Monday, 16 December 2013

Devouring Stephen King: On Writing

"Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around."

I've been really excited to read On Writing on my Stephen King journey ever since Alley reviewed it (TWO YEARS AGO. That is how long it takes me to get to Stephen King books, people) and has basically brought it up at every opportunity ever since. I mean, I loved this book, but Alley? She really loves it. And when someone I like a whole lot likes something that much, attention must be paid, and anticipation builds up a lot. Over TWO YEARS (did I mention how long that is? It's really really long).

So. Anyway. On Writing. As the subtitle says, it's A Memoir of the Craft, and ohhh boy, is it! It's basically split into two parts- the first of a selection of snapshot memories from King's childhood, and the second of actual writing advice or, not so much advice, even, but just a whole load of things that King does or doesn't do, and which he does or doesn't enjoy reading. I feel like, just from that premise, it sounds very dry and instructiony and just the kind of thing that would generally make me want to go 'noooo shut up, you can't tell me what to do! And hey, I like adverbs'* but it's not like that at all.

The reason it isn't like that, I think, is because it's Stephen King. Hey, did you guys know I like Stephen King a lot? I do. I do feel that way. Possibly one of the things that I like most about Stephen King is that he's utterly free of pretension- he accepts that he's not the ultimate greatest writer (although, I think he's better than he thinks he is, but that's another issue) and it's precisely because of that that you don't mind listening to him because hey! These things have improved his writing, why couldn't they improve yours?

Nowhere is this brought home to me better than in one of the appendices, where King shows an unedited opening of a short story (1408, if you're interested), and then the edited version, and reading both it's like you can literally see the place where the magic happens. This was especially eye opening to me because, when I read the first draft, I genuinely literally thought 'yeah, I could probably write that' (more or less...) but it's within the editing where everything really gets going, and where a story is formed. This was personally fairly illuminating because if ever I write (which, let's face it, doesn't happen that often) it doesn't go beyond the first draft because I'm too busy being mean to myself and/or not wanting to read back what I've written at all. If anything, then, On Writing may have given me the courage to actually go back, and reread some of the things I've written, because maybe I'm not as bad as I think I am? I don't know.

I realise I haven't really said much about the straightforward memoiry part of the book, and that's not because it's bad in any way, just that it's filled with much less practical advice than the rest of it. Regardless, it is still good AND interesting- each of the chapters forms a part of his life that's either related to writing, or has possibly influenced what he writes about in one way or another (having his eardrum repeatedly pierced by a needle, for example, was a particularly horrifying memory) and I learnt some things about King and his books that I didn't know before (I knew some of it because, let's face it, I like Stephen King, yeah?) So that was all good and interesting, albeit less applicable to ones own life. Possibly.

Basically, I read this book in about 2 days, even though I wanted to make it last longer so I could actually take in some of the advice and, you know, consider putting it to use in some way, maybe. But it's too good to read slowly, at least for the first time, and definitely makes me even more excited about the Stephen King books coming up that I haven't read because, you know, he's still got it! (or he did have it in, like 2000. I'm that far behind, yes.)

Unfortunately, Dreamcatcher is coming up next and I have read that one. It's not his best. Expect me to be scathing, when I can be bothered to read it.

*Injoke for anyone who's read On Writing. Or... Not even a joke, really, just a comment. Or a really really bad joke...


  1. It's been far too long since I read this book, and your review brought back vague memories - was there something about him writing stories about a bunny as a kid? Anyway, I LOVE this book (or what I remember of it) It's some of the best and most honest writing advice out there, I think. Your review's great and I totally agree with all of it! This is the second time today I've got excited over Stephen King, the first being when I discovered (a little later than most people) he's finally got a Twitter and GR account. So. Thanks for this!

    1. I *think* there was a bit about a book about bunnies... I honestly read it so fast (and a couple of weeks ago now) that I don't actually know! Which just gives me another reason to re-read it, right?

      I TOTALLY GOT EXCITED THAT STEPHEN KING JOINED TWITTER. Because it's a very exciting event! Obvs.

  2. I still feel like it's odd that one of my fav King books isn't really a King book, in the sense that it isn't a novel. But whatever, I like reading about people that are enthusiastic about stuff. (Hence my love for Bryson.) But when it's something I like all on its own, all the better.

    I also love adverbs. STOP TRYING TO TAKE THEM FROM ME.

    As for your next King, part of me wants to yell NOOO WHAT ARE YOU DOING? and the other wants to see you tear it apart. Cos really. Fart monsters.

    1. It *is* nice when people like things, I agree. And it's Stephen King writing about writing, and he really likes writing and it's lovely to see that he is genuinely kind of in love with the act of writing and isn't just in it for the monies.


      I really don't properly remember Dreamcatcher, which I think is the only reason I can stand to read it again (just barely). I'm not looking forward to it in any way, but it will definitely be fun to be like OMG KING WTF ARE YOU DOING DID YOU GET A BRAIN INJURY WHEN THE VAN HIT YOU TOO? (ouch. Cruel. I regret that.)

    2. Ahaha. Like. Both to adverb addition and the mean/funny van joke.

    3. *bows* *still feels bad about the van thing*

  3. I bought this book, hoping to find some fun little tidbits to copy down and keep for later.

    Two days after that I had to go back to the store to buy a new copy because I realized I was just literally highlighting EVERY SINGLE LINE and writing things in the margin like "hey, I can do that" or "must remember for later".

    I think this is one of those definitive non-fiction book, especially for us bookish folks. Plus, he talks about being a raging alcoholic and his car accident, which totally satisfied the gossip monger in me. :)

    1. Hahaha, total author gossip as well as amaaaazing advice! I did already know about both of those things because of, like, Wikipedia (and also The Tommyknockers couldn't have been written by anyone who wasn't off their face) but it was still interesting to read in his own words.

      I kind of looooove that you highlighted this whole book, because yes! So much advice. All of it excellent.