‘When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.’ Stephen King.
On Writing is Stephen King’s semi-autobiography and writer’s tips book. For the first 120 pages, Stephen King summarises his writing history, from a small publishing enterprise with his brother when he was young to writing for magazines at university. We get a number of fragmented ‘glimpses’ into his family, jobs he has held, and some of his early writing successes and failures prior to first publication. These ‘glimpses’ showed what made him the writer he became. Stephen King has since battled through family death, drug addiction, and alcoholism. At the end of this agonising road he came to the conclusion that ‘art is a support system for life’ and not the other way around. It’s a quote I intend to keep in mind.
The second half of On Writing provided writing tips to the aspiring writer; tips King has learnt to use to edit his writing and keep readers engaged with his stories. There are even a few examples of editing at the end of the book. Whether it’s the use of adverbs or dialogue attribution, King keeps it simple and relatable, without assuming a profound knowledge of English grammar or creative writing. The tone of the writing wasn’t snobbish at all. In fact, it was a surprise to read about his background. Without knowing any different, I wrongfully assumed the situation once-a-bestselling-author-always-has-been-a-bestselling-author. While reading, I felt like King was teaching me straightforward lessons while having a conversation.
Criticism: I didn’t agree with the following statements: ‘it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a good one’, ‘equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one’, ‘if you’re a bad writer, no one can help you become a good one, or even a competent one’, and ‘if you’re good and want to be great fuhgeddaboudit’.
A lesson of note was that although King had been writing since a young age, it was his commitment, perseverance, and his willingness to listen to others that made him a successful person and author. On Writing is candid, evocative, and bursting with writer advice coming from experience and hindsight. King delivers with personality and humour. On Writing is more than a book, it’s an experience!