Overall Impression: Mind implosion? Quite possibly! *Runs out to buy all Stephen King’s books*. I can’t express in words the epic nature of this book!
This was once again recommended to me by my Creative Writing class. In their words: ‘It is not required reading, but it is highly encouraged’. I had already heard of the book’s reputation so I decided to purchase a copy straight away, and boy am I glad I did! I have never marked so many pages or felt so energised and inspired to write as I did each time I read some of On Writing. I felt like an excited child and that Stephen King was giving me the secret code for how to become a grown up. In attempt to share some of the awesomeness I even got my mum to read a passage, I was sure it was genius incorporated. She read confused wondering what I was going on about. That’s the thing, when you take sections out of context this book might not necessarily seem all that different from any other writing book, but dare to venture inside and you will find all sorts of hidden treasure!
Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s class, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported, near-fatal accident in 1999 – and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery.
I think this blurb focuses entirely on the wrong aspects of the book. Yes, it does include details of Stephen King’s life but it is not a book about self reflection and each anecdote makes a relevant point on writing. The book is split into four sections. The first is labeled C.V. and looks at key periods in Stephen King’s life that he believes helped shape him into the writer he is today – where he has either learnt important lessons or gotten inspiration. (Trust me, this is way more interesting than it sounds!) This takes up about a 4th of the book. The next section is labeled Toolbox (possibly the best metaphor ever) focusing on the technicalities of writing, vocabulary, grammar, active/passive verbs, paragraphs, dialogue, and why adverbs aren’t your friends. This is followed by the section On Writing which takes up around a third of the book and is filled with more tips King believes you need to be a good writer which goes something along the lines of: Read a lot, write a lot, how to draft and how long it should take, characters, description and every other important element you can dream about that wasn’t covered in Toolbox. The final section On Living: A Postscript details Stephen King’s life-threatening car accident and the affect it had on his writing.
Agh. I literally don’t know where to start reviewing this thing. You know when something is just sooooo good and you want to throw your arms up, squeal and unrecognizable words just tumble out of your mouth that vaguely resemble vowels? 😀 If you guys were here right now I would be stuffing this book in your face until you agreed to take it. I never thought I would love a non-fiction book, let alone a writing one!
This is the first Stephen King book I’ve read and I have already fallen in love with his writing style. He is just…a master of his craft, hitting each point with perfect precision. Everything is clear and explained thoroughly, he analyses things from different points of view I wouldn’t have considered before and this led to many cartoon-esk light bulb moments on my part. His writing is witty, intelligent and addictive; I meant to just read a few pages on several occasions but it would never happen, I kept getting sucked in and ended up reading more. The amount of awesome metaphors were unbelievable and I soon lost track of them, this was a real strength in his writing that stuck out to me. I subconsciously named him ‘King of the metaphor’. King, get it? Because Stephen King?? Ha ha, ha haaaaa….no you say? Okay moving on… but seriously, it’s his new nick-name, use it. 😛
What I loved most though is that he comes across as humble, yet strict and authoritative. Unlike that stuck up Strunk and White (who annoyingly King references like the bible, although true, they do have some valid points) I didn’t find myself fighting every point he made just for the sake of it. In his words ‘I didn’t want to write a book, even a short one like this, that would leave me feeling like either a literary gas-bag or a transcendental asshole.’ -Pg xiii
In comparison again to The Elements of Style, this book is great because you can pick it up whether you are a beginner or have been writing for years as it is accessible and at a level where anyone can understand it. It is useful in so many ways, not only technically in terms of writing, and it really is great technically, but also as a muse. On Writing is so inspiring and really gets you motivated, King’s cut out the bullshit and get to it mentality is exactly what most of us procrastinators need! As he leads you through all his past experiences as a writer the constant theme throughout it is that he never gave up. He describes how he nailed to the wall every rejection letter he got when he was younger and kept at it. Slowly, with a whole lot of hard work and determination he reached his dream goal and so much more and it is a reminder to the rest of us out in the big wide world not to give up on our dreams, because if we try hard enough the work might just pay off.
The content of this book is great, there is so much fantastic advice that I just can’t do it justice. I’m sure every writer will be able to take something out of On Writing that they didn’t have before, even if they think they already know everything important. He is the first author I have come across that has managed to explain why adverbs weaken sentences in a way that makes sense to me, in such a way that now it seems so ridiculously obvious in retrospect. His comments on dialogue tags will help me break the chain that my annoying primary school preached ‘you absolutely positively must not use said.’ Yeah, right, thanks for that tip idiots when the exact opposite is true.
I also loved this comment on character development: ‘It’s also important to remember that no one is ‘the bad guy’ or ‘the best friend’ or ‘the whore with a heart of gold’ in real life; in real life we each of us regard ourselves as the main character’ -Pg224 This is something I have always been aware of, I hate one dimensional characters and suspect secondary ones that are just there for the convenience of moving the plot along, but I had never thought of it this way before and it’s a great way of developing characters.
King also had some great theories on writing that I really agreed with and again had never considered. That’s the other weird thing about this book, the author would bring up ideas that had never occurred to me before, but when he did something would click and I instantly knew he was right. It was like he brought out what I already knew in the back of my mind before I had the chance to realise I knew it! A weird sensation but a rewarding one. The idea he presented as writing being the nearest equivalent of telepathy was an intriguing one and he makes a valid point, and his comments on what he believes causes bad writing also felt spot on:
‘I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing. If one is writing for one’s own pleasure, that fear may be mild – timidly is the word I’ve used here. If, however, one is working under deadline – a school paper, a newspaper article, the Standard Aptitude Test writing sample – that fear may be intense. Dumbo got airborne with the help of a magic feather; you may feel the urge to grab a passive verb or one of those nasty adverbs for the same reason. just remember before you do that Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him.’ -Pg142-143
…And there goes ‘King’ of metaphors again. 😛
I can’t recommend this book enough it’s such a compelling read and in my opinion, vital to anyone who is serious about wanting a career in writing. The book will be more useful for those interested in writing fiction although there are some useful points in here for non-fiction too. Don’t be put off because Stephen King is a horror writer, his tips and comments address all writing rather than being specific to a genre, although it should be noted that there are a few spoilers in here in regards to his own book plots and endings. Recommended for 15+ writers in the making.
Now go out and buy your copy! 😛
I have a lot of quotes (as you can tell from the endless marked pages shown in the picture above) so I will leave you with some of my favourites. 🙂
‘Lets get one thing clear right now shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. You job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize when they show up.’ -Pg 29-30
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‘I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.’ -Pg46
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‘If I have to spend time in purgatory before going one place or the other, I guess I’ll be alright as long as there’s a lending library.’ -Pg115
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‘The road to hell is paved with adverbs.’ -Pg139
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‘’Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, 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. It’s about getting up, getting well and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy. Some of this book – perhaps too much – has been about how I learned to do it. Much of it has been about how you can do it better. The rest of it – and perhaps the best of it – is a permission slip: you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough start, you will.’ Pg326-327
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P.S. Every time I write one of these damn reviews on writing/grammar I always get paranoid that I’ve committed some horribly obvious writing mistake and I’m going to look like a ninny.
Writing Style: 5/5
Would I recommend this book? YES!!!
Book Cover: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12984058-on-writing
Marked book: My own image, please do not reuse.