Critic Score: A-
Reader Score: B+
After decades of demand from fans, Stephen King finally published a memoir on the craft of writing in 2000, appropriately titled On Writing. It covers his personal methods, tips, tricks, and all kinds of advice for writers who are aspiring and just starting out. There’s discussion on the industry, the career of fiction writing, and of course many anecdotes and a section of narrative on the life experiences that have proved most meaningful to his role as an artist. Practical and inspiring, this memoir has been a perennial success for nearly twenty years.
I put off reading this for the entirety of high school, waiting for the perfect time in my journey as a young writer to absorb the wisdom here. And, naturally, I expected this book to change my life, to revolutionize my writing habits, rock my world.
Okay, maybe not all that, but there were certainly high expectations going in.
On the whole, I can happily say that I am completely satisfied with this memoir. I read the first half of it last year in the middle of the night before Thanksgiving break. The other half (there’s a pun for you King fans) took me a few weeks to get through. This is the side that deals with the actual craft of writing itself—the non-memoir and consequently less entertaining material. Less entertaining because it’s a crash course in the daily grind of a writer’s life, set on persistence and thick skin.
What I found most meaningful in this book, however, were not the tricks and strategies galore, but seeing the differences between my understanding of writing and King’s. These were matters of personal taste, approaches that work for one person and don’t for another, meaning that the places where I disagreed with this book are not out of ethical or ideological or logical dispute; instead, there are just some things King likes to do that don’t work for me. And there’s the real beauty of this memoir: we get King’s unique dispositions. We’re shown his very character, not an artificialized, factory-made product in “how to write.”
The “On Writing” section is expectantly the hardest piece to sit with, as it is manual and lecture—though, granted, very engagingly written ones. Sure, at times (and I almost feel ashamed to say this) some passages felt like homework. They were still fruitful, though. The toughest lessons are the best learned.
I didn’t set this book down feeling completely changed, and I worry about forgetting everything I’ve learned.
On Writing is a necessary read for anyone who appreciates King’s writing and/or has a passion for bettering themselves as writers. The segments of the book, memoir to craft to profession to anecdote and back, can feel jarring. But there’s a charming eclecticism here all the same. We know we’re getting everything King is willing to share.
On a personal note, I’ll finish by saying that I consider King one of the country’s finest writers (dead or alive)—one of the realest dudes and classiest celebrities out there. I’m fortunate to be alive alongside this legend.
How’s my review system work? I give stars out of five based on the averaging of two letter grades, Critic and Reader. My Critic Score is based on writing quality, contribution to culture, ethics, consistency, plot development, characters, style, originality, and overall how well the book accomplishes its creative and intellectual goals, among other factors. On the other hand, my Reader Score is a personal reflection on how much I enjoyed the work, regardless of what makes a book “good” or “bad;” it takes into account both entertainment value and my own tastes and life experiences. B is the median of my letter grades, with As for outstanding work and Cs for generally disappointing work. D and F grades are out of the ordinary and given when my disapproval is strong.