This year I’ve challenged myself to read fifty books. This is no easy task for a slow reader, especially since so many other things distract me. Through this blog, I’ll share the books I’m reading and keep myself on track. Please feel free to offer suggestions of books you’ve enjoyed!
Book Number 16:
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
James Hunniford, a magnificent writer and friend in Write On!, gave me this book.
I knew better than to expect a grand revelation that would transform me into an accomplished author like Stephen King. I haven’t read any of his books in years but those I’d read long ago (The Stand, Salem’s Lot, Pet Sematary, Needful Things and several more) were entertaining, scary, and well written.
This book is largely autobiographical and I was surprised to learn about King’s childhood and the struggles he had as a young writer (financial, personal, and professional.) The insights about his life are worth the read.
His writing “tips” were not new but were presented in a friendly, convincing style. King offers his methods of writing–the things that work for him as an author. To become successful a writer must: read copiously, write constantly, observe everything, imagine possibilities, be honest, keep things simple, and persevere.
Each writer should build his own toolbox. The first things to go in it are a good vocabulary (he says that often the word you first choose is the best one) and basic grammar skills. He suggests Strunk and White’s Elements of Style as a go-to manual. Then you pack in all the other instruments you need, from character development to plot structure and everything in between. King gives examples of the good, the bad and the ugly and demonstrates his editing methods.
His method of writing is to write out the plot (“writing is story”) then develop characters, setting, and so on. Of course, he acknowledges what all writers know. Sometimes your characters take over and the plot you’d thought was your story takes another turn and you end up someplace else. Not all novels are plot-driven, so some writers develop the characters then put them in the situation. It’s not King’s method, but the primary idea he presents is that each writer is unique and should follow what works best. Keep reading and writing and you’ll learn how to write.
At the end of the book, King relates in detail the accident that nearly cost him his life. He was walking on a rural road near his home when a car with an erratic driver plowed into him. He tells of the damage his body sustained and the incredible effort the rehabilitation required.
Although I didn’t pick up much new information about how to write and revise, I did receive affirmation. Stephen King worked hard to become a success. He did it for the love of writing. His words are encouraging even when the slow pace of progress is not.
Any writer will enjoy this book and Stephen King fans will especially like the autobiographical information.