need to use them.

King discusses those elements that he believes are important to becoming a writer. You don’t have to follow exactly what he says or did but there are some advices, recurring advices, which are important: read and write.  I think he stresses this in each section of the book.

The fourth section, On Living: A Postscript, King discuss writing this book. It took him longer than usual to complete the draft because he got into a car accident: he was hit by a Dodge van while taking a walk. Despite the pain during the recovery process, King wrote and worked on this book. His wife, Tabitha “Tabby” King helped him to begin, to realize, during his recovery process, that it was time that he got back to writing. King found it hard to do at first, due to the pain and lack of inspiration, but through determination, by sticking to writing, he was able to continue and do well. You can’t give up on the first try.

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.

After that, things can only get better” (269).

And Furthermore, Part I: Door Shut, Door Open, the fifth section, is another one of my favorites. In the Writing section, King spoke about writing with the door shut (putting down the story) and writing with the door open (going over the story, editing, adding or taking away details, obliterate adverbs and passive voice, etc.). In this section, he gives an example of this process by using a part of his draft for 1408. He shows us what he wrote with the door shut (the story was then titled The Hotel Story) and shows his edits that he did with the door open (title changed to 1408; there are more edits and it’s important to take note of what is altered in this part).

Since he is always asked, “What do you read,” King threw in the sixth and seventh sections, which contain lists of books that he has read.

It seems like a lot of sections but the book is not long and the sections flow into each other seamlessly. King offers us advice but not in a drab, boring way. The book is exciting and Stephen King is hilarious. While reading, it seems as if King and I were instead sitting on a porch, sipping lemonade, while he told me who he is, how he became a writer, and how he managed to keep writing. The book is a conversation and I enjoyed it. It was hard to put him on hold sometimes so that I could do frivolous things like household chores and my job. As soon as they were done, I would quickly jump back into the conversation with him.

If your dream is to become a writer, you too should pick up this book and have a conversation with King.

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12 thoughts on ““On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” by Stephen King

  1. Pingback: Exploring My Bookshelves: Stacks of My Favorite Nonfiction Books | Zezee with Books

    • I had to look up Danse Macabre but know that I read what it’s about, I’d love to read it. Though, it would probably make more sense for me to read more of Stephen King’s novels first to see he does horror in his books.

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      • I’ve never read any of his horror books, but like you have seen many of the movies. I’ve read books 1,2,3, of the dark tower series, and rate them,in order -excellent, average, will it ever end. Funnily enough D/M is asmuch about writing as it does with horror. At its best fantastic, worst painful. One quote, then I’ll off….
        He discusses fiction… “the primary duty of literature is to tell us the truth about ourselves by telling us lies about people who never existed “.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Books on Writing, or—about Literature: Anne Lamott, Kevin J. Hayes, Dorothea Brande « Zezee's Link

  3. Pingback: “Carrie” by Stephen King « Zezee's Link

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