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

Updated on January 5, 2022
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Peggy Cole is a self-published author who enjoys writing fiction stories, book reviews and articles about simpler times.

Stephen King, Author
Stephen King, Author

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.

Words of Encouragement

Stephen King has been writing stories since he was seven years old. After reading his first original story, his mother said something that would catapult him into his destined career.

"You didn't copy this one?" She asked him after finding out he'd been copying stories out of comic books.

"No, I didn't."

"This is good enough to be in a book," she told him, words that would stick with him beyond the early rejections and struggles of a budding author.

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

Stephen King's House in Bangor, Maine

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places in the United States
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.

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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