Books/Entertainment, Writing

Book Review: “On Writing” by Stephen King

A few months ago, I started feeling more and more like I was throwing away my college degree. Now, it’s not that I don’t use that knowledge every day–someone who can write and edit well is always appreciated–but I spent my college days writing stories and poems, and since that time nearly 5 years ago, I haven’t put the time or the effort into the thing I claim to love most.

I think I really started to take this seriously because, 1) I’m now published once a month in the Young Salvationist, and 2) I just turned 25 and feel like I don’t have anything to show for it. Yes, you could say, “But Rachael, 25-year-olds aren’t supposed to have anything to show for in life.” But I can’t help but disagree in my soul. As much as I love having the YS credit to my writing career, I’m feeling greedy, and I want more.

Which lead to my picking up On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. I can still remember why I picked up my first Stephen King book–I was in middle school, and I remember my mother talking about how a fellow parent had been surprised that a Stephen King book was on her high school son’s reading list, and how she didn’t know if it was appropriate for a kid his age. And as soon as I heard that, I knew I wanted it (I don’t even remember the title anymore, but It comes to mind). That was a part of my “Happy Bunny” stage of life, and my mother used to joke that it was such a conundrum–a sweet, shy, seemingly innocent girl who spend her evenings reading dark horror.

So when I felt it was time to renew my yearning for writing, I turned to, in my mind, the master, and the author of the nightmares I still have today.

On Writing is laid out into a few sections: C.V. (which is the autobiographical section), What Writing Is, Toolbox, On Writing, On Living: A Postscript (also autobiographical), And Furthermore (Part I & II).

The beginning story of Stephen King’s life was fascinating–he writes about growing up poor, his family situation, writing as a teen and young adult, writing rejection slips, the college years, and the days of writing in the laundry room of his and his wife’s rented trailer after the kids went to bed. I have to say, reading about his jobs and the struggle of finding time to write, made me truly appreciate my situation. I have no children, a job where I make enough to be sufficiently supported, and I even have an office that I can close the door and write. If he could do it under those circumstances, what stops me?

And then that moment, when he got the phone call on the royalties of Carrie–I know this was decades before my time, 16 years ago that he even wrote this book, but I was cheering with him. That moment when someone’s life completely does a 180, it’s just so exciting!

The next sections–What Writing Is, Toolbox, and On Writing–actually dive into his process. He discusses grammar, adverbs, dialogue, situation, description, the list goes on. He gives tips such as having a dedicated space to write, working at specific hours, setting goals, finding a literary agent, and the number of drafts and rewrites he suggests. Along with these, he shares his number one tip: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot” (p.139).

I felt like when he said this, he was directly speaking to me. I used to love to read. I wouldn’t spend my evenings in front of the TV, but in front of a book. But the days of working two jobs, one which was primarily reading crappy, badly written books all day, drained me of this love. That small sentence was sort of a kick in the pants, to really get back to what I enjoy doing.

The final sections–On Living, and And Furthermore–were equally enthralling. Reading about the car accident that almost ended his life, and how he had to come back to his book and start back into it after months of physical therapy, was downright inspiring. I have a hard time coming back to something after just a few days of non-writing, and can’t imagine the determination needed to come back after a major accident. But he did, and in 2016, he’s still publishing a book a year.

Overall, this was a great read, very informative and inspiring. I feel like I have the necessary tools to help me get back into a writing schedule, and I know what I’ll be asking for this Christmas (King literally suggests asking for a copy of Writers Market for Christmas: the timing couldn’t be better!)

If you are wondering how to get started with writing, or need a boost to help you get on track, I highly suggest King’s book. Now to read the many books he talked about writing that I haven’t had the chance to yet.

Rachael ❤