Stephen King’s ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT was first published in 2000. Part-biography, part-toolbox and instructional manual, and part-something else entirely, it’s a unique read. But I’m guessing you already know that. I’m assuming many of you may have already read it. A lot of fellow horror/ suspense/ thriller writers visit here, and of those of you who are more interested in reading than writing, I’m sure a large proportion are die-hard King fans. So why am I recommending it now?
When I signed my first major publishing contract back in early 2008 (I’d worked almost exclusively by myself until that point, and the contract I signed for the first version of STRAIGHT TO YOU definitely was not major), I began to mix with a large number of fellow authors from many different walks of publishing life. A number of them suggested I should read ON WRITING, and I duly followed their advice. I ordered a copy and devoured it quickly. I took on board a lot of King’s sagely advice, and thoroughly enjoyed the read. And then I put the book on my over-crowded shelf and left it there.
A few months ago, though, while looking for summer holiday reads in advance of getting on a plane and doing bugger-all in the sun around a pool for a week, I picked it up again. I read it voraciously in a single day, and it was revelatory.
A couple of years back I wrote a regular column for this site called What Works For Me – stuff I’d picked up about writing along the way, all presented with the disclaimer that this was what worked for me, and that it possibly wouldn’t work for anyone else. Various things happened in my life (I won’t bore you with the details again, but you can find the clues in the archives of this site), and I realised that, for a year at least, probably nearer two, absolutely NOTHING worked for me. Fortunately I got back into the swing of things a while back, and I’m happy to report that the words are now flowing again (and I’ll provide you with proof of that VERY soon, I promise).
Re-reading ON WRITING by the side of the pool in Kos at the end of May, thousands of miles away from my office and my books, was a cathartic experience. If you’ve not read it, I’ll briefly explain that the book is divided into four sections:
- CV – where King recounts parts of his life which shaped the writer he became
- Toolbox – the nuts and bolts of writing, if you will – vocabulary, style, grammar etc.
- On Writing – more writing advice, but offered with a personal slant
- On Living: a Postscript – King’s near-fatal accident in 1999 and his subsequent recovery and return to writing
Each of these sections is a treasure trove, but what struck me most when reading the book again (after a. being a professional writer for almost two decades and b. having been temporarily derailed from doing the thing I love by life) was that King presents us here with an incredible formula. In effect, he’s saying that your writing equals the sum of who you are + your technical knowledge and writing ability + the person you are at the moment you start work on a piece of writing. I think that’s pretty profound, and it’s helped me get things in perspective and get everything working again.
So my recommended reading for today, and again if you have a writing dip or a crisis of confidence at any point in the future, is ON WRITING.