I’ve been dying to read On Writing for quite a while, especially after hearing so many good things about it on the blogosphere. I was initially skeptical: first of all, I’m SO not a fan of non-fiction; I like my stories made up, thank you very much. Second of all, as much as I have loved Stephen King since the first time I read The Stand, and as much as that love has grown since, I’ve naturally always thought of him as a fiction writer, and figured if I was going to read non-fiction it should be by someone who writes non-fiction as a habit and as a trade. Especially because if I’m going to read non-fiction it’s generally to learn something about a field I’m already interested in (usually music or linguistics), and while I like to write, I have little interest in writing fiction.
However, as I heard more and more about it (and learned more and more about the man behind my favorite books), On Writing started to seem more and more like something I had to read. Of course, once I started my Stephen King project it became something I would “have” to read anyway, but it kept inching nearer and nearer the top of my list. Finally, my desire to learn more about King reached critical mass and I bought the book on Amazon.
Even as someone who does not aspire to write fiction, On Writing was easy for me to appreciate, especially because the first half included hilarious anecdotes from King’s childhood (my favorite was his childhood babysitter who used to pin him down and fart on his head). These anecdotes were carefully selected, of course, to show his progression as a writer, but they were all very humanizing, which is something I’ve always loved about King—anything he writes about himself always has a refreshing lack of sugar coating.
The second half of On Writing covered basic stylistic techniques for those readers who actually intend to write. Even though I am not one of them, it was fascinating to read about King’s revision processes and his own personal beliefs about certain writing conventions. He’s a huge fan of Strunk and White, and lives by one key phrase in the Elements of Style: “Omit needless words.” (He also abhors adverbs, but admits he has a weakness for them and can’t always stomp them out, even when he knows he should.) He also included a short section on grammar, and I really geeked out over that part since I LOVE grammar, even though I know I myself don’t always use it correctly and can rarely explain why something is wrong even though I know it is.
Something I especially loved about On Writing was a section in the back where King answers a question he almost always gets: “What do you read?” He lists about a hundred books that he read in the years that he was writing On Writing and other novels, and there were several on there that I too have read—and I swear I almost squealed like a little fangirl: “Stephen King reads Harry Potter?! I read Harry Potter!” Made me think quite a bit about Jillian’s post from a while ago about how every time she reads a book, she feels connected to everyone else who has had that same experience. Stephen King and I are totally connected, you guys. Swoon.
It was also enthralling to see some explanations of his thought processes while he was writing some of his novels (Carrie, The Dead Zone, The Stand, and Misery in particular play starring roles, with supporting appearances by ‘Salem’s Lot, From a Buick 8, and some others I’m not remembering). Since I’ve read the large majority of the novels he discussed, it was exciting to get to see the man behind the curtain.
There were so many other great things about On Writing, but this review is already too long, and even though it’s not a novel I don’t want to give everything away! I’ll just leave you with this: On Writing is a must-read for anyone who wants to write and for anyone who loves Stephen King, but especially for anyone who fits both those descriptions.by