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Review: "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft" by Stephen King

Updated on August 19, 2017

Stephen King

My Review of "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft"

Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft begins with two epigraphs. (Epigraphs are phrases, quotations, or poems set at the beginning of a document.)The epigraphs are: Honesty’s the best policy.—Miguel de Cervantes and Liars prosper.—Anonymous. He uses many epigraphs in his writing, usually to mark the beginning of a new section in a novel.

What is he trying to tell us with these two seemingly opposite sayings? Maybe he is trying to tell us that one’s recollection of one’s life lies somewhere in the middle between honesty and truth. Or maybe he is just telling us his life’s story lies somewhere in the middle.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

On Writing
On Writing

Sections of King’s Book

King's book is separated into the following Sections:

  1. Three Forewords—pp.1-13
  2. C.V. (Curriculum Vitae and His Early Life to Success)—pp.15-86
  3. His Road to Alcoholism and Out—pp.87-101
  4. What Writing Is —pp.103-107
  5. Toolbox—pp.109-137
  6. On Writing—pp. 139-249
  7. On Living: A Postscript (Accident and Recovery)—pp.251-270
  8. And Furthermore, Part I: Door Shut, Door Open (example-editing process)—pp.271-284
  9. And Furthermore, Part II: A Booklist—pp.285-288

King Quote

King Quote
King Quote | Source

Periods of King's Life

The book covers several periods of his life:

Sections 1 and 2: Describes his early years and early forays into writing.

Section 3: His struggle through addiction is chronicled

Section 7: This section is devoted to his recovery from an automobile accident

Sections 4-6, and 8-9: This section is devoted to advice on writing

This Article

This article will analyze the first three sections:

1. Three Forewords—pp.1-13,

2. C.V (Curriculum Vitae and His Early Life to Success)—pp.15-86

3. Addiction—pp.87-101

Stephen King Caricature

Stephen King Caricature
Stephen King Caricature | Source

Three Forewords - pp. 1-13

Although he states the book is not an autobiographical work, in his First Foreword he does tell us his personal story. King describes an “attempt to show how one writer was formed…to put down, briefly and simply, how I came to this craft, what I know about it now, and how it’s done.”

His book is a poignant, personal portrayal of his writing journey and chock full of advice to writers. He tells us what he has learned on his writing odyssey. King says the reason he undertook this book was because “…it’s about the job; it’s about the language.” That is, the language of writing.

King gives further advice about writing in his Second Foreword . He points to Rule 17 from The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B White. “Omit Useless words.” Enough said.

In the Third Foreword he states that “The editor is always right.” He goes on to say, “to write is human, to edit is divine.” He thanks his editor for his divine work. Maybe writers should strive to be editors in order to move from humanity and approach divinity?

Stephen King

Stephen King
Stephen King | Source

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

C.V. (Curriculum Vitae and His Early Life to Success) pp.15-86

  • King entitles the first section of the book: C.V. (curriculum vitae), which is his life’s resume. It is a 101 page autobiographical presentation of his writing life.

  • He believes that “large numbers of people have at least some talent as writers and storytellers, and that those talents can be strengthened and sharpened.” Otherwise, he states, “writing a book like this would be waste of time.” King sprinkles encouragement and advice throughout this book.

  • King describes a life, a somewhat ordinary life, in a family with his brother and single mother. His early storytelling influences included a film called Robot Monster and early TV shows—police dramas, westerns and adventures such as Cheyenne and Seahunt. He regularly read a magazine entitled “Famous Monsters of Filmland”. He describes his early years and how he sold four short-stories at a quarter a piece, to his mother about Mr. Rabbit Trick. He watched every science-fiction movie—any movie for that matter—he could.

  • He wrote for his brother’s newspaper Dave’s Rag.

Stephen King Collection

A Selection of Stephen King's Work
A Selection of Stephen King's Work | Source

More On His Early Life

  • The first real story he wrote was in 1960 and sent it to a magazine called Spacemen, a magazine which covered science fiction films. He was rejected. He submitted another story called “Happy Stamps” about counterfeiting S&H Stamps in a basement to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine which was also rejected. He received this piece of advice, “Don’t staple the manuscript…Loose pages plus paper clip equal correct way to submit copy.” King thought the advice cold but useful.

  • King was editor for his high-school newspaper, The Drum. During this time he lampooned this newspaper a la MAD magazine—the Village Vomit. Making fun of his teachers and principal merited him detention for his efforts. He gave up on satire for good, he says.

