The world is comprised of stories. Some are good, some bad. Most are poorly told, others are exceptionally told. Not to get totally meta on you, but there is always a story behind the story. Something that motivated and guided its conception and creation. Where does all of this come from? How do we, as writers, understand and extract these tales and make them into something extraordinary? Here’s how…

Stephen King, in his book On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft, masterfully tells all – the stories behind the stories and the method behind spinning them.

If you’ve been turned off by King before, or simply not a fan of his genre (typically he’s known for his popular run of American horror, supernatural, and fantasy novels,) don’t let that sit in between you and this book. It’s quite inspiring.

Disclaimer: I didn’t actually read this book. I listened to it on Audible. I highly recommend this experience, because Stephen King did the narration, and it was an unabridged version of the book. I enjoy the experience of listening to audiobooks, and even more so when a great author reads – they typically have the perfect cadence.

The Memoir

King opens with the memoir. Don’t skip this. It’s important.

In the first half (maybe less, maybe more,) readers are treated to snapshots of Stephen King’s writing life. I say writing life because it’s not a full autobiography. The author has carefully curated and connected the stories and images of his life that explain his development as a story-teller and writer. These snapshots are both pre and post-Carrie, his breakout novel.

This memoir would stand on its own, even without the practical writing advice that follows. It’s delightfully funny. Even when writing about his most difficult eras, Stephen King can inject the perfect balance of exposition and wit to keep readers laughing at things like a illness, addiction, or near-death car accident. It’s not that King is poking fun at these memories, but as the writer he displays how he is now able to look back from a distance in time and spin the yarn any which way he wants. He survived, he made it. My wife and I look back and laugh on our most difficult times together, and this memoir captures that idea perfectly.

Readers and writers are humans. To write is human. The first half of On Writing shows us that Stephen King is one, and more importantly, readers see just what kind of human he is. (Maybe. Maybe it’s just that we see what kind of human he wants us to see. After all, I don’t know King personally. The power of writing, my friends.)

The Craft

In researching the top essential books for writers, I discovered On Writing on most lists. I foolishly purchased this audiobook to become a better a writer. As a fair warning, On Writing won’t make you a better writer. Only practice and study will make you a better writer. Luckily, On Writing will tell you how to practice, what to practice, and what you should/shouldn’t give a hoot about when studying.

Like my previous and future book reviews, I don’t intend to give away any of the content itself. Sorry if that feels cheap. I just can’t do it justice. If the topics below sound appealing, please read directly from the source. For example, King doesn’t just say, “Don’t use adverbs.” Well, first he says it with a lot more bite and gusto, then he follows up with reasons why, and actual examples of how writing is improved without them.

Here are some key takeaways:

  • Focus more on characters and dialogue, not so much plot development.
  • A good writer is a good reader. Good reading improves your vocabulary, and helps you use the right words in your own writing.
  • Avoid adverbs and passive voice.
  • When you sit down to write, write. (And close the door, too.)
  • Don’t show anyone your story as your developing it.
  • For King, the editing process is all about cutting.
  • There’s advice on handling descriptions, settings, flashbacks, and exposition.
  • …a ton more, seriously.

I found On Writing to be enjoyable, practical, and full of inspirational wisdom and instruction. Even though I listened on Audible, I’ll be purchasing the paperback from my bookshelf shortly. This one will get dog-eared and underlined to kingdom come.

Have you read this book? If so, what did you think?

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