Tuesday, April 26, 2016

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

On Writing by Stephen King has been lauded as one of the greatest books on writing out there. So when I got it for Christmas, I thought I may as well give it shot. I worked my way through it slowly, and, having started it on New Year's Eve, I just finished it a few weeks ago. Now I have had some time to think over it, and it is only now that I have decided to write the review I knew would come.

The first half of the book is in autobiographical form, as Mr. King gives his history, not just about writing, but everything. He tells, in often painful frankness, about his childhood mishaps and his adult struggles. It is a fun read, if only for his distinct voice. I read this half of it fairly quickly, enjoying the anecdotes and tales he spun with the deftness of an accomplished author.

Then comes the section on writing. He gives it all in an all-up-front manner, and he leaves no room for doubt about what he means in your mind. (I guess writers have the freedom to do that when they've written 56 novels and 200 short stories.) Mr. King is brutally honest about the life of a writer, what it takes to be one, and how to get there. He doesn't sugar-coat it, and he doesn't try to make it sound more glamorous than it is. He tells it like he sees it, and he tells that he's going to do that right up front. I respected that about this book almost more than anything else.

This book isn't so renowned because a wanna-be writer puts it down and proceeds to churn out one-draft greatness. This books treasure is in the small, single sentences that are tucked away. I found several of these, and I  read over it, got to the next paragraph, paused, and looked at that sentence again before scrambling for a note book or some sticky notes to jot it down. I now have about a million quotable lines nearly memorized from this book. Never have I found so many great, helpful, stand-alone quotes in the space of 120 pages.

Now, I realize that book reviews are often wholly subjective, but I have tried to keep all subjectivity out of those three paragraphs above. Allow me my voice now.

Did I like this book? Yes. Absolutely. It brought some things to my attention that I had never thought of before. It made me think in ways that hadn't occurred to me before, and I liked the challenge. I read it slowly, reading a chapter a night, mulling it over, chewing on it, sleeping on it. Then when I sat down to write the next day, I tried to put one thing that I learned into practice. Some days were trickier than others, but in the end, I think that I am a better writer for it. Not only because of what he said, but also because of what I did.

Reading this book made me more conscious of my own writing, my own stories. It made me more excited to write (is that possible?) and it challenged me to be better every time I sat in front of my laptop, fingers poised over the keyboard. I think that often a writer will sit down (or stand up, whatever floats your boat) to write, and he does it like a mummy, a zombie who types words in quick succession, unsure a paragraph later what it was he just wrote. But after reading this book, I am more aware of what I am writing, why, and what could make it better.

Another thing I really liked about this book was it's tone. It felt like Mr. King was having a conversation with me, and I don't know about you, but I like that. It made it easier for me to connect with it, to relate, and to understand what he was trying to convey. He seemed to me like the kind of guy that wouldn't mind if you called him up with a question, the kind of guy who would be willing to help you out in a crisis. Now, I don't know if he is that kind of a person, but it felt like it in the book.

So, on to the downsides. I didn't like his flippant use of foul language. Before you who have read it start citing the book, I know that Mr. King was being honest with his readers, writing in his work like he would speak in real life, and to a certain extent I even respect that. But I had a hard time quoting him without making the sailors blush. That is a bit of a let down, to be honest. I feel like I can't recommend this book to high schoolers, even though it is one of the most practical books on writing that I have read. That saddens me.

Honestly though, that is my only complaint. And in the grand scheme of things, that is not much at all.

So, would I recommend this book? Yes. For sure. (But would always warn you of the language before handing it over.) I think that this a very practical book, useful and insightful.

Rating: Four and a half Stars.

Great Quote: "If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time (or tools) to write." -Stephen King, On Writing; A Memoir of the Craft

Give the book a try, and learn something new. Write often, read much.

And, as always, Happy Reading!



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