Review: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft


On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I’ve read this before, or at least part of it. My mom is a huge King fan, owns nearly all his work in hardback, so I’ve at least picked through it sometime after she bought it upon its release. It has great staying power. Still I see it at the top of every list of must-reads for up and coming writers, fifteen years after its publication. Unfortunately, I read King like I read Crichton: with great respect, great labor, and great disillusionment. I’ve either read or attempted to read about a half dozen King novels. I’ve liked a few but loved none… yet. So, even though it’s apples and oranges, this is the first book of his I can say I absolutely love.

Despite the radical difference between King’s distinctive “master of macabre” style and contemporary literature, he reads much of the latter. In fact, his read list of a hundred or so books in the back was very impressive for a genre writer. Perhaps that sheds a bit of light on the spooky way in which I can relate to his writing process. He believes in a literal muse, he only redrafts once, and he cannot foresee the ending of his own story until he gets there. My favorite similarity, though, is his “fossil” analogy: “The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible,” he says. “No matter how good you are, no matter how much experience you have, it’s probably impossible to get the entire fossil out of the ground without a few breaks and losses.” Regardless of the tools bit, the fact that he even refers to his story ideas as “fossils” indicates they are discovered rather than created, inspired rather than built.

In an interview, I’ve heard him put it another way, which really resonates with my process as well. He has lots of coffee cups, “ideas” all strewn about his imagination. He can look at them, think about them, turn them over in his head for months or years, but never be able to hold them, to “execute” or “narrate” the story. Then out of nowhere a flash of inspiration will provide him with a handle, that “spark” which takes the nebulous idea and makes it writable. The muse controls the preponderance of cups just as the muse decides when and how to ornament some with handles. I know exactly what he means.

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Victor A. Davis has always loved reading and writing short stories. He is an avid hiker and even when away from the world of laptops and wifi, keeps a pocket paperback and a handwritten journal to keep him company on trail. He is the author of two short story collections, Grains of Sand and The Gingerbread Collection. Join his Mailing List for special announcements about upcoming works.