REVIEW: “On Writing” by Stephen King

From August 2011 – May 2016, I put works of fiction aside and often felt like I was drowning in academic research, personal narratives, and scholarly drivel as I worked to earn my PhD. Since May, I have begun fumbling my way back to fiction. Let me tell you, it has been hard. I haven’t used that part of my brain in five years. If I’m honest, I admit it hasn’t been the most enjoyable. But I am committed to retraining my brain to read fiction, my heart to connect with an author’s world, and my conscience to gleam what works and what doesn’t (for me, at least).

Reviewing a book on writing fiction and writing analysis probably should have been my first go-to. Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft was the bridge between the type of works I had been reading for the past five years and the genre I was rediscovering. For the first time in a long drought of grad school requirement reading, drudgery, and lackluster feelings toward reading, I could not put this book down. It’s what I needed.

King starts the book with his own history of how he came to success with the publication of Carrie by introducing you to his wife, the ideal reader he writes for and whose opinion trumps most. He lays his struggles with vices and the craft before you in all its ugly honesty, making his journey all the more admirable. I found myself stopping and rereading passages several times throughout the book, amazed at how he could capture feelings, how perfect description was, the brilliance of word choice, sharp humor, or lines that resonated with me and required a second read.

The second part of the book delves into the heart of writing, where he makes advice we’ve all heard time and time again seem brand new. Have a ro15134463_10100307531228366_22930135_nutine. Write for one specific reader. To write well, you must read and write a lot. Wisdom like “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story… When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story” may seem obvious, but are great reminders to keep amateur writers like me on track. What King does is get to the heart of writing and communicate his love for it – connecting with a reader who also loves writing and yearns to be better. Another pearl I reread, underlined, and noted spoke to me from the page as the essence of writing: “If there’s no joy in it, it’s just no good.” 

The book is dated (2000), so it neglects a new requirement for writers (a social media presence, an understanding of social networks, marketing one’s self as an author brand). But without good writing, what good is the rest? You can’t deny the power of King’s understanding of writing, his understanding of the genre and his audience, and the connection he makes between the two. If you want to be a writer, you’ll pay attention to what he has to say. 

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