  • He was a sports reporter for a newspaper, the Lisbon Weekly Enterprise. John Gould, his editor advised him, “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story…When you re-write, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”

  • He sold a story called “Graveyard Shift” for $200 to Cavalier Magazine in August of 1970.
  • King tells us how he met and married his wife Tabitha Spruce. He praises and chronicles his wife’s poetry. They had two children in their marriage.
  • His mother supported his writing but encouraged him to get an education degree. From 1970-74 he barely sold enough to get by. He was teaching English by the time he started writing Carrie. His three early novels were Rage, Long Walk, and The Running Man—all later published.
  • When Carrie sold, the family was struggling financially and he got an advance of $2500 and received a contract from Doubleday. While there was a year long delay in publication, he and his wife dreamed of a big payday. He was writing the Second Coming (a combination between Peyton Place and Dracula) and got the news that Doubleday bought the book for $400,000, half of which he would receive. While he shook with excitement, his wife cried.

Stephen King

Stephen King - February 2007
Stephen King - February 2007 | Source

His Road to Alcoholism and Out pp.87-101

King describes his descent into alcohol and drug abuse. A chronicle of his path to addiction is written on pages 87-101.

The first time he got drunk was on a high school bus trip to New York City in 1966. King states that as early as 1975, he thought he might be an alcoholic, but wouldn't admit it to himself.

As he read his mother’s eulogy, he did so in a drunken state. He says that he used the Hemingway Defense to justify his alcoholism. This is described as something like: Look, as a writer I’m a sensitive man but I can’t let anyone know it or give into it. So I drink to hide my sensitivity.

The Shining was about an alcoholic ex-schoolteacher. He didn't realize it at the time but he was writing about himself. He added drugs to his addictions in 1985 His drug of choice at this point was cocaine. During this time he wrote Missing and The Tommyknockers. King says he barely remembers writing Cujo because he was drinking a case of 16 ounce cans of beer a night.

Have you read On Writing?

Have you read "On Writing?"

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Intervention

His family staged an intervention. They said they were watching them die in front of him. None of them wanted to witness his suicide. They gave him an ultimatum: go to rehab or move out of the house. He bargained and charmed (as alcoholics do) his way for two weeks to decide. King said that during this time working on Misery, Annie, the psychotic nurse, was symbolic of his coke and booze addiction.

They held him captive as she held Paul hostage. He realized that he was afraid to give up his addictions because he was afraid he wouldn't be able to write anymore. He decided to give up his addictions and keep his family even if it meant giving up writing. He never stopped writing but went through a period where his writing was flat. His final comment in this chapter of his life was that “Life isn't a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”

I believe King means that writing is a way to support living. Writing isn't why one lives. Writing fits in to one’s life, one’s family. After almost having lost his life, his writing, and his family over alcohol and drugs, he urges us to keep it all in perspective.

Back Cover

Summary

Sometimes Stephen King seems to write nostalgically about his past. At other times, he seems to be a disconnected observer, especially when detailing his alcohol and drug use and recovery. He shows us how films have influenced his writing and what he learned through his literary efforts at the newspapers he served.

He speaks of the influence his family has had on him. His fear of not being able to write if he quit his drug and alcohol habits had to have been profound but he mentions it, almost in passing.

King provides a glimpse of how he developed as a writer. One thing that is quite evident is he is single-minded in his ambition to write.

A good quality to possess for those who desire to master the craft of writing.

© 2013 AJ

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    • ajwrites57 profile image
      Author

      AJ 3 weeks ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks for adding your comment Jean Bakula.

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 3 weeks ago from New Jersey

      King has three children with Tabitha, a daughter named Ruth, I believe...She is the middle one.

    • ajwrites57 profile image
      Author

      AJ 2 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Motherbynature, thanks for reading and commenting. Glad that my Hub may have inspired you to read King's book! I'm sure you will enjoy and be inspired by his book on writing. Thanks again for adding your comments!

    • Motherbynature profile image

      Motherbynature 2 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      He's my favorite male author. I have neglected my reading over the years being busy with life but I have picked up his newest novels as they were published. Some I haven't read yet but books don't expire. Yay for me!

      This hub makes me want to find the quiet time to read again. I am very much interested in this book and I'll be picking it up this weekend. Thanks!

    • ajwrites57 profile image
      Author

      AJ 2 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Laura335 great summary of King's memoir! He has led a full life, with heartache and agony for two. Thanks for commenting on my Hub!

