Book Review: Stephen King’s On Writing (Or “Why I am the Next Stephen King”)

Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

I had read this book—or at least parts of it—years ago, but I thought I’d re-read it from the perspective of a much more serious author than the kid who dreamed of one day being Stephen King. I learned a lot from reading this book—including the fact that Stephen King and I have a lot more in common than I thought.

In the book, King mingles memories with tips on writing, focusing more heavily on writing advice in the second half of the book. He does this in an engaging way—it never “felt” like I was reading a book on writing. Rather, the page flew by as if I were having a casual conversation at lunch with a good friend.

King leads the reader through his life, explaining how The Tommyknockers, for example, is a metaphor for his own drug and alcohol abuse, and the effect it had on his mind, body, and soul. He walks through many of his novels, explaining his inspirations and thoughts about each book.

The lessons in writing are interspersed throughout as parts of King’s own revelations, such as his experience with an editor who taught him what makes interesting writing and what should be deleted during a rewrite. Among the most quoted advice King discusses is probably the advice to “write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open,” pushing writers to consider that once published, the story “belongs to anyone who wants to read it or criticize it.”

As a writer, I enjoyed learning about King’s struggles, many similar to my own experiences:

  • his growling pile of rejection letters being tacked to the wall reminded me of my growing folders (virtual and physical) of rejections;
  • King’s endeavors into small self-publishing for a local readership remind me of my own endeavors as a kid and teenager, publishing zines with my friends via Staples’ self-service center;
  • I even contributed to a subversive mock-publication in high school just as King published The Village Vomit with “fictional tidbits about [his high school’s] faculty, using teacher nicknames the student body would immediately recognize.” Unlike King, I never got caught!

See, King and I share so many experiences, I am bound to follow his successful career! But wait, there’s more:

  • I learned that King’s daughter Naomi used to tear the wallpaper off the wall above her crib. This is of interest to me because my soon-to-be-released novel features a troubled man who was discovered to have torn off the wallpaper above his crib as a boy. It was pure coincidence!
  • King was also at school (yes, he was a high-school English teacher, too!) when he learned about his first book sale. He received the message during his planning period—just like me!
  • King sometimes has his wife read his manuscripts while he is driving on long-distance trips. I do the same thing, asking my husband to read while I drive. And King relishes in the times when his wife laughs at all the right moments. When my husband laughs at the right places, it makes my day as well, and despite the fact that I’m driving, I have to glance over to see where he is in the chapter.
Now there’s other stuff we don’t share, of course. I have never had to deal with drug or alcohol addiction, but then again, I’m also not a bestseller… he also includes a short section on his near-death experience after being hit by a car (an inspiration for Misery). Luckily, this has not happened to me. Knock on wood!
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This book is a must-read for all authors. The advice is humorous and helpful (beware of language, though. In typical King fashion, he drops the F-bomb and then some). He doesn’t just limit his advice to the craft of writing, but also to lifestyle habits (watch less TV and read more!) and other considerations for aspiring writers. In the end, King reminds us about the reason for writing: “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”

Oh, and the title for this blog entry? Don’t worry, I’m not delusional. I had my tongue in my cheek when I wrote it.

But it can’t hurt to dream.