I spent a lot of my childhood reading. I was lucky enough to be able to play video games and watch TV and go the movies but books were something I could always made time for. That is until I reached my late teens and eventually university, where I let everything else take a priority over reading. I regret that now.
I read a lot of Stephen King from a young age. Misery, Under The Dome, The Stand, From A Buick 8, Carrie, as well as a collection of his short stories. There are still a few of his books that I’m ashamed to say I still haven’t read (The Shining, IT, the Dark Tower series). He was one of my first inspirations, I guess. I think Stephen King gets a bit of stick from some literary critics, perhaps due to the genres he writes about or his vast output of work (over 50 novels, and a handful of collections) but the guy is great at telling stories and creating likeable and sympathetic characters.
As an aspiring writer and a fan of King’s, On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft seemed an obvious choice for some influential and educational reading. And I think it’s important for me to take a break from fiction every now and then – you can never read enough fiction, of course, but On Writing has the benefit to spur my writing ambitions. I can see myself coming back to On Writing, to remind myself of some of King’s tricks of the trade, if I ever get stuck or just need a pat on the back.
Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.
Before King starts on the nitty-gritty, we are treated to his CV, a casual, conversational glimpse back into the life and times of Stephen King. His upbringing, his inspirations, his journey. Was it needed? No, probably not, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. Besides King interjects this autobiography-lite with lessons on determination, hard work, persistence. It’s all worth taking on board.
King doesn’t come across as preachy or pretentious or full of himself. He speaks to you as you would speak to a friend, dishing out encouragement and obvious but necessary advice. There’s light-hearted tips such as “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” and “To write is human, to edit is divine.”, mixed with some brutally honest facts.
Let me say it again: You must not come lightly to the blank page . . . If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else.
Wash the car, maybe.
King doesn’t mess around; this writing lark is difficult, and you need to give it your all if you want to grow and have any type of success as a writer.
Would I have enjoyed the book, with its quirky anecdotes and humour and heart, as much if I were not a fan of King? Probably not. But I think there is a lot in On Writing to enable any amateur writer to grow. And if you’re not a fan of King – fuhgeddaboudit!
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.