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On Writing by Stephen King - A Memoir of the Craft

Updated on July 17, 2019
PegCole17 profile image

Peg Cole is a self-published author who writes stories, book reviews, interviews and how-to articles.

On Writing is a story about the struggle to become a published author, something many of us would-be authors face. Apparently, success took time even for the master of macabre, Stephen King.

Within the memoir, he shares some of his earliest childhood memories in a reluctant sort of autobiography, his stories illustrating the dedication and determination required to become a published writer.

His climb to fame was not free of rejection and he shares examples of the many setbacks he faced along the way to success.

On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft

Mr. King's home office and writing companion, Molly.
Mr. King's home office and writing companion, Molly.

One Word of Encouragement

Stephen King has been writing stories since he was seven years old. His mother, after reading his first original story, provided the feedback that would catapult him into his destined career.

She asked, "You didn't copy this one?" He'd been in the habit of copying stories out of comic books.

"No, I didn't," he answered.

"This is good enough to be in a book," she told him.

King writes, "Nothing anyone has said to me since has made me feel any happier."

Stephen King's house in Bangor, Maine is listed in the National Register of Historic Places in the United States.
Stephen King's house in Bangor, Maine is listed in the National Register of Historic Places in the United States.

When asked which question he's never been asked at a gathering of his "author-struck fans" he answers, "No one ever asks about the language."

"Many of us proles also care about the language, in our humble way, and care passionately about the art and craft of telling stories on paper."

He says that an author must continually write to perfect their craft. It's important to have a set routine and a designated place in which to write.

He believes that good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, "sailing at you right out of the empty sky. . .Your job (as a writer) is to recognize them when they show up."

"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."

— John Gould

Drawing on Experiences

In his usual captivating style of descriptive prose, King shares the struggles of growing up poor, working in dead-end factory jobs, sibling rivalry, mistreatment from caregivers, family members and peers.

He describes how he learned the perils of plagiarism, of creative buffoonery gone sour, of teacher retaliation, and of being the outcast. He shares common experiences and those beyond the everyday variety like recuperation from devastating, bone crushing injury, during which he maintained the work ethic that forged his ultimate success.

The rest of it - and perhaps the best of it - is a permission slip: you can, you should, and if you're brave enough to start, you will."

— Stephen King

What's It All About?

The book answers the questions:

  • How Stephen King started out.
  • What inspired him to write his tales?
  • Which books inspired him to perfect his craft?
  • How he survived the near fatal and disabling injuries received when he was broadsided by a van while out on a walk.

Proofreading

Clues

The book is jam packed with good advice, humor and even some cringe-worthy stories:

  • About composing
  • Practicing the art
  • Using our worldly experiences in creating fiction
  • Capturing the moment
  • Creating characters
  • Editing our work without remorse and much more.

Creative Writing Lessons - Seven Minutes

He states that “Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation,” of “writing to the best of our abilities” and choosing the right tools for the job. He challenges the writer to create a toolbox of talent from which we can draw when needed; when our task becomes difficult, our road veers into wilderness and fog impairs our vision.

He suggests that if we wish to become a great writer that we must do two things: read a lot and write a lot. He says, “Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.”

Fiction is the truth inside the lie. . ."

— Stephen King

One Minute of Advice from Stephen King

Biography

Stephen Edwin King was born in Portland, Maine in September of 1947. One of two children born to Nellie Ruth Pillsbury King, he was the younger brother in a financially struggling family dynamic. His father, Donald and his mother separated when the boys were toddlers, living in Fort Wayne, Indiana for a while near his father's family before his mother moved them to Durham where she took care of her aging parents.

Some of Stephen King's earliest memories were forged at the farm of his maternal grandparents. He tells the story of his earliest experience with excruciating pain caused when he dropped a cinder block on his foot after being stung by a wasp. He shares nightmarish stories of an abusive babysitter. He recalls events in the woods that left him suffering an unimaginable case of poison ivy. He writes about his trips to the doctor who stuck needles in his ears to relieve inflammation. It's no wonder he never runs out of squeamish material on which to write.

