This review will be short as I have too many other things on my plate at the moment and because the book, “On Writing” by Stephen King (which I just finished re-reading), covers a topic that is subjective at best: writing.
The first part of the book is an autobiographical tale of how Mr. King grew up and became the writer he is today. When I speak to people about this book, many scoff at the first part and pout, “Can we get to the writing stuff already?” What, I think, these people fail to realize is that this is the important piece of the book. Sure, a super famous writing who makes tons of money from his fiction talking about the writing craft is an appealing topic, but getting to know how he got to where he is today is equally important. Not to mention that anything he says on the craft might not even work for you or follow your same ideals. I certainly didn’t agree with him on several points. I feel the people who look at the first part of the book as something to be skipped are the same people who Mr. King talks about in the second part, the ones looking for that ‘magic bullet’. They would do well to remember that the full title of the book is “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” and not “On Writing: A Lesson on Craft”.
The second part, while a wonderful insight into Mr. King’s writing ideals, is an admittedly biased piece – something that he makes clear on several occasions. People who want to write in a similar manner as Mr. King will benefit greatly from this book, however, people looking for a more well-rounded insight into what writing is will not. I’m not saying it’s bad in an way, in fact I feel quite the opposite and think every aspiring writer should have it on his or her ‘to read’ list, but I also think those same aspiring writers need to be aware that this is just one writer’s take on the craft and look at it accordingly. Mr. King’s ideas on craft as a toolbox and writing with the door closed/open are ones that I quite like, his distaste for outlines and his first draft/second draft equation I don’t. It can all be chalked up to personal preference though and, no matter how much I agree or disagree, I am very thankful to Mr. King for writing the book in the first place. As he, himself, says on the last pages before the postscript:
When I proposed the idea of a book on writing to my publisher at Scribner, I felt that I knew a great deal about the subject; my head all but burst with the different things I wanted to say. And perhaps I do know a lot, but some of it turned out to be dull and most of the rest, I’ve discovered, has more to do with instinct than with anything resembling “higher thought.” I found the act of articulating those instinctive truths painfully difficult.
Writing about craft is hard, as each writer is completely different in his or her approach to it, yet Mr. King took up the challenge in his own way and did admirably. He doesn’t try to “fake it” and make a book saying, “This is exactly how writing works, and I should know because I’m right and famous.” His book speaks as if he, himself, were speaking to you, “Well, I don’t know about you, but this is how I do it.” It makes for a wonderfully easy and enjoyable read on an otherwise highly subjective and idiosyncratic topic.