There are numerous books out there that tell us how to be a writer and these range from reference books listing magazine titles to books on how to sell short stories, but Stephen King’s On Writing appears to have something different. Subtitled as ‘A Memoir of the Craft’, that is essentially what it is – combining an autobiography with the lessons of being a writer.
The first part of the book is entitled ‘CV’ and this is a short memoir about Stephen King. Even if you’re not a fan you can’t help but find this part of the book entertaining. King reveals how he found an interest in horror stories and came to have an interest in writing, eventually selling his first story to a magazine.
Alongside this are the childhood tales of his exploits with his older brother Dave that made me wonder how King survived his childhood years at all, with the stories of poison ivy and Dave’s Super Duper Electromagnet: “We each had our part to play in creating the Super Duper Electromagnet. Dave’s part was to build it. My part would be to test it.”
Within the first few pages of this book I had to look up from the pages and re-read the back cover, because the reason most people read a book like On Writing is in order to become a better writer. It is a book you pick up for self-education, for self-improvement, so why is it this funny? There is something within us, probably habituated from stuffy classrooms and monotone teachers, that tells us learning isn’t supposed to be this fun.
The ‘CV’ section is there to demonstrate how King is ‘qualified’ to speak on writing. I find it strange that a writer so infamous and with so many books in print including those that have been made into films, such as ‘Carrie’ and ‘Misery’, feels the need to include this at all. Surely his authority to speak on the subject of how to write a good book is already evident? But this section contributes to making the book what it is.
Finding out more about King as a person as well as a writer opens the book up to a greater readership, including those that haven’t read his books. I don’t believe any other book about writing has such large biographical content and it makes the rest of the book – the parts about the mechanics of writing – more personal.
The book doesn’t claim to show us the method of writing but there are a few essential tips that come through strongly such as overuse of adverbs. King makes so many references about this throughout the book and often in a humorous way that you couldn’t possibly forget: “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs and I will shout it from the rooftops.”
That is one of the beauties of this book; so much of it is funny and is light-hearted that I didn’t feel I was trying to absorb a vast tome of dos and don’ts.
King manages to utilise biography and humour in order to make On Writing more than just another book about writing. It is also a laugh-out-loud piece of entertainment and because it’s filled with humour and stories you remember the lessons associated with them, which is of course why you picked up the book in the first place.