Stephen King. That’s all I have to say, and you’re already imagining all things terrifying and gory: rabid dogs and vampires and girls drenched in pig’s blood. But what do you know about the man behind the macabre? In his memoir and how-to book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, King chronicles the story of his life, both as a writer and otherwise.
The memoir section of the book stretches from King’s childhood to the 1999 accident that almost ended his life. What is immediately striking is how funny King can be – not at all what one would expect from a horror writer. 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 as I read. 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 an incredibly successful and prolific writing career.
As intriguing and revealing as the memoir is, the parts that most fascinated me were those that dealt directly with writing. One, entitled “Toolbox” after the toolbox owned by King’s uncle, covers the basic mechanics of writing. By using examples from his life, his wit, 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 with an interest in the craft of writing. King offers 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” and “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 review: “2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%”.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.