Stephen King‘s books used to be on my reading list. Early in my working career, I read The Shining on the half-hour train from the suburbs into the city. I would get on the train and start reading, and suddenly I would look up, eyes wide and heart pounding, and find that the train had arrived.
But after a while, his books just began creeping me right out and I gave him up.
So after hearing good things about his On Writing, it was a pleasure to find that, naturally, it’s well-written, and in a totally different style than his usual heart-pounding horror shows. It’s also way funnier than I expected.
The first part of the book is an interesting account of what he calls his “herky-jerky” childhood. Great use of metaphors, description, stories, anecdotes.
His advice about writing is solid, but I think he struggles with trying to explain something that to him comes as naturally as breathing. He recommends Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. Suggests reading a lot. Writing a lot. Advises focusing on good storytelling, using description, dialogue and character development.
He also says it boils down to “seeing or hearing clearly and then transcribing what you see or hear with equal clarity (and without using a lot of tiresome, unnecessary adverbs).”
What he also shares is encouragement:
“The rest of [the book] – and perhaps the best of it – is a permission slip: you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”
“On Writing” is among the best things I’ve ever read about the art and craft of writing. I especially like King’s comments about getting in touch with “the boys in the basement,” his term for the creative right side of the brain. Worth reading at least once.