Very few books have influenced me on a topic as much as Stephen King’s “On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft” has influenced me on writing. This book is one of a kind and the very best book I’ve ever read on writing. King’s style comes through the text and his advice on writing is guaranteed to make any piece better. At the time I write this review, this book has nearly 2500 reviews on Amazon with a 4.7 out 5 star rating. The accolades are real and warranted.
On Writing is divided into two parts. The first part is autobiographical in nature. King writes about himself, his past, and how he became a writer. The second section of the book involves King distilling his wisdom on the craft of writing and how he tackles the creating a new novel. Both are excellent in every way.
The first half of the book is a mini-memoir of sorts. King writes a number of vignettes describing his childhood, parents, life, and learning to write. The vignettes follow in a chronological order detailing various high and low moments of his life. You find yourself cheering for him and his family as he describes his first book getting published. Those highs come crashing down as King paints a sad story talking about his substance abuse period; he effectively had to relearn how to write after becoming sober.
The vignettes serve a second purpose than just telling King’s life story. Each section is a writing clinic on how to write a story. Each vignette draws you in and causes pulls you along. By the time you arrive to the writing toolbox King details in the second section, he’s already taken the ready along the path to good writing.
If the first part of the book is like being driven in a sports car, then the second half having that driver become a mechanic and tell you how to build that car for yourself. King’s explanations are not hyper-technical. He explains each step. His goal is to gives readers a toolbox full of writing tools. These tools can then be used to craft whatever you need.
Two pieces of advice stick out to me. “Omit needless words,” which is a rule from Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. The second: “Kill your darlings.” As King explains, never become attached to any part of your writing. Be willing to kill off precious sections that take up needless space. The two rules work together to create smooth prose.
The book is not only for novelists. I would recommend the book to anyone interested in Stephen King or writing. The book will make you a better writer in any field. The toolbox and lessons from King’s life can apply across fields and disciplines.