Part One: The Memoir
King admits that describing one’s childhood with clarity and accuracy is unrealistic; his memoirs are glimpses of an imaginative boy with a funny older brother and a mom struggling to make ends meet. Writing, however, seemed to be one of the constants in his life. As a child, he would write short stories for his mom, publish his own newspaper. An awkward teenager, King began to ship stories off to magazines for publication. Maturing into a man, King’s work took on a new level of quality, though he lived cheaply – at least until Carrie was published.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft does not just describe stories of King’s childhood. It is, at times, hilarious, and it is fascinating to learn the events occurring in King’s life as he was writing best-selling novels. It is also comforting to know that a writer as talented as King received multiple rejections; rather than being discouraged, King was bolstered by his negative responses. The lesson to be learned here, then, is that with enough persistence, luck and hard work, it is possible to have a story published.
Part Two: The Advice
King’s former life as an English teacher is evident as his advice on writing is both simple and educational. Any aspiring writer should take his advice as King is, above all, a natural and gifted storyteller. With an understanding of grammar, King’s advice centers on the functionality of words. Whenever possible, King advises using the simplest way to write a sentence, make a description, tell a story. A good story uses few adjectives, and even fewer adverbs. Clichés are clichés for a reason, and, as King points out, make for stale, unimaginative writing. Finally, the key to creating a quality story is to have a new idea; for example, by taking a well-known plot, like a man murdering his wife, and turning it on its side – a wife murdering her husband – it is possible to have a fresh story.
What makes On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft inspiring is that King’s advice is grounded in experience. Having been repeatedly rejected as a new writer, and now being a well-known, successful novelist, King relates his learning lessons and opinions. While his advice could seem condescending, it is not; King’s narrative reflects that of a teacher’s, and his advice should be taken as someone who knows his subject well. And King knows writing.
- King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Pocket, 2002 ISBN 9780743455961