Stephen King’s book “On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft” is both a book on his writing craft and a personal account of his long career as a master storyteller. The author takes readers on an intimate journey through his writing problems, creative process, and insights into being a successful writer in today’s competitive publishing world.
King begins with tidbits about his life and shocking me that he was in a BAND! It was so interesting to get almost behind the scenes access to him and he writes so beautifully it was like I was sitting next to him with the perfect cup of coffee. King then shifts to the Toolbox. This is where all the nitty gritty happens and he does a phenomenal job at explaining writing mechanics such as grammatical rules, punctuation norms, and outlining to assist readers understand how these concepts are critical for constructing a good foundation for any written piece. He then discusses his experiences with overcoming writer’s block, which he relates to a focus on polishing the language rather than allowing ideas to flow freely from the mental process to paper.
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” (1)
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” (2)
A significant portion of King’s work is devoted to studying many genres, particularly horror fiction, in which he urges readers to use their imaginations to create frightening moments in their stories by imagining what-if scenarios. He also covered numerous visual components that can add depth and complexity to stories, such as metaphors or other figureheads, as well as how to employ imagery when describing settings or people in a way that promotes reader immersion.
It’s not all technical knowledge and King’s past though…throughout the book he draws on his own life experiences. Such as offering advice on how to deal with criticism and rejection or sharing anecdotes from authors who have inspired him over time, making it easier for aspiring writers to identify with him on a more personal level. He even includes easily repeatable tasks throughout the book so that readers can get real-world experience by applying skills learned from this book (one of my favorite parts). King helps bring clarity and focus into any author’s path when it comes to setting out and succeeding within this rapidly changing world of publishing.
“Books are the perfect entertainment: no commercials, no batteries, hours of enjoyment for each dollar spent. What I wonder is why everybody doesn’t carry a book around for those inevitable dead spots in life.” (3)
Both Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art and Stephen King’s On Writing guide prospective writers on their creative journeys. Because of the blunt readings, I found it more difficult to read Pressfield. (I’m sorry if you liked it!!) I also thought it was awkward with so many mini chapters woven in between. It felt like he had all of these random thoughts and he chose to throw them on individual pages and called it a book.
But nonetheless, Pressfield’s book is more focused on dealing with the mental barrier that prevents us from creating, whereas King’s work is more practical. He provides step-by-step instructions on everything from coming up with ideas to creating characters, plotting plots, and editing drafts. Again, It was just more relatable to me personally, as well as readable.
When it comes to writing, both authors emphasize the necessity of hard effort and devotion, although they each have their own method of teaching their craft. While King teaches readers how to plan out a story before beginning, Pressfield advises us to be open to unexpected answers that occur through improvisation. Which is also how I felt about the book as a whole… one big discombobulated improv. (Again… sorry if you liked it!)
Finally, these two works provide excellent assistance for anyone considering a career in writing: Pressfield provides insight into overcoming barriers, and King provides an effective blueprint for growing our skills and becoming published. Making it essential reading for anybody interested in pursuing a writing career.
(1) King, Stephen, Joe Hill, and Owen King. “Chapter 1.” Essay. In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Scribner, 2020.
(2) King, Stephen, Joe Hill, and Owen King. “Chapter 3.” Essay. In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Scribner, 2020.
(3) King, Stephen, Joe Hill, and Owen King. “Chapter 4.” Essay. In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Scribner, 2020.