Sunday, April 21, 2013

On Writing: A Book Review

I've never been a Stephen King fan. Sure, I've seen The Shining, Misery, Thinner, Carrie and the first thirty minutes of the Tommyknockers but that's it. I never read a King book. I've never related to his genre, his characters or the small American towns where his novels seem to be set. More than that, his books are huge! I never found the incentive to invest that kind of reading effort on a story that was bigger than a college text book.

I carried all this baggage with me when I started to read On Writing. I picked it up because several other authors sang its praises. I normally ignore other people's opinions on things like books and movies, but without a formal teacher of my own I was willing to steal good ideas from anyone. King is successful, right? That had to count for something.

I realized that King is one of the most well known writers of the last century for a reason. He has a gift for telling a story and he knows a hell of a lot about the craft.

The book is broken into four parts; his past as a struggling writer, his battles with addiction, his insight into writing and a post script about the car accident that almost killed him. The first and final parts of the book capture King as a storyteller. I listened to the audio version of the book.  King became that eccentric uncle who can sit on the porch and hypnotize you for hours with his stories. The style was fantastic, even when describing the fear and pain he suffered being hit by a truck.

The third section touched on a variety of concepts around writing. Some of them made perfect sense to me. I stole those ideas. Others made no sense and I rejected them with more than a little malice. Because the book was written in 1999, it doesn't address independent publishing, e-books or social media. That aspect of the book made the whole thing feel dated, but not so much that it reduced the quality of the advice.

The second portion of the book felt like a cautionary tale. Like other celebrities, fame and fortune were followed by addiction. His struggle for success was replaced by a struggle to stay sober. I walked away from that part of the book understanding that there will always be something to struggle with as a writer whether it is in your craft, your finances, your relationships or your health. The type of struggle might change but successful writers have problems too. (See The Benefits of Rejection)

On Writing is not my favorite book on the subject; that title is reserved for McKee's Story. But King has given writers a great gift with this book. If you can only read one Stephen King book, make it this one.

Have fun.

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