Stephen King pulls back the curtain and lets us peer into his mind. Surprisingly, it isn’t full of creepy crawlies. In fact, On Writing is charming, insightful and full of practical advice. Not just for writers, it should appeal to anyone interested in how a master craftsman approaches the creative process.
I must admit, I haven’t read much by Stephen King. Horror is not my genre. At all. But he’s written some novels in genres I find more palatable, one of which is 11.22.63 (reviewed here). As I was reading 11.22.63, I thought, “This guy’s a brilliant storyteller! Now I get it!” And it hardened my resolve never to read one of his horror novels. A scary topic in his capable storyteller’s hands would be certain to scare the crap out me, and that just isn’t my kind of adrenaline rush.
On Writing begins with what King refers to as his curriculum vitae, but it’s really a collection of stories of his personal life, beginning with childhood memories and continuing through the sale of his first novel, Carrie. He shares some of his early influences (it should be no surprise that he loved horror movies as a kid) and also talks about his efforts to get published (he started as a teenager and was rejected often.) This part of the book is told with energy and humor and alone is worth a trip to the library to check out the book.
The second part of the book tackles his approach to writing. There were a couple of things that surprised me in this section. The main surprise was his approach to developing the plot. I always assumed fiction authors started with a detailed outline of how the plot would play out, and used this as a road map while they were writing. But King frowns upon this approach, believing it leads to a substandard product. He typically starts a book with a scenario (what if a writer woke up to find he was being held captive by a crazed fan? – from Misery) and then “excavates” the story as he goes. It sounds like he composes most of the story line as he’s writing, which probably works for someone as talented as him, but would that work for all fiction writers? Seems like it might be a recipe for getting way off track. I would be interested to hear how other successful writers handle this.
In the final part of the book, King opens up about an incident that nearly killed him. In June, 1999, he was walking on the shoulder of a road when a severely distracted driver ran him down. (Remember that? I had to dig deep in my memory files.) It really did a number on his body and the recovery was long and painful. He was in the middle of writing this book when it happened, which means this was the first work he touched when he finally got back in the writing saddle. Fortunately, he hadn’t lost his mojo.
I had heard good things about On Writing and it exceeded expectations. I really enjoyed it and at less than 300 pages it’s a quick read.
Have you read On Writing? What did you think?