This week I’m excited to start a new series, in which I’ll be pulling quotes from a craft book about writing. I’ve got at least ten craft books on the shelf, many of which I’ve read front to back many times, others I’ve only read once. I’ll be starting with my all-time favorite craft book, Stephen King’s On Writing, which I read about once a year!
There’s so much wisdom in this book. So many inspirational tidbits. I want to spend the next few weeks sharing my favorite quotes from this essential 2000 craft book and then discuss the quote in depth, what I think it means, how it relates to my own work, how it might relate to yours. Let’s explore what King discusses in this book and utilize his advice in our fiction!
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is a non-fiction book that offers true stories, clear advice, and important strategies any person can take with him in his own writing practices. King’s book is split into four sections: “C.V.,” “Toolbox,” “On Writing,” and “On Living: A Postscript.”
“C.V.” is a memoir of his early life that discusses how he got involved in writing and all the mistakes he made before he finally sold his first novel, Carrie.
The “Toolbox” that he describes is the workbox a writer needs on his shelf before he puts down a single word. Elements of his toolbox include vocabulary, grammar, paragraph form, and sentence structure.
“On Writing” is the heart of the book. He explains that with a lot of hard work and dedication, a good writer can be made out of a competent one. He goes on to discuss important writing issues like character building, dialogue, revision, theme, revision, and submitting work to agents and publishers.
Finally, “On Living: A Postscript” details the 1999 van accident that nearly took his life. He was taking one of his daily walks along a highway near his house, when a van slammed into him and knocked him to the side of the road. The accident left him severely injured and in dire pain for months, and it was writing that slowly healed him back to health.
King’s book, with its fascinating childhood memoir, helpful how-to sections, and closing true story of how writing saved his life, is about inspiring its readers to get drunk on the love of storytelling, and ways they can make competent writing into good writing. There’s no cynicism to be found here, no inkling that King wrote this book to make a quick buck. He wrote this to discuss everything he knows about writing, and to tell every aspiring author out there that it’s okay to devote his life to art of writing, just as long as he takes it seriously, and that he puts the effort in every day, both to read and write.
On Writing is my favorite book about writing, and I try to read it once a year. It is something King was clearly not just compelled to write but felt he had to write, and it’s his lack of pretentiousness, his direct and concise style, that makes this a must-have on every writer’s bookshelf.
I love the section on his childhood, which offers memorable anecdotes about his copying other people’s stories word for word and passing them around as if they were his own, and writing his wicked teachers into a story that he passed around to students — for a fee. Of course this is also the section that details the legendary story of when his wife Tabitha un-crumpled the first few pages of Carrie from the trash can and told him he should continue, that he had something there; months later he sold the novel for an advance of five thousand dollars — small even in the early ‘70s — but then sold the paperback rights for an astronomical four-hundred thousand dollars.
The beauty of the “On Writing” section is that King doesn’t only say what needs to be done to make one’s writing better. Instead of just supplying bullet points for how to write better scenes, dialogue, characters, etc, he uses examples from his own work, allowing the reader to see his advice utilized in actual scenarios that produced great books.
Lastly, what I love about On Writing is its perfect symmetry, with its section on writing advice book-ended by the childhood memoir, and the inspirational story of King’s near death — which took place while he was writing this actual book — and his rebirth with the aide of the ultimate healer: writing.
So join me, will you? I will be writing new pieces in this series three times a week — Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. I hope you’ll come along.