On Writing is a memoir written by Stephen King. In his words, it is neither an autobiography nor an instruction manual, but more of a curriculum vitae to form a writer. In describing the art of writing, King compares the fundamentals to a toolbox. There are a few essential items, but the other tools are there just in case. With two theses in mind, King writes,
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.
Undoubtedly, On Writing is an interesting read, especially to better understand “the craft of writing” from such a brilliant author. While the CV was helpful on many fronts, I will also confess that I felt intimidated, fearing King’s judgment that I don’t have what it takes to be a “great writer.” Not that I desire to be a full-time writer, but what I do write, I hope to do well. However, aside from my insecurities, there were several key takeaways from this book. They are:
– If you want to become a better writer, read and write a lot! King reads approximately 70-80 books a year and has a goal of writing 2,000 words a day. I thought I was doing well in 2021, having read 40+ books, but it pales in comparison. I appreciate King’s advice to have a daily goal for writing, especially when I am in a season of more robust academic work.
– In the writing world, an editor is critical. King says, “to write is human, to edit is divine.” In my writing endeavors for both work and school, I couldn’t agree more.
– Write about things that engage your passions and interests. “Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique in your personal knowledge of life.” My spirit rejoices with this sense of permission. A simple yet profound idea.
– We all need cheerleaders in pursuit of our aspirations. The encouragement King received from a rejection letter as a 16-year-old struck me. “This is good. Not for us, but good. You have talent. Submit again.” This brief note provided the fuel to continue to write. He later says, “Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough.” Whether writing, leading, or something else, we all need people in our corner who believe in us.
I am thankful to have read this book for this doctoral program, as it certainly would not have been on my reading list. While King’s genre of writing is not my cup of tea, I have a great appreciation for his talent, brilliance, and wisdom on the subject of writing. Going forth, I am encouraged to read more, and widely, and write, write, write!