Stephen King reveals the art of writing

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

By Stephen King

Simon & Schuster. 320 pp. $12.99 Reviewed by Emre Baysal

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft By Stephen King Simon & Schuster. 320 pp. $12.99 Reviewed by Emre Baysal

Stephen King’s grip is tight. He holds our attention over hundreds of pages. He holds our attention to a book about murder and monsters, gore and blood, but more startling, he holds our attention to a damn English textbook.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, a memoir by Stephen King published in 2000, is a mix between a telling of Stephen King’s path to becoming one of the most famous authors within the modern age and actual tips on improving your writing. For the most part, these sections are split; however, they are slightly interwoven to make the information more interesting and the story flow more smoothly.

Now, personally, one of my personal favorite parts about the book is how all of the information in it is used. While I read the story, I noticed that he left in some strange stories. I felt that I didn’t need to know about his brother’s IQ or his poison ivy-covered bum, but he had a purpose for it all.

His brother’s IQ? Oh, it was just a neat transition. His brother is too smart, got bored of schoolwork, decided to open a newspaper, and Stephen joined the newspaper, one of his first dips in the world of actual writing (King 41-42). It may not have seemed relevant, but its value to Stephen King’s beginning is undoubted.

He’ll acknowledge when a story isn’t really important, too. Instead of spamming the backspace button, he integrates those stories into a part of his humor. When he didn’t get accepted into the National Honor Society, he played it into a joke, “A boy who once wiped his ass with poison ivy probably doesn’t belong in a smart people’s club,” (King 54). Dark? Yeah. Funny? Definitely.

I know, I know. Poison ivy rears are a good selling-point, but the best part about this book is his advice. I mean, that should be pretty obvious. If you aren’t gonna get good advice from one of the world’s most famous writers, then I don’t know where you would.

Let’s just get it out there: the book is meant for aspiring writers. Sure, you can read it if you like Stephen King’s style or if you just want to pick up a memoir for whatever reason, but that’s not the intended or full experience. This book is meant to be a lesson for writers who have trouble getting green from their ink. With that in mind, I’d be angry if the advice was less than game-changing, and it was.

His toolbox analogy and guide on how to write your drafts are the best parts for me. The basis for his toolbox analogy comes from a story about his Uncle Oren. Oren would always lug his entire toolbox with him, even if he only needed a screwdriver. He told Stephen that he always carried the entire thing because he wanted to be prepared for anything (King 113). So, he told us to do the same.

You should always have all of your tools with you. At the top of your box, there should be your grammar and vocabulary, and beneath that, you’d find your elements of style (King 128). These are the fundamentals of writing, an absolute necessity.

I can’t quite say how effective this tip is just yet. I just got started on my quest to clean these tools (except for vocabulary, don’t improve your vocab artificially), but his logic is flawless. Any good writer needs to know their grammar, know how to use their vocab, and have their elements down before they can expect to see real results.

Stephen King’s lessons also include his drafting process. Basically, he says that you should always write your first draft in closed doors without looking back, so that everything you write is purely you. When you write up your second draft, that’s when you get some of your friends to check it over and make sure that you’re not writing the next The Room (King 209).

This may seem like something insignificant, but after reading about this, I feel as if my writing’s improving. I’ve already implemented this strategy into my essays and writing, and boy, was there a difference.

As much as I’d like to put Stephen King onto a pedestal of gold, his books aren’t perfect, and this one isn’t his magnum opus. The two problems I saw the most was the placement of the postscript (yeah, I know; I’m struggling) and the lack of emotional connection with the writing.

About the postscript, I get that it’s written afterwards, but it still feels out of place. The first half is the section mainly about his life, so it doesn’t really sit well when it goes from memoir to textbook back to memoir. It would’ve been better if it had just been edited into the first section as if it was always there.

The second flaw was that reading the story, I didn’t really care as much as I should have. I read about his stories, lived through his scenes, but it didn’t matter. I can’t really say why I felt this way; Stephen King’s writing definitely wasn’t flat and the stories do have value. I re-read his story on blowing out the electricity in his apartment to double-check (King 33). I believe that it’s an unavoidable fault within the memoir style that stems from the idea that, “I know it all ends well, I mean, look at Stephen King now! So, why should I care that he blew the power out when I know all of it will end with a nice ribbon on top?”

These opinions should sum up my general views on the book. Of course, I didn’t mention the natural allure of Stephen King’s writing or the many tips that I will always have highlighted on Kindle, but you should find those out for yourself. Honestly, shooting yourself in the foot might hurt less than refusing to pick up this book.

If you liked On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, you should probably look at other books dedicated to teaching you English. Other formidable books like this include Ernest Hemingway on Writing by Larry Phillips especially and The Elements of Style by William Strunk.