Early in life he developed an empathy for the underdog, the victims of bullies, those with little strength to fight back. His stories reveal the best and worst in mankind starting in 1974, when his manuscript for Carrie catapulted him into a new world where writing would become his main activity.

At the time it was written, he was employed as an English teacher earning sixty-four hundred dollars per year after quitting his job at the laundry. He and his wife lived in a double wide mobile home where she helped support the family with a job at Dunkin' Donuts. They were too poor to afford a telephone. At one point, he was so discouraged by his minimal success at submitting crime stories to the men's magazines, he threw away his work. Tabitha rescued the manuscript from the trash can, read it and provide the encouragement that prompted him to continue writing the rest of the story.

"You've got something here," she said. "I really think you do."

Since those early difficult times, King has penned over fifty-nine fiction novels, ten story collections, five non-fiction books and many other works that have turned into movies and TV series. His awards include multiple World Fantasy Awards, Locus Awards, and Bram Stoker Awards among many others.

Cover Photo

From the cover
From the cover

Stephen King’s memoir is memorable, provides useful examples, cautionary admonitions and is pure fun reading. It’s a good story, which he explains is what book buyers are looking to “take with them on the airplane, something that will first fascinate them, then pull them in and keep them turning the pages.”

He has successfully used every tool in his toolbox in writing this novel.

Notes

  1. Proles, dfn.- a member of the proletariat, a lower social class, or the working class

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Peg Cole

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    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      18 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Hi Audrey, I appreciate you taking the time to come by and leave such a nice comment. Thank you and Happy Fourth of July.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      18 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Thanks for this review and information on Stephen King. I appreciate him even more since learning about his difficult life. Well done!

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      19 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Yikes, it has been that long for me as well, Maria. Wow, time flies when you're reading. Yes, I think his personal demons have inspired many of his stories. I was reading his bio the other day and learned of his early addition to drugs and his struggle to over come it. We may never know the road others have traveled. Love you. Hugs.

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 

      19 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

      When I think back, I've been reading Stephen King for over 30 years. Despite his personal demons, perhaps because of them, he is one of the best in my opinion.

      Great job on this review - a treasure in my library. Love, Maria

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      19 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Hi Shauna, You're right about Stephen King. He can take the ordinary and turn it into an experience to remember. I sure appreciate your kind words and your visit to this review. :)

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      19 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Hello William, Yes, that quote threw me a curve as well. Thanks for stopping in to read this review.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      19 months ago from Central Florida

      Peg, only Stephen King can turn a how-to into something enjoyable to read! You've done a fine job with this review. I'm sure sales are going to jump just from this review alone!

      Love your style, Peg.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      19 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Hi Lisa Jane, Sounds like an easy trip from where you live to go exploring Stephen King's neighborhood. Maybe you'll see him outside walking his dog.

      Glad you like this book and the review. Thanks for the visit.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      19 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Hello Dora, I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did and do. It gives understandable notes on how to edit and proofread our work which I found helpful. Thanks for coming by.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      19 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Peggy Woods, that was a surprise to me as well. I had no idea. Like you, it ranks among my favorite movies. Thanks so much for stopping in to read this review.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      19 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Hi Bill, Your work ethic reminds me of Stephen King's. You are a dedicated and practiced writer. Nice to see you here today.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 

      19 months ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      "Fiction is the truth inside the lie . . . " I'm still thinking that one over. Never read the book but I'm thinking maybe I should. Thanks for the information, Peg!

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      19 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Frank, I'll admit that I haven't read many of his newer books. I guess I need to get busy and catch up. There was a time I waited anxiously for each new release. It seems that I concentrate on the favorites, reading them more than once. Time to branch out.

      Thanks for your visit and insightful observation about his newer work.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      19 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Hi Linda, Beyond the writing of books and scripts for movies, he's also acted in bit parts in many of them. We were watching "The Stand" the other night and saw him in it.

      Thanks so much for coming by.

