Book Review :: On Writing

On Writing: A Memoir of the CraftOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every writer, reader, and Stephen King fan MUST read this.

This book is the holy grail for writers!!! An honest account of someone so great; it's a treat for readers, too.

There is a section about his life before he became an established writer, a section on the tricks and techniques of writing, a section on how this book came about, and finally a small piece on reading. No matter who or what you think you are, if you decide to pursue a career as a writer please make it a point to go through this book.

Arguably, every writer (fresh or established) believes in their own tricks & techniques when it comes to writing. However, by putting forth his own tricks & techniques, King is not asking us to abandon ours'. Do remember that this is a memoir and he is being honest and helpful in sharing his secrets, which as we all know worked for him (awesomely).

Personally, I love this book because I could connect with the things King says. For someone like me this book is a way of telling, 'Hey! You're going in the right way. And here are a few tips to make it better and easy for you.'

Of course, there are many excerpts that I would like to share, however this review is not the place for that. I will share just one.

One of my favorite stories on the subject—probably more myth than truth—concerns James Joyce. According to the story, a friend came to visit him one day and found the great man sprawled across his writing desk in a posture of utter despair.

“James, what’s wrong?” the friend asked. “Is it the work?”

Joyce indicated assent without even raising his head to look at the friend. Of course it was the work; isn’t it always?

“How many words did you get today?” the friend pursued.

Joyce (still in despair, still sprawled facedown on his desk):


“Seven? But James . . . that’s good, at least for you!”

“Yes,” Joyce said, finally looking up. “I suppose it is . . . but I don’t know what order they go in!”

The most favourite piece on writing for me was the section on 'The Ideal Reader'.

I think that every novelist has a single ideal reader; that at various points during the composition of a story, the writer is thinking, “I wonder what he/she will think when he/she reads this part?” For me that first reader is my wife, Tabitha.

You can’t let the whole world into your story, but you can let in the ones that matter the most. And you should.

Call that one person you write for Ideal Reader. He or she is going to be in your writing room all the time: in the flesh once you open the door and let the world back in to shine on the bubble of your dream, in spirit during the sometimes troubling and often exhilarating days of the first draft, when the door is closed. And you know what? You’ll find yourself bending the story even before Ideal Reader glimpses so much as the first sentence. I.R. will help you get outside yourself a little, to actually read your work in progress as an audience would while you’re still working. This is perhaps the best way of all to make sure you stick to story, a way of playing to the audience even while there’s no audience there and you’re totally in charge.

When I write a scene that strikes me as funny (like the pieeating contest in “The Body” or the execution rehearsal in The Green Mile), I am also imagining my I.R. finding it funny. I love it when Tabby laughs out of control—she puts her hands up as if to say I surrender and these big tears go rolling down her cheeks. I love it, that’s all, fucking adore it, and when I get hold of something with that potential, I twist it as hard as I can. During the actual writing of such a scene (door closed), the thought of making her laugh—or cry—is in the back of my mind. During the rewrite (door open), the question—is it funny enough yet? scary enough?—is right up front. I try to watch her when she gets to a particular scene, hoping for at least a smile or—jackpot, baby!—that big belly-laugh with the hands up, waving in the air.

Finally, the most important thing: For any writer (or person) to be honestly successful in what they do is to be able to commit; to a person they love because if one can stay committed to another person then only God can stop them from being committed to their work. And of course, you know that once you commit to your work, success is yours.

When I’m asked for “the secret of my success” (an absurd idea, that, but impossible to get away from), I sometimes say there are two: I stayed physically healthy (at least until a van knocked me down by the side of the road in the summer of 1999), and I stayed married.

The combination of a healthy body and a stable relationship with a self-reliant woman who takes zero shit from me or anyone else has made the continuity of my working life possible.

Whenever I couldn't decide what to read, I'd go read the dictionary. Now, I have another book on that list - King's On Writing!!!

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