Stephen King on the Art, Craft and Business of Writing
On Writing is the first Stephen King book I’ve ever read. It’s an excellent memoir of his life as a writer: what got him started, how he built his writing portfolio, and how his stories evolved, through vivid imagination and astute editing.
But I’ve never read any of King’s fiction books. Not one.
I recognize from On Writing that Stephen King is a really good writer who understands the art, craft and business of writing very well.
And if he wrote in a different genre, I’d probably read him. So far I haven’t ventured into those waters.
Even from this non-fiction book, however, I can relish King’s story-telling expertise.
He has incredible recall of people, events and feelings from his early childhood. How does a 6-year-old remember three sets of ear lancings in such detail?
“Once again the pungent smell of alcohol and the doctor turning to me with a needle that looked as long as my school ruler. Once more the smile, the approach, the assurance that this time it wouldn’t hurt.”
I also like that Stephen King doesn’t mince words when he feels strongly about something.
Stephen King’s advice to novice writers is specific and non-yielding:
- Read… a lot. Stephen King takes books with him everywhere.
- Write a lot, preferably every day.
- Treat writing seriously.
- Good writing feels like a meeting of the minds between author and reader (King gives a superb demonstration of how this works in his chapter “What Writing Is.”)
- Use vocabulary that fits the occasion – and don’t overdo it.
- Nouns and active verbs rock.
- “Said” works best for dialogue attribution, almost always.
King shows his teaching chops in the section on narration, description, and dialogue. He explains, gives examples, and makes these aspects of writing come alive through his instructive lessons.
While narration moves the story along, description creates the “sensory reality” for the reader, and dialogue brings life to the characters, plot isn’t a big deal for Stephen King. He doesn’t trust plot outlines because, as he says, “our lives are largely plotless.”
Do I hafta write?
King gives very specific examples to help writers understand the points he’s making. As a non-fiction writer, I found many takeaways in this book. Fiction writers will find a bonanza of excellent material here.
It all boils down to this question, “Do I hafta write?” Then.you.are.a.writer.
And you don’t need anyone else to tell you so.
On Writing is a highly regarded writer resource for good reason. Stephen King is a good teacher and he doesn’t stint on passing along what he knows.
Stephen King fans will enjoy the memoir aspect of the book. He openly discusses his early addictions and the 1999 accident that nearly ended his life. I hadn’t heard about either before and it seemed remarkable to me that he continued to write compelling fiction in either of those circumstances.
But he “had” to write. So he did.