    • Cyndi10 profile image

      Cynthia B Turner 

      19 months ago from Georgia

      I read Stephen King's On Writing many years ago and I still return to it often. He is one of the most prolific writers around. He had me hooked at Carrie! Then, when my son was old enough to read them, he became hooked on reading Stephen King. How could we not try to glean at least a little wisdom from what he has to say? Great review.

    • Lisa Jane39 profile image

      Lisa Jane 

      19 months ago from Washington

      I love this review. I grew up reading and watching his movies. I grew up about an hour where he lives.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      19 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for this review. The insight int Stephen King's life and work is fascinating. Based on your article, I would put this book on my to-do list.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      19 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Hello Mike, Stephen King seems to be really dedicated to being a writer and has a lot to show for it in the way of success and literary awards. I have to admire his consistency and enthusiasm for the art.

      Thanks so much for the visit and thoughts on the review.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      19 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Hello Jackie, I believe that Stephen King is an acquired taste for those with a strong stomach for grizzly details. Somehow, a much younger me found one of his books in my hands and it led to reading many more along the way. It's almost like driving past a wreck on the highway. You tell yourself not to look but it's inevitable that you glance that way.

      I'm impressed that you owned a bookstore. How fascinating that must have been!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      19 months ago from Houston, Texas

      I did not realize that Stephen King had written the book which inspired the movie called Shawshank Redemption. That was a wonderful movie. Most of his books are scary and not my favorite type of book to read. It was interesting reading about him however from your review of his latest book regarding the art of writing. It sounds like he had a tough life when growing up.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      19 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I really do have to read his book. The man knows writing and that's for sure. Thanks for the reminder, Peg!

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      19 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Hello Linda, Yes, isn't it interesting how our perspective changes over the years? When I reread a story that I read years ago, I'm amazed at the differences in characters with whom I can relate now.

      Thanks for sharing that insight and for your visit.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      19 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Hi Mary, Wow, I'd love to see his house in person. From the iron fence with the bats and dragons surrounding it, I would imagine it looks haunted. Perhaps that adds to the inspiration he finds for his writings.

      Thanks so much for coming by.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      19 months ago from Shelton

      what a helpful and detailed review Peg.. Stephen King was one of my faborties.. loved his earlier stuff.. but I feel.. my opinion only, that his newer stuff lacks discipline. ... Nevertheless you crafted his memoir of the craft ..awesomely... as you always do

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      19 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This sounds like a book that I would find interesting. Though I've heard a lot about Stephen King, I haven't read much of his work. Your article has encouraged me to do so.

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 

      19 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Peg - Nice review. As Stephen King proves, it is the discipline of writing that aids in success. It is hard to believe that the imagination of one person could produce such a volume of work. I guess King is an example to all of us.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      19 months ago from The Beautiful South

      I can't handle books or movies from books of Stephen King but owning a book store I had to read so much and have knowledge of his writings for my customers who most loved him. He made me a pretty penny and as many of those as he made himself, we could none deny his talent.

      Interesting new facts I did not have on him here. I'd say he could have gone either way after those experiences and lucky he chose the path he did!

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 

      19 months ago from Washington State, USA

      I read this book many years ago, back when I was an avid reader. I still read (though not as much) but I have added writing to my list of daily tasks. I need to revisit this book and will see it now from a new perspective. Thanks for reminding me of this book from a true master of the written word.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      19 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      The Shawshank Redemption is the only one I am familiar with of Stephen King's books. I am not really a fan but we were in Bangor once and looked at his house. I think he is a very talented writer and his advise to read a lot and write a lot is indeed wise.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      19 months ago from SW England

      Ok, Peg, I'll be wary! When it's true I think we have a different perspective, even though it might be just as horrific and therefore probably worse.

      You're welcome.

      Ann

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      19 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Hello Ann, I understand that feeling, for sure. He is the master of description that is so real it is terrifying. Beware, within this manual, he shares some true stories that are equally scary.

      Thanks so much for coming by.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      19 months ago from SW England

      Great review, Peg, because you've made me want to read the book even though I'm not a fan of Stephen King. That's not because I don't like the stories nor that I don't think he's a brilliant writer - I just don't like being terrified!

      I'll be looking out for this one.

      Ann

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