I try to read On Writing at least once a year. It inspires me, it reminds me of why I enjoy writing as a hobby, and yes, because I’m a vain little person, I see parallels in the way Stephen King feels about writing to the way I feel about writing.
On Writing is Stephen King’s attempt at a writing how-to. He begins with some delicious autobiography, talking about trouble he and his brother got into, making it clear how much his mother struggled to raise them on her own, yet treated her sons like princes, and including one of the most horrifying tales of childhood otolaryngology you will ever read. It then barrels into several of the lessons King has learned in the composition of language. Really, as I write this, it’s not really a how-to, so much as a why, followed by a how you might pick up partway through the lessons King learned in his career as opposed to right at the beginning.
The how-to portion is concise and clear, exactly what it needs to be. It focuses on the language, a fact he emphasizes when stressing the origins of the book: a conversation with Amy Tan about questions she wishes she got at author signings. Oh to be an ear at the table of a Rock Bottom Remainders after-party. What fun. The language composition portion is the reason I read the book regularly: to try and keep the various tips fresh. Every year I seem to pick another one that I’ll remember a little better than before, and that makes the exercise worth it.
The story ends detailing King’s famous accident, in which a drunk driver obliterated his leg while King was taking a walk. Here he brings the story full circle, talking about how writing saved his life after the accident by giving him an outlet to focus on and a reason to get up every day. That is, by the book, what writing always has been for King: a reason to persist. I don’t perhaps feel that as intensely as I once did, my interests spanning more hobbies than they did in my twenties, but it still rings true, and I still write every day for a dedicated block of time, just as Stephen King recommends.
Read this book if you enjoy writing. Parts of it will ring true and parts will help you be a better writer.
Stephen King, if you or a member of your staff finds this, I have wanted to meet you for years but have an awkward confession: I like your son Joe’s style a smidge more these days… you’ve raised a hell of a legacy there.