Review: On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King

Over 17 years ago, Stephen King was encouraged to write a book about writing. A book for those who aspire to be writers, and for those who enjoy writing his stories and want to know more about them. On Writing, however, is not the classic how-to-write-a-novel-book that we so often find in book stores. This is a book that consists mainly of three parts: memoirs of Stephen, rules and advice about writing, and a list of books that all aspiring writers should read. In the epilogue, Stephen talks about a horrendous accident that almost took his life and tells how writing helped him move on.

On the writer

I love memoirs and autobiographical texts. I love them because each author has his or her own way of writing about life, everyone sees the world in a different way, everyone has something different to share.

Stephen is clear and honest when it comes to sharing his experiences. He opens the book questioning his own ability to write such a book and admits that it is not easy to write about writing without falling into falsehoods, unnecessary reflections and exaggeration.

“This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included, don’t understand very much about what they do – not why it works when it’s good, not why it doesn’t when it’s bad. I figured the shorter the book, the less the bullshit.”

What I loved the most about this book is that Stephen talks freely about both his good and his bad experiences. He doesn’t hold back when talking about his struggle with alcoholism and drug addiction, and he recognizes how they affected his life and his work. Spoilers: it was the worst time of his life. Stephen talks about how and when he wrote some of his most popular books, and he describes the circumstances that surrounded him while he wrote them.

On writing

The second part of the book is a series of rules and guidelines for those of us who want to be writers. These are the rules that he follows, and they go from basic stylistic choices such as never using the passive voice and avoiding adverbs at all costs, to knowing why and whom you write for.

Despite being the section that we would normally call “technical”, this part is as personal as the first one, since all his tips are grounded in his own experience.

“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair – the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.

On reading

The third part has two lists with all the books that Stephen says one ought to read if one is to be a good writer. The original list, published in 2000, has 96 titles; the 2010 revised version has 86. Some of the books vary from one list to another, which is why it is worth it to take a look at both of them.

For those who, like me, enjoy Stephen King’s stories in general, whether they’re films, books or series, it is a joy to get to know him through the pages of these memoirs. The only bad reviews that this book had, were those of people who expected a manual on writing a novel. This book is not that. This book is like a chat with a friend who’s telling you his perspective on writing.

  My edition:  Paperback, 10th-anniversary edition, published by Simon and Schuster.
My edition: Paperback, 10th-anniversary edition, published by Simon and Schuster.

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