Saturday, October 25, 2014

Book Review: On Writing by Stephen King

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Few authors are as prolific and successful as Stephen King. In 2000, he published this book, part autobiography and part writing advice. The memoir covers his early years, from childhood until he broke his addictions to booze and drugs. King does not give a thorough or strictly chronological biography but "snapshots" of moments influential in his writing. The details of his dirt poor childhood, his school life, and his marriage are interesting. Always his writing and struggles with publishing are present, giving unity to an otherwise non-linear narrative.

The second larger section of the book is devoted to the act of writing. He uses the metaphor of a toolbox to describe the various things a writer needs to be successful. He discusses the nuts and bolts like those found in Strunk and White's Elements of Style (basic grammar and style choices). He shows the importance of crafting good dialogue and building good characters. Plot is not his greatest concern in writing; he often lets the story flow naturally from the characters he's created and the interesting situations they struggle through. He's a great advocate of writing a first draft and then letting it sit for several weeks if not months. After a while, he comes back to the work fresh, probably with a better idea of the themes (which can suggest scenes or details to add) and with a better likelihood of cutting what doesn't work (after a couple of months the work is less your baby and more a work in progress that needs some trimming to make it better). King also discusses his workspace and work plan, showing how they contribute to his productivity as a writer.

The book is an easy, interesting read and very inspiring for writers. It is aimed at fiction writers, but even a blogger can find the advice and stories useful and motivational.

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