Despite the novel being about Stephen King’s process and tips in writing, On Writing is more than a book about the craft, rather it is an autobiographical teacher. It is the perfect combination of memoir and guide to improving your writing.
King separates the book into three main parts, C.V. On Writing, and On Life. This format creates a logical flow in the structure of the book, taking the reader firstly through King’s formative years in both his writing and life, steering into the events that got him his first big break through his story Carrie. In doing so we learn how King evolved into a prolific best selling author as he fought through an abundance of rejection – yes Stephen King received rejection slips!
C.V. explores King’s early life, diving into the lessons he learnt as a fledgling writer submitting his short stories to local magazines and publishers. Beyond this he gives an insight into his childhood and how that would come to influence his writing. Despite (on face value) this section, not being entirely relevant to how to become a better writer it does show the extent in which King had to work to become arguably one of the greatest authors of our time. He was not lucky enough to be born into wealth, finding himself working in laundromats (as well as other low paying jobs) to pay rent. Despite this he still found time to write, and funnily enough these experiences inspired his writing and some of his novels. He would eventually take on a job working as a teacher, still writing on the side. He spent a number of retrospectively important years here where he was inspired to write Carrie, a book he almost gave up on, the story that finally got him the break he’d spent years earning.
I found the On Writing section of the book resourceful for two reasons. The first was the obvious, there was a lot to learn from a legend of the craft as he delved into what he considers important pointers in improving one’s writing.
I could go into the specifics of what he teaches in this section but that wouldn’t do the book justice. I believe every reader will experience something different from a book, and this point is more crucial in a novel like this for two reasons. The first is you are better off hearing it first hand from King himself, after all who better can explain Stephen King’s top tips than Stephen King himself. The second is everybody absorbs information differently, what I may have taken from this book could be very different from what you might learn from it.
The second important theme to take away from this section was something I was not expecting to find in reading this book, but nonetheless just as valuable. Being a writer myself it was encouraging to see similarities in King’s process with my own. It can often be difficult to gauge one’s writing ability given that success in this industry is solely subjectively judged. It’s one thing to receive positive feedback on your novels from your readers, but it is just as encouraging to know you are aligning yourself with legends in the writing world.
The final stage of the book is probably the most shocking thing I read. Like many of you reading this it was unknown to me that in June 1999 Stephen King (SPOILER ALERT) almost died. While on a walk King was hit by a car, leaving him with broken ribs and collapsed lungs (for staters…). The extent of his injuries were so bad he had to spend time relearning how to walk. These sort of events can give you a newfound perspective on life or can remind you what’s important. King doesn’t go too deeply into this, bar mentioning how grateful he was for his wife during this period of his life. However he does outline the therapeutic effects writing had for him finishing the section with an important lesson about writing. To write is to enrich the lives of your readers whether its 10 people or 10 million. It’s not about money or fame but it’s about “getting happy” as King put it, claiming that this book was partially an ode to how he learnt that lesson.