On Writing by Stephen King

“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.” 

While I have always been a fan of Stephen King, I had no idea he had written a memoir about the craft of writing itself until very recently. Published in 2000, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft delves into King’s thoughts and philosophies on writing and how his life experiences have contributed to his own craft.

King aptly titles the first half of this memoir “CV,” which details significant moments and experiences in his life that have shaped him into the writer he is today. While I was surprised at some of the traumatic experiences he recounted as both a child and young man, I was admittedly more surprised to read about how many rejection letters King received when he first started writing science fiction stories. It is mind-boggling to think that Stephen King, a staple name in the horror genre, experienced so much rejection when he first started out. Consequently, I was extremely inspired by his perseverance to continue writing, despite countless setbacks. For him, writing wasn’t (and isn’t) a job – he is truly passionate about the craft and it is a part of who he is.

In the second half of the memoir, titled “On Writing,” King reflects upon the craft of writing itself. He definitely isn’t afraid to say what he thinks (NOT a fan of adverbs or passive voice!), but gives much encouragement to the aspiring writers who read this book. I found it absolutely fascinating to see inside the mind of one of the most brilliant and prolific authors of our time – not only through the lens of an autobiography, but also through the lens of how and why he writes the way he does. One of the most engrossing sections of this book for me was when he described how he plans and details his plots… he doesn’t! He describes his process as starting with a “what if” question and, if the situation arising from that question is strong enough, he lets his characters lead him through the actual writing of the story. How amazing is that? Some examples he gives in the text include the following:

  • What if vampires invaded a small New England village? (‘Salem’s Lot)
  • What if a policeman in a remote Nevada town went berserk and started killing everyone in sight? (Desperation)
  • What if a young mother and her son became trapped in their stalled car by a rabid dog? (Cujo)

Overall, I found this memoir to be a captivating read and would highly recommend it for both aspiring writers and fans of King alike!

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