09 June 2010

Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. NY: Scribner, 2000.

Stephen King, the master of contemporary horror with over 350 million copies of his books in print, is one of the best-selling authors in the world. As such, he clearly has much to say about how to write, right?

But, as the subtitle suggests, On Writing is a memoir, not a how-to book. In fact, only about a third of the book actually discusses the craft of writing, and much of that is standard advice: read a lot and write a lot; don't show off the work until after a second draft; write for a specific, personal audience; a second draft should equal the first draft less ten percent; pay attention to Strunk & White's Elements of Style. All of the advice is good, but none of it is new or unique. King readily admits as much.

No, what makes On Writing interesting is the personal history King shares. By allowing us to see some of the early influences on his life, King helps us understand his motivations and the sources of his creativity. We also see the long, demanding developmental arch from high-school scribbler to best-seller; the effort King made in pursuit of his career is daunting, but ultimately provides hope. While he states that it is impossible to make a competent writer from a bad one, or a great writer from a good one, he believes it is possible for a competent writer to become good. King's book won't help much with this, but it does offer inspiration and encouragement for those trying to break into the field.

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