Review: On Writing, Stephen King
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Cover adorned with rosy flowers, On Writing looks more like a romance novel at first glance than a stockyard full of priceless writing tips and experienced honesty. In his “part-memoir, part-master class,” Stephen King shares the rough experiences he withstood to become successful, as well as the tools he was able to uncover from them. The book is served like a three-course meal, with the first section being pure memoir—King details the literary ladder he climbed throughout childhood in order to publish his very first stories and novels. Second, King shares his most valuable “tips and tricks” to the trade; third, he tells firsthand the story of a life-changing event that nearly made him quit writing for good.
Different from many experts whose best tips are to buy a thirty-dollar Moleskine and “write drunk, edit sober,” Stephen King kindly but firmly delivers simple suggestions to his hopeful readers. He recommends that lengthy descriptions be kept to a minimum and that adverbs, if used at all, are extremely rare in any piece of fiction. He provides several examples of his own unpublished craft, which he shows both raw and edited in order to prove to the reader that even the most successful of writers can have messy first drafts. For the most part, King’s words are comforting—a competent writer can almost always be made into a good one, he says, as long as they spend plenty of time scribbling or tapping away at their keyboard. And the tales of his earliest writings are equally soothing to read; as they tear through the book, readers will realize that it took King a particularly long time to become published. However, more sensitive readers may be discouraged by the notion that a good writer can hardly ever be made into a great one—one that many writers may disagree with, but King sticks to nonetheless.
But, most importantly, Stephen King’s On Writing discusses the craft with honesty. King indicates several times that not every story will be a good one, sometimes characters will fall flat, and often your first reader won’t be nearly as thrilled with your masterpiece as you expected them to be. Readers will close King’s book feeling more confident in their abilities, armed with the knowledge that it’s okay to write a terrible first draft, so long as their editing abilities are up to standard. All in all, On Writing is a book perfect for both novices of the craft and expert story-tellers.