Since starting the Certificate in Editing program at the University of Chicago, I have been reading lots of books on editing—and on writing. Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (tenth anniversary edition) had not been on my radar, but after watching a great interview with King on Book View Now, I knew I had to add this book to my reading list.
On Writing provides a mix of autobiographical material and lessons on the mechanics of writing. I enjoyed reading about King’s life, particularly the stories about King’s childhood, and the lessons on the mechanics of writing fiction are well written and easy to understand. Discussions about vocabulary and grammar might not be exciting, but they are important.
One of my favorite sections of the book is when King dives into his writing process: the number of words he writes each day, how he approaches revising his work, and descriptions of his writing space—including when he keeps the door shut. And I appreciated the fact that King is open about sharing drafts with his wife, who is his Ideal Reader.
The overarching lesson from this book is made clear in the following quote: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot” (145). Generally speaking, King certainly holds true to these beliefs. He writes pretty much every day and reads seventy to eighty books a year. He even provides two suggested reading lists at the end of the book to help you decide where to start (first edition list published in 2000, tenth anniversary edition list published in 2010).
I have to say that I could have done without some of the more sexist memories. For example, King writes that when he was thirteen years old, all he really cared about were films with”monsters that ate whole cities, radioactive corpses that came out of the ocean and ate surfers, and girls in black bras who looked like trailer trash” (45). And throughout the book, there is no critical discussion about ethical issues that writers and editors face, such as: What can you do to eliminate sexist and gendered language in your writing? How do you avoid negatively portraying a cultural group? This just isn’t that kind of book….
With that said, however, I would still give the book a very high rating. This is a practical book, with ideas and suggestions to help those with writing skills to develop good work habits and produce solid prose. It is also meant to inspire emerging authors (who may or may not be young) and to remind us that it’s ok to make mistakes along the way. “And listen—if you spot a few of these big holes, you are forbidden to feel depressed about them or to beat up on yourself. Screw-ups happen to the best of us” (213).
Besides, I think that a book that can make you laugh and cry, and yet still teach you something, deserves praise and appreciation. I also put a lot of sticky tabs is this book, which, as far as I’m concerned, clearly proves that King wrote a lot of good things worth remembering.