Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On Writing by Stephen King

I bought a copy of Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft when it first came out eleven years ago. It's an interesting sort of book - part memoir (pretty much to the point of being a personal exposé), part inspiration, part nuts & bolts writing advice, filled with the sort of humor you'd expect from Stephen King (if you've read enough of his work or have heard him speak, that is, and know better to expect only thrills and chills from his work).

Part of his memoir was included in Guys Write for Guys Read, an anthology previously reviewed here. That excerpt from On Writing is a painfully funny story about a babysitter named "Eula, or maybe she was Beaulah. She was a teenager, she was as big as a house, and she laughed a lot. Eula-Beulah had a wonderful sense of humor, even at four I could recognize that, but it was a dangerous sense of humor . . ." King relates a series of horrible-yet-funny stories involving this particular babysitter, including that "Eula-Beulah was prone to farts--the kind that are both loud and smelly. Sometimes when she was so afflicted, she would throw me on the couch, drop her wool-skirted butt on my face, and let loose. 'Pow!' she'd cry in high glee."
King discusses his history, including the highs (actual as well as metaphorical) and lows (again, actual as well as metaphorical), from starting out writing as a teen to wide publication to addiction to the accident that nearly killed him. (For those not familiar with his history, King was struck by a car while walking along the side of the road.)

And then, he turns to the subject of writing, providing guidance in one of the most cogent, useful ways of describing "What Writing Is" that I've ever had the privilege to read.

What Writing Is

Telepathy, of course. It's amusing when you stop to think about it--for years people have argued about whether or not such a thing exists, folks like J. B. Rhine have busted their brains trying to create a valid testing process to isolate it, and all the time it's been right there, lying out in the open like Mr. Poe's Purloined Letter. All the arts depend upon telepathy to some degree, but I believe that writing offers the purest distillation. Perhaps I'm prejudiced, but even if I am we may as well stick with writing, since it's what we came here to think and talk about.

* * *

Look--here's a table covered with a red cloth. On it is a cage the size of a small fish aquarium. In the cage is a white rabbit with a pink nose and pink-rimmed eyes. In its front paws is a carrot-stub upon which it is contentedly munching. On its back, clearly marked in blue ink, is the numeral 8.

Do we see the same thing? We'd have to get together and compare notes to make absolutely sure, but I think we do.
The book includes a "toolbox" - things that writers need, such as grammar, followed by what King refers to as "the heart of the book": the section called "On Writing", in which Stephen King shares everything he knows about how to write good fiction. And then he presents the start of a short story ("The Hotel Story") that began as an exercise for this book, but eventually became the much-anthologized "Room 1408" (which itself became a movie).

Highly recommended for people who are interested in Stephen King, in good writing, in improving their own writing or becoming a writer. And widely available in various editions suitable for holiday gift-giving, including ebook editions.


Sarah Stevenson said...

This is definitely my favorite book by him. I'm not a huge King fan (I don't do horror, usually) but On Writing is a must-read.

Unknown said...

I thought this was a wonderful book from a writer that I had given up on many years before. Stephen King has never seemed more honest, straightforward, or human before. If you pick this book up, you will not be disappointed.