On Writing: A Memoir of the Craftby Published 01 Jul 2002
|On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.pdf|
|Format||Mass Market Paperback|
On Writing begins with King's childhood and his uncannily early focus on writing to tell a story. King next turns to the basic tools of his trade and culminates with a profoundly moving account of how King's overwhelming need to write spurred him toward recovery.
"If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write."
In 1999, Stephen King began to write about his craft -- and his life. By midyear, a widely reported accident jeopardized the survival of both. And in his months of recovery, the link between writing and living became more crucial than ever.
Rarely has a book on writing been so clear, so useful, and so revealing. On Writing begins with a mesmerizing account of King's childhood and his uncannily early focus on writing to tell a story. A series of vivid memories from adolescence, college, and the struggling years that led up to his first novel, Carrie, will afford readers a fresh and often very funny perspective on the formation of a writer. King next turns to the basic tools of his trade -- how to sharpen and multiply them through use, and how the writer must always have them close at hand. He takes the reader through crucial aspects of the writer's art and life, offering practical and inspiring advice on everything from plot and character development to work habits and rejection.
Serialized in the New Yorker to vivid acclaim, On Writing culminates with a profoundly moving account of how King's overwhelming need to write spurred him toward recovery, and brought him back to his life.
Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower -- and entertain -- everyone who reads it.
"On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft" Reviews
”Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy okay? Getting happy.”
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to over my lifetime who wanted to write a book. Most didn’t know what they wanted to write about, but some of them wanted to write their autobiography because their life had been so thrilling. I think my life has been reasonably boring, and it usually turns out that my life has been ten times more exciting than theirs. When situations like this happen to me, it is usually mildly amusing, but it can quickly turn to sneering when the person reveals to me that they don’t have time to read or don’t really like to read.
Don’t talk to me about writing a book if you don’t read.
Don’t talk to me about NOT having time to read.
What does Stephen King have to say about this?
”If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around those two things….”
Now, why would someone not want to read? Maybe it depends on when they were born. ”But TV came relatively late to the King household, and I’m glad. I am, when you stop to think of it, a member of a fairly select group: the final handful of American novelists who learned to read and write before they learned to eat a daily helping of video bullshit.”
Now someone needs to wrap me in cellophane and stand me up in a museum because I’m probably one of the youngest members of that elite group. I grew up on a farm in the middle of bumfrilling Kansas, where a twenty foot antenna could only pull in three TV channels and one of those channels rolled most of the time. TV had no real impact on my life until I left home at the age of 18 and moved to Phoenix.
Now I have young, wannabe writers writing me from all over the world, sending me links to “hilarious” YouTube videos, or they talk to me about binging all weekend on a Netflix show. They are completely enamored with spoon fed entertainment, and what they find funny is to me like paddling around in the kiddy pool of humor in the book world.
I wonder why I’m so grumpy.
”A novel like The Grapes of Wrath may fill a new writer with feelings of despair and good old-fashioned jealousy---’I’ll never be able to write anything that good, not if I live to be a thousand’---but such feelings can also serve as a spur, goading the writer to work harder and aim higher.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt that way. Whenever I read a wonderful book like The Great Gatsby or meet a character like Atticus Finch, I fall on my bed and stare at the ceiling and think why am I harboring any thoughts that I can write a novel? My problem, of course, is that I don’t want to just write a novel. I want to write a fantastic novel. I don’t want to just entertain people; I want them to feel the socks ripped off their feet and have them floating around in the air around their head when they read my novel.
Stephen King will go into a time when he was struggling with alcohol and using drugs, or should I say abusing drugs. He will tell you all about the accident that nearly ended his life, which happened while he was writing this book. He will talk about trials and tribulations. He will recommend books. There is a whole list of modern books in the back of this book that impressed the hell out of him and impacted his writing. The point is, of course, that even though he is probably the most famous writer on the planet, he is still learning, still enjoying reading, and still writing every day.
I take a book everywhere I go. I take a book with me to work every day and read a page or two while my computer is booting up. I have a book with me all the time because I never know when I will be sitting in road work or waiting on a doctor or gleefully reading, in the glow of my flashlight beam on the pages of my book, waiting for the power to come back on at work.
I live to read. I live to write. I fornicate somewhere in the middle.
This has been one of the most inspiring books about writing I’ve ever read. King talked about examples of the work ethics of writers, but the one that resonated with me the most was Anthony Trollope. He used to write, EXACTLY, for two and half hours every day before going to the post office. If his writing time was up, he would stop in the middle of a sentence and head to work. If he finished a novel fifteen minutes before his time was up, he wrote THE END and started immediately into his next novel. It brought tears to my eyes because that is what it means to be a writer...dedication to the craft.
If you want to get rich, go be a frilling stock broker. If you want to write, then turn the squawk box off and search for those buried fossils in the words swimming around in your head. King calls good ideas fossils. For me writing is more like when Michelangelo used to lay his head on a block of marble and listened to the voices in the stone that wanted to be freed. All you have to do is chisel those characters free, and give them life.
If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at: https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Let's be honest: Stephen King is not one of the greatest writers of all time. He will never win a Pulitzer or a Nobel (he might win a Newberry though, if he ever decides to tap into the Kids/Young Adult market), and on the few times his books are featured in the New York Times Book Review, the reviewer will treat the book with a sort of haughty disdain, knowing their time could be better spent trashing Joyce Carol Oates.
None of this should suggest, however, that King is not qualified to write a book about how to write. Sure, he churns out pulpy horror stories that are proudly displayed in airport bookstores, but the man knows how to write a good story, and he's probably one of the most well-known, non-dead American authors in the world. So he must be doing something right.
