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Review: On Writing - A Memoir of the Craft

Updated on October 22, 2011

Writing advice from a Pro.

The bookstore has an entire section of books dedicated to the pursuit of better writing and the quest for publication. Many of the books on these shelves are penned by people we may have never even heard of, and yet there they are, one after the other and each promising to unlock some hidden secret that will be just what we need to finally see our dreams achieved. Some of these authors may be agents or editors, or even people who haven't actually ever sold a book other than the one offering advice on how to do so. In the face of all that, how can we possibly choose which of these is the real deal and which ones are fakes?

Sadly, there is no tried and true method for smoking out the rats when it comes to literary advice. In fact, advice that may have worked for one author may do nothing for another. Sure, it would be great if publication was determined solely upon the skill of the writer and nothing else, but the truth is that it's all circumstance. While it would be nice to get your road map to success from one of these books, you'd be better served by looking for ways to improve your writing or bolster your confidence so that you can run the gauntlet again and send your manuscript, and your heart, back out into the world another time. But if you would like to read a book on the process of writing or for tips on getting published, why not get a book written by someone who has done it. Even better, why not someone who is famous for their writing?

A book on writing by Stephen King:

On Writing - A Memoir of the Craft is a book that teaches writing principles by explaining one man's life and what led him to start writing and then continuing the lesson through publication, success, self-destruction, recovery, a freak accident, and then coping with things you cannot change. All along this winding road were exit signs, points where one man could have turned his back on his passion and joined the rest of "normal" society. That's, perhaps, the greatest lesson that this book can teach you. Writing isn't something that can only be successful for certain people. Instead, it is something that you must work at every single day. Becoming a rich and famous author won't exclude you from continually experimenting, learning, and reflecting on the years of your experience.

There aren't many writing exercises in this book. You won't be prompted to examine your writing and it won't offer the golden egg of some sure-fire way to get your writing published. What it will do, however, is fill you in on the concept that not many people break into the industry easily. Not even Stephen King. This book is filled with a lot of sage advice that may not be labeled as the title of a chapter. What I mean by that is that there may be several lessons you can learn from a single story that King tells about a particular moment of growth on his way to becoming the author he is today.

I should mention that I am not a huge Stephen King fan. I do enjoy some of his writing, most notably a short story of his entitled "Everything's Eventual". But perhaps I am harder on his writing than I may be on pieces from an author that I haven't yet heard of; a consequence of fame, I suppose. As such, I find that the term he uses, "Constant Reader" offends me, but only because it somehow implies that I will always be there to read his books. I know that is not how he means it to come across, but it does sound a little pompous to me; again, perhaps a consequence of his fame.

All in all, the book was a good read and it was nice to learn that even the big shots struggle with their writing from time to time. If I learned nothing else, it was that even famous writers are people who sometimes shine and yet still make mistakes, just like the rest of us. It makes that goal of becoming a published author seem that much more reachable.

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      Del Sandeen 

      6 years ago

      I love this book. I'm usually surprised to see people recommend it as a writing primer because as you mentioned, it's not full of exercises. But I love King and I liked the thoughtfulness of this book; it's one of my favorites, especially on days I feel like giving up hope of ever having a novel published. Good review.

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