On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King
Genre: How-to (kind of)
Rating: 5 stars
I’ve had this book on my shelf for a long while now. You see, if there’s one thing I’ve learned to dislike, it’s all these people who have “made it” trying to tell everyone else what to do, and conflicting with each other. I’ve said before that if you put ten successful writers in a room together, you’ll get ten different stories of how they succeeded. If there was a “magic bullet” to success, everyone would be successful. There’s a huge element of luck involved.
And Stephen King addresses that very point. It was surprising to find this book had little to do with the actual craft. The opening hundred pages are backstory. Stephen King has lived an … interesting doesn’t seem like a strong enough word. Storied life. The book would have been worth it just to hear about how he grew up, to be honest. The next hundred and fifty-ish pages talk about writing, from the tools writers should work on honing, unrealistic expectations of being a “great” writer (he doesn’t consider himself a great writer, by the way), right up to finding an agent. No talk of self-publishing … this was before our time, I believe. The last 50 pages are filled with postscripts and furthermores, which are fascinating as well.
I think the biggest surprise for me was how much I agreed with him, as though he was reading thoughts directly from my head. I laughed when he talked about characters running off on their own path in a story, because that’s exactly what Sarentha has done to me in A Hero’s Birth. His suggestion that your first draft is done quickly, just to get all the ideas on paper, is exactly how I write. I know my first draft isn’t fit to see the world, but I know it’s important to get the whole story down, so I know where it goes, and can make changes to the rest of the body on a second (and third) draft. Another similarity is that I hate sharing my first draft work. I do it a tiny bit through Twitter, with a line here and there, but sharing the whole story before it’s done? Not a chance!
There were some spots I disagreed with him, too. For instance, he suggests writing every day, and reading a few hours every day. That might be fine and good if you don’t have a day job and a family to help raise, but when writing is a hobby (albeit, one that I’m passionate about), you just can’t commit that kind of time to it. I read for about an hour a day to and from work, and write two or three nights per week. That’s enough to keep my head in the game. That said, I’ll probably never reach Stephen King’s level of skill, fame, or fortune, either. But I’m okay with that. He’s the same way there, too… not writing to get rich, but writing because he loves to write. I found comfort in that.
At any rate, this “how-to” book had a great deal that was not actually about how to write, but that didn’t take away from the value in the book at all. It’s an enjoyable read, and I would recommend it to writers of any level.