I'm not the biggest fan of King's books, but I really enjoyed On Writing. He talks about writing frankly and practically, mixing tried-and-true pieces of advice (fear the adverb, never write "replied/remarked/muttered/yelled etc" when you can write "said", and don't be afraid to kill off your favorite character) with anecdotes about how some of his books came about. I especially liked the story behind Carrie: King was working as a janitor at a high school, and one night he was cleaning the girls' locker room. He asked the other janitor what that little metal dispenser box on the wall was, and the other man replied that it was for "pussy pluggers." At the same time, King had been reading about how psychic abilities often manifest in girls just beginning to go through puberty. He combined the two ideas and wrote out a couple pages that would turn into the opening of Carrie. (if you haven't read it you should.) Many thanks to King's wife, who rescued the pages from the wastebasket after King first decided that the idea was stupid and threw them away.
So, in conclusion: even if you aren't a fan of Stephen King's work, he has some very good advice about writing and storytelling, plus some good stories of his own. Sure, you can call him a sellout. But I like him.
Also, he once said in an interview that Stephenie Meyer "can't write worth a darn." You stay classy, Mr. King.
So it's become very clear to me now that very few writers actually write about the craft. The only Latin American writer to do so? Mario Vargas Llosa (who took several years off of his busy novel-writing to write about his now-ex-pal Gabriel Garcia Marquez). But I suddenly forgot who the King was (no, I mean literally: I've not read him in years! High school being the prime time for Stephen King, & all): the guy has useful insight, no shit, because he is not only prolific & uber-successful (he got $400,000 for his first novel, “Carrie”!), but because, let’s all admit it, he’s pretty damn good. Maybe prose is not the forte per se, but story sure is (think of how many times he has tapped the vein of the zeitgeist to produce visceral, emblematic and modern monsters). It's interesting to compare this with the only other non-fiction I’ve read of late, “The Perpetual Orgy” & “Letters to a Young Novelist” by the already mentioned Peruvian auteur. They both (Vargas Llosa and King) tell us to seriously commit to writing, to write, write, write, WRITE, but, even more splendidly, they endorse heavy reading (duh!). I love Stephen King quotes, like this little morsel of truth: “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.” Take that, non-reading punks verging-perilously-close-to-ignoramuses! !
Let me recall some of the stuff I’ve learned (the rest has been absorbed as if by osmosis): 1) rewrite at least two times once the novel has been completed, 2) write & read for at least 5 hours every single day, 3) IMPORTANT: look for an editor (they are eager for new talent, King says), 4) VERY IMPORTANT: begin a serious submitting process (L. Williford has always emphasized the importance of this!), 5) write solely to your IR (Ideal Reader)… it's all super helpful. Perhaps the “Toolbox” section is its weakest part (inversely, MVL’s bag of tricks is on glorious display in “Letters” [though he never mentions the publishing process like King does])… going over rudimentary English is, I am forced to admit, quite lame. But King does seem enthusiastic throughout as only the best teachers are in the classroom—his tone is one of (slight) optimism for the developing novelist. He cheers you on (THE Stephen King!) !!! Bottom line: INVALUABLE stuff, a few (awesome for the fans) confessional tidbits, & some golly-good pointers.
I know it's like saying "puppies are cute," but it bears repeating: everyone who wants to write, whether for a living or not, simply must read this book.
On Writing did more for me as a writer than anything, and any success I've found as a storyteller can be traced to my reading it.
The book is great and if you like writing, it is probably a must read.
I could write a summary of the book, it is easy enough to summarize and there are only a few important points that King presents, but then I dont want you to get it for free. :) Go and read the book yourself, it is worth it.
Rude? As King says, "...if you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway."
Here is are a few excerpts from the book that might inspire you to take my advice -
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.
I’m a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year, mostly ﬁction. I don’t read in order to study the craft; I read because I like to read. It’s what I do at night, kicked back in my blue chair. Similarly, I don’t read ﬁction to study the art of ﬁction, but simply because I like stories. Yet there is a learning process going on. Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.
It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but “didn’t have time to read,” I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner.
Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.
The trick is to teach yourself to read in small sips as well as in long swallows.
Talent renders the whole idea of rehearsal meaningless; when you ﬁnd something at which you are talented, you do it (whatever it is) until your ﬁngers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head. Even when no one is listening(or reading, or watching), every outing is a bravura performance, because you as the creator are happy. Perhaps even ecstatic. That goes for reading and writing as well as for playing a musical instrument, hitting a baseball, or running the four-forty. The sort of strenuous reading and writing program I advocate—four to six hours a day, every day—will not seem strenuous if you really enjoy doing these things and have an aptitude for them; in fact, you may be following such a program already.
If you feel you need permission to do all the reading and writing your little heart desires, however, consider it hereby granted by yours truly.
I love this book because it agrees with all my preconceptions. Feels nice to be on the right track. It is also quite inspiring when it comes to kicking you into putting on your writing cap.
I couldn't resist putting in this anecdote about James Joyce as well:
One of my favorite stories on the subject—probably more myth than truth—concerns James Joyce. According to the story, a friend came to visit him one day and found the great man sprawled across his writing desk in a posture of utter despair.
“James, what’s wrong?” the friend asked. “Is it the work?”
Joyce indicated assent without even raising his head to look at the friend. Of course it was the work; isn’t it always?
“How many words did you get today?” the friend pursued.
Joyce (still in despair, still sprawled facedown on his desk):
“Seven? But James . . . that’s good, at least for you!”
“Yes,” Joyce said, ﬁnally looking up. “I suppose it is . . . but I don’t know what order they go in!”
Of course, the book is not intended just as a writing manual. Even if you never intend to write, the memoir is a wonderful graphic tale on King's life and like all his stories, it does not lack in imagination or entertainment.
Meanwhile, let me get down to some actual writing...