I have never been someone who reads a lot of non-fiction. There is not necessarily a reason for this; some of the non-fiction I have read has been great! But for some reason, I always find myself reaching for the fictional books on my shelves first. I am however, a massive Stephen King fan, and as someone who loves to write, I was always going to be drawn to his non-fiction book, On Writing: A memoir of the Craft. Essentially, this book does exactly what the title says; it is a book from Stephen King all about the process and the craft of writing. This won’t be a long review like most, as I do not need to comment on things such as plot and characterisation. What I will try to focus on, is what the book is actually about, and the bits which stood out the most for me.
The book is distinctly structured into three sections. These are CV, Toolbox and On Writing. CV acts as a memoir of sorts, with King telling us about moments in his past where he first became involved with writing. It looks at what influenced him, and how it his writing actually began to take shape. Toolbox, very aptly named, looks at the essential tools each writer should have (e.g grammar, speech), and how we can build on what we put in out toolbox to enrich our story. The last section, On Writing, is a much freer section, where the author gives us glimpses into the processes he goes through himself when he is actively writing, and what he regards as the do’s and dont’s.
I would say that I was pleasantly surprised by this book, but with it being Stephen King, I always knew I was going to love it. King has such a natural way of writing, and I can now see that this comes through not only in his fictionalised worlds, but also his own colloquial voice. And let’s be honest, success aside, he is a pretty funny guy. The book did not come across as a lecture, or an instruction manual of what is required, but instead we were given a man who is attempting to put into words his own experiences of the craft with honesty.
Whilst the purpose of the first section, CV, is not to strictly act as an autobiography, we are naturally given glances into King’s private life. It was fascinating to realise how much writing played a part in his life from such an early age, but even more so to be able to see that beneath the intimidating book sales, he really did start out just as any other writer embarking on the creative journey. If that’s not something to inspire us all, then I do not know what is. A line which I think can pretty much summarise the wit and humour of this section focuses on King’s reminiscence of one of his childhood nanny’s. He states:
‘In many/ways, Eula-Beulah prepared me for literary criticism. After having a two-hundred-pound babysitter fart on your face and yell Pow!, The Village Voice holds few terrors’ (pp. 7-8).
This frankly hilarious account also leads way to another important aspect of this book. King reminds us that despite his fame, his is still disliked by many people, sometimes vehemently so. But he does not write to be liked, he writes because he is in love with it, and I think that should surely be a reminder for us all, no matter what our passions in life are.
The good thing about what King tells us, is that we do not have to take his words as law. For instance, he tells us that he recommends at least 4-6 hours a day is spent reading and writing if you want to be a writer. Let’s be honest, that is a hell of a lot of time when you may be working full time, have a family etc. But his messages, as he even realises, are adaptable. The point is not that you sit down, switch on a timer and stay rooted to your task until your daily quota is filled, but that you realise if you want to achieve this, you really must be willing to make sacrifices for it. It’s hard, of course it’s hard, but no one is going to do it for you.
I am currently attempting to start the path on my own writing journey (this blog is just one of those outlets), but even I felt moments of complete relief. It is such a brilliant feeling when someone perfectly voices your own feelings, or the struggles you face, and you realise you are not the only one in the world to feel that way. This book gave me that many times, and I would definitely recommend this book if you were a writer who is looking for a bit of inspiration and encouragement.
I could spend an endless amount of time recounting different parts of this book, but there is no point when King’s words have already done this so eloquently. All I can say is that whether you are interested in learning more about such a prolific writer, or if you are interested in the art of writing, then you should try to read this. Forget the stuffy books which focus solely of the politics of grammar and punctuation, this book gives you a bit of everything, working as a collective piece of non-fiction in a vibrant way.