Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Write On! Stephen King's On Writing

After an altogether disappointing reading experience with Firefly by Piers Anthony, I decided to go for something I knew I'd enjoy. So into my backpack went my copy of Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. To my mind, this is one of the best primers out there for aspiring novelists, and I was surprised at how long it had been since I last read it from cover to cover. Put it this way, tucked between a couple pages is a small calendar page from January 2005, and I don't have this book listed among those that I read that year, so I probably used it only for reference purposes at that point. It has been too long.

In the book, King breaks things down into digestible bits and helps readers/writers understand that if things stink pretty bad on the other end of that process, that's ok too. After all, rewriting is a vital part of writing. Anne Lamott had a similar sentiment in her widely acclaimed Bird by Bird: All first drafts are shitty.

But one of the things that I enjoy most about this book is the author's voice. On each page, King sounds not like some pompous jerk telling you how he succeeded and why he's earned a mint on his books. Rather, this is the voice of your favorite teacher as he offers suggestions and a healthy dose of laughter. This is the guy you want to impress with your own stories and whose class you're disappointed to leave when the bell rings.

In the opening sections of the book, he recounts his impoverished fatherless youth, his development into an alcohol- and cocaine-addicted commercial-publishing megastar, and finally his progression into the prolific write-every-damn-day author we know him as today. At the same time, it's his answer to that annoying question: "Where do your ideas come from?"

So, if you're a writer and you've never read this, put it on your list of must-reads. If you can't remember the last time you read it, pull it off your shelf and rediscover his simple lessons. If you're a writer who doesn't like reading, Steve has a special message for you too (though you're not going to like it). And if you're a fan of Stephen King but not looking to write anything of your own, you'll find more than enough to keep you entertained as well.

8 comments:

Lisa_Gibson said...

I do need to pick this up again and re-read. It's been so long, I had forgotten I read it once upon a time.

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks, Lisa. His is certainly not the only one out there. It's my personal favorite, but I enjoyed Bird by Bird too, and I find myself skimming through my copy of Strunk & White all the time.

caroline_hagood said...

You know, I've never read it! I'll have to get on that. You have inspired me.

Matt Sinclair said...

Cool, happy to have helped. I think you'll enjoy it, Caroline.

catwoods said...

I've heard of it often, but never read it. I may have to pick it up some time soon. Just to see what the hype is all about.

Thanks for the tip.

Matt Sinclair said...

Any time, Cate

Lisa_Gibson said...

Matt, I have an award for you over on my blog. Swing by and grab it.

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks, Lisa, I'll be right over. :-)