Cormac Kelly (Fiction Editor): Reaffirming Magic in Stephen King’s On Writing

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”

Part autobiography, part masterclass, Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, published in 2000, is a thought-provoking and hugely useful book by a writer I particularly admire. King combines a vivid series of anecdotes, from childhood to his turbulent adult life, with practical advice and strategies for writers. His direct, unpretentious approach offers nuggets of wit and wisdom such as “write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open,” along with no-nonsense insights into the basic tools and approaches to writing. The ‘Toolbox’ section covers elements of form and style, and later there is the act of writing and tips for honing it, including King’s oft-quoted mantra “read a lot and write a lot.” There’s even advice for where to put your writing desk. 

What makes this book unique for me is King’s brilliant storytelling and intimate exploration of his traumas and struggles with addiction, combined with how he ultimately comes to see writing as a means of survival and of attaining happiness. Owing to King’s ability to hook me from page to page, it’s a book that reads as smoothly as fiction despite really being a writer’s manual by an author with a deep understanding of the craft. I felt its brave and unapologetic portrait was moving. King strikes a near-perfect balance between memoir and writing handbook.

Following the events of King’s near-fatal accident in 1999, the memoir culminates in an engrossing story of human endurance and the need to write. The book is special to me for its belief in the notion that writing is for your own pleasure and wellbeing, to enhance your life and the lives of others. Overall, On Writing is a reassertion of the power of imagination, creativity and the joy of storytelling. It’s about perseverance in the face of immense difficulty and remaining true to yourself. As King aptly comments on the act of creativity: “It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over.” This was the affirmation I needed to read. 

CategoriesBook Reviews