“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” // Review of “On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft” by Stephen King

Title: On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft
Author: Stephen King
Genre: Non-fiction
Date Read: 16/05/2017 – 23/05/2017
Rating: ★★

Review:

Okay, here’s the thing: I was probably destined not to like this book very much. I’ve not especially liked the books by King that I’ve tried to read (neither of them were well-known ones and I’ll probably change my mind when I get around to reading Carrie or something) nor do I especially like craft books. But literally everyone talks about how inspirational this one is, so I thought I would give it a look.

It‘s not that I didn’t find parts of this book inspirational, but these were mostly in the more memoir-centric parts of the book, rather than the actual advice on writing. I loved that as a teenager, King kept his rejection slips on a spike in his room to spur him on. I loved the story about the editor of a magazine he submitted to when he was only eleven showing up at a book signing decades later asking for that piece of history to be signed. I even didn’t mind the post-script of sorts talking about the incident in 1999 that resulted in several surgeries and confined him to a wheel chair for a period.

One of the things that bothers me about craft books, and this one is no exception, is the conflation of “the way I do it” with “the way you should be doing it”. There are so many books on writing out there and they each contradict a dozen others, but they all claim that theirs is the only method for successful writing (or the tone that is always used seems to suggest that). But then, I think what bugged me even more than that was King then turning around and essentially saying down the track, “But whatever. Do what works for you.” I guess he was meaning that he is providing the framework and we have to do the hard yards, but it still left me thinking, “So… why have I just bothered with the last 150+ pages?”

I think there was also the issue that this book is nearly 20 years old, and it felt dated. When the book was written, the Kindle hadn’t been invented, self-publishing wasn’t worth a person’s time, and blogging was only just taking off as a platform. Most of the useful advice that was presented in the book was stuff that I had read on a dozen blogs before. If I had read it when it was published, when this sort of information was a lot harder to come by, then I may have put more stock in it.


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