“The scariest moment is always right before you start. After that, things can only get better”. Buried away in the final pages of the book, this piece of advice was what pushed me to finally come around and write a review on On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft. Writing a review of a book that gives you tips on how to become a better writer, written by one of the greatest storytellers of our generation is a mammoth task. A bit unfair to Stephen King, in my opinion.
But I’m still going to undertake the above-mentioned task for one reason, and one reason only: to see if I learnt anything at all from Mr. King.
On Writing — “part biography, part collection of tips for the aspiring writer” as described by The Guardian in their review of this ‘entertaining non-fiction’ — unravels Stephen King’s journey towards becoming the writer he is today.
Before indulging into the tools and techniques every writer must have, King recounts and narrates loose anecdotes of his childhood and adolescent years. Perhaps the most prominent of these anecdotes is how he was inspired to write Carrie (1974), King’s first published novel. He also gives readers a glimpse of his writing habits throughout his life — something he had to fit into this odd-job schedule for many years.
King speaks openly about all the rejection he had faced in his early years and how he dealt with it — by hanging them all by a hook on the wall near his writing table. It’s inspiring, to those dealing with rejection, but what’s more inspiring is how King landed his first publishing offer and how much he was paid for it (perhaps we all ought to give rejections their moment of glory). Of course, there was no looking back after that for King.
King’s tips on writing and on writing better — in the book sections Tools and On Writing — are almost invaluable and absolutely irreplaceable. If there’s anyone out there looking for any success as a writer, On Writing is your first, most important tool. Then comes everything Stephen King mentions. King’s advice is precise and honest and by leaps and bounds, better than any language and composition book ever written. And you’ve gotta give it to the man — he’s a best-selling author with a net worth of about $400 million.
But “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends”, says King. “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.” A King’s words, literally and figuratively.
King doesn’t philosophise or burden you with a hundred different things you’re doing wrong and could do better. Instead, he engages in an open, friendly conversation with you. His advice is structured — he lays it out like a jigsaw puzzle and carefully pieces it together, keeping his entire endeavour simple but extremely effective. From the importance of keeping all distractions away from your writing room to the waste of time that writing camps apparently are, King covers it all. While there are large amounts of things to take away from this book, the one that’s going to stay with me the longest would be “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”
When On Writing was published, “Long live the King”, Entertainment Weekly hailed, which is ironic, since this book was nearly not going to happen. Which brings me to the my last point: how writing made King’s life “a brighter and more pleasant place”. After a rogue accident and a near brush with death that left his lungs collapsed, performing every day-to-day activity was unfathomably challenging for King. And so was writing. But it was his intrinsic urge for writing and the peace that writing gave him that brought him back, and with purpose. In other, slightly exaggerated words, writing saved his life.
All I can say is that every writer and aspiring writer out there must read this book, and over and over again. I know I will.
(Oh, and King mentions his wife — Tabitha King, a novelist herself — at every chance he gets. If there isn’t a chance, he makes it. Cutest)