Stephen King. That's all I have to say and you're already imagining all things terrifying and gory: scenes of rabid dogs and vampires and girls drenched in pig's blood. But do you know the man behind the macabre? In his memoir and how-to book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King chronicles the story of his life, both as a writer and otherwise.
The memoir section of On Writing stretches from King's childhood to the aftermath of the 1999 accident that almost ended his life. What is immediately striking is how funny King can be— not at all the serious horror writer one might expect. From the disastrous consequences of the Super Duper Electromagnet to the incident of The Village Vomit, the parody newspaper in which an adolescent King lampooned his teachers and principal, I often found myself laughing and smiling. However, the memoir is not entirely humorous. King unflinchingly describes his experiences with alcoholism and drug abuse, as well as the desperate poverty in which he and his wife struggled to support their two children. This would change with the publication of Carrie, King's first novel and the start of a career that continues on today.
As intriguing and revealing as the memoir is, the parts that most fascinated me are those that deal directly with writing. One of these, entitled "Toolbox" after the toolbox owned by King's uncle, covers the basic mechanics of writing. By using examples from his own life and the wit that has been present throughout the book, and most of all by keeping it brief, King makes grammar and the elements of style interesting. The titular section, "On Writing", is a treasure-trove of enjoyably-presented writing advice on everything from dialogue to the merits of writing classes to the process of revision.
On Writing is, quite simply, a must-read for anyone who harbors an interest in the craft of writing. King offers pieces of advice worthy of being posted on the wall above your desk, like "If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write" or "Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around". And, of course, there's the formula that I'll be keeping in mind as I edit this very review: "2nd Draft = 1st Draft - 10%".