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On Writing by Stephen King

By Sophia | Books | July 1, 2009 |

By Sophia | Books | July 1, 2009 |

I’ve always thought of Stephen King as some kind of far-away, loosely-connected friend of the family. I was told at that naively young age how my mother had gone to college with Stephen King. Apparently he played the trumpet and asked her out. And then to add speculation to exaggeration, the main character’s name in Cujo was Donna—my mother’s name. And then he lived in Boulder, Colorado (my hometown) for awhile (?—I have no idea if this is actually true) and had his forces of good gather in Boulder in The Stand. And then he based The Shining on a nearby hotel up in Estes Park. It seemed to me that I was just one degree of separation from the famous writer. Of course, now that I’m (supposedly) a little more mature I take my mom’s stories with a grain of salt. I was also told that my mother’s family comes from royalty — but she’s suspiciously vague about the details. I do know that my mom had terrible eyesight and refused to wear glasses. Thus, college for her was a giant fog. True, Stephen King was there, but whether she even knew which blurry face was his is up for grabs.

Because of the “family connection” with Stephen King, I was pretty interested in his books when I was younger. I started with The Eyes of the Dragon when I was in grade school and then graduated to It, The Shining, and Misery at some point. But I’ve never been much of a horror fan and my interest was already waning before I started high school. Then On Writing (2000) by Stephen King showed up on a list of recommended books at the end of Doreen Orion’s travelogue Queen of the Road. I’m interested in writing and was curious about what King might say about his college experience, so I picked it up.

The book is basically split up into four sections: a biography of events in King’s life that influenced his writing; a short grammatical section; advice on writing; and the car accident that almost killed him in 1999. Although from the start On Writing was interesting and quick reading, I wasn’t sold on it at first. Although you got an idea of King’s roots and inspirations for writing, there isn’t much detail or continuity. The brevity makes sense for the purpose of the book, but I love biographies that really let me get to know someone. Also, having read only a few of King’s many novels and stories, I wasn’t entranced when he discussed, for example, his inspiration for Carrie. Although I could imagine how fascinating that information would be for a real Stephen King fan, it sometimes sounded self-serving and fictionalized to me. I also found his little section on grammar and usage not all that helpful. His only resource is Strunk and White and the section can be summed up with: don’t use adverbs; don’t use passive voice. Still interesting reading, but not the best resource.

I probably liked the third section of the book the best. Stephen King pontificating on writing. He discusses how he approaches his work — 2000 words every day; how he creates his stories; and how he goes about the revision process. Even if you have a different approach to writing, I liked seeing how all those giant novels came to be. But most of all, King was encouraging and inspiring. His main advice if you want to write is that you have to read and write a lot. It is obvious that Stephen King has a natural talent and that he likes what he does. He made me want to grab my computer and start writing—something, anything. “The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.”

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Sophia’s reviews, check out her blog, My Life As Seen Through Books.

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