    • ajwrites57 profile image
      Author

      AJ 2 years ago from Pennsylvania

      melissae1963 yes, I agree! Thanks for adding your thoughts to my Hub! King is definitely prolific and talented.

    • Laura335 profile image

      Laura Smith 2 years ago from Pittsburgh, PA

      I've read this book about three or four times, and it is probably my favorite book about writing. I've been a King fan for years, and this book was recommended by my first college English professor. I love how it is half autobiography, half writing guide. He discusses what he wants to discuss, much like listening to a lecture interlaced with personal stories. Great Hub!

    • melissae1963 profile image

      Melissa Reese Etheridge 2 years ago from Tennessee, United States

      I read this book back over Christmas. King is in his element here. He is actually very humble in regards to his writing.

    • ajwrites57 profile image
      Author

      AJ 2 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Rota, I'm so glad you enjoyed my Hub. Yes, King offers great advice and shares his journey with us!

    • Rota profile image

      Rota 2 years ago

      What a great hub. I'm a huge Stephen King fan and I have read this book numerous times - I would definitely include it among my 'desert island' books. It is such an intimate guide to writers. Thanks for sharing this.

    • ajwrites57 profile image
      Author

      AJ 3 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks for the kind comments stuff4kids! I've read it several times for the writing tips. The depth of emotion it evokes is strong with each read.

    • stuff4kids profile image

      Amanda Littlejohn 3 years ago

      A really great and in-depth review which offers a fascinating insight into an extraordinary man, his art, his struggles and his triumphs. Looks like the book should be well worth a read!

      :)

    • ajwrites57 profile image
      Author

      AJ 3 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Artois52 I believe you could empathize with his struggles. His advice is pretty basic but his story is inspiring. I've read it several times, at least once when I was feeling low. (I have a few more articles I've been inspired to write about this book, but I haven't added them to Hubpages, yet.) Thanks for adding your comments to my Hub!

    • Artois52 profile image

      Artois52 3 years ago from England

      Thanks for a great article. I'm a big fan of Stephen King, but I have never read 'On Writing'. I think I'll give it a go now though. As a recovering alcoholic and budding writer, I really ought to put on the top of my reading list.

    • ajwrites57 profile image
      Author

      AJ 3 years ago from Pennsylvania

      lol! Hi Shortcakeponders5! Didn't see your profile image on the comments you made on the GW post! Actually, Stephen King's life is a bit scary, but nowhere near as terrifying as his stories. His heart and mind reveal a great soul. Thanks for reading and adding your insights to my Hub! Have fun adding your articles and stories to Hubpages! :o)

    • Shortcakeponders5 profile image

      Shortcakeponders5 3 years ago

      I remember picking up my first Stephen King book in 5th grade, it was Firestarter. It didn't scare me too much so I decided to try another, over the objection of my parents even though they knew they couldn't talk me out of reading... I chose CuJo. It scared the bejesus out of me. I found King's writing style to be so realistic that I couldn't knock it out of my mind. I decided to try another book, (I think it was either Salem's Lot or Pet Semetary [ it had a black cover.] I have no idea why I'd try another animal book...)

      Cujo was so stuck in my mind's eye (and haunting it,) I could never even finish the first chapter of whatever that 3rd book was. That one book had ruined reading anymore of King's books.

      I appreciate your review as I've wanted to read "On Writing," but was afraid he would include too much of the scare-fest in the process. Now, I know I can handle this one. Thanks, Al.

    • ajwrites57 profile image
      Author

      AJ 3 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks WriterJanis for reading and commenting! I'm glad you found my Hub interesting. Yes, Stephen King is such a complex person!

    • WriterJanis profile image

      Janis 3 years ago from California

      I don't read his books, but I love his movies. I had no idea he was an addict. This was such an interesting read.

    • ajwrites57 profile image
      Author

      AJ 3 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Oh, thanks so much loveofnight! I appreciate you reading the Hub and your kind comments and sharing!

    • loveofnight profile image

      loveofnight 3 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

      you did an awesome job with this hub, very thoroughly done, a good share indeed.

    • ajwrites57 profile image
      Author

      AJ 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      DDE, thanks for reading and adding your kind comments! I appreciate it!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      My Thoughts On Stephen King's "On Writing" a wonderful review about a great writer and well put together.

    • ajwrites57 profile image
      Author

      AJ 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting michael estey! I appreciate your feedback and I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    • profile image

      michael estey 4 years ago

      What a great, in-depth review. Totally enjoyed reading it. What a history. Loved it, and love Stephen King. Good job.