On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
by Stephen King
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Nightmares and Dreamscapes |
Short and snappy as it is, Stephen King's On Writing really contains two books: a fondly sardonic autobiography and a tough-love
lesson for aspiring novelists. The memoir is terrific stuff, a vivid description of how a writer grew out of a misbehaving kid. You're right
there with the young author as he's tormented by poison ivy, gas-passing babysitters, uptight schoolmarms, and a laundry job nastier than
Jack London's. It's a ripping yarn that casts a sharp light on his fiction. This was a child who dug Yvette Vickers from
Attack of the
Giant Leeches, not Sandra Dee. "I wanted monsters that ate whole cities, radioactive corpses that came out of the ocean and ate
surfers, and girls in black bras who looked like trailer trash." But massive reading on all literary levels was a craving just as crucial, and
soon King was the published author of "I Was a Teen-Age Graverobber." As a young adult raising a family in a trailer, King started a
story inspired by his stint as a janitor cleaning a high-school girls locker room. He crumpled it up, but his writer wife retrieved it from the
trash, and using her advice about the girl milieu and his own memories of two reviled teenage classmates who died young, he came up
with Carrie. King gives us lots of revelations about his life and work. The kidnapper character in
Misery, the mind-possessing monsters in The
Tommyknockers, and the haunting of the blocked writer in The Shining symbolized his cocaine and booze addiction (overcome
thanks to his wife's intervention, which he describes). "There's one novel,
Cujo, that I barely remember writing."
King also evokes his college days and his recovery from the van crash that nearly killed him, but the focus is always on what it all means
to the craft. He gives you a whole writer's "tool kit": a reading list, writing assignments, a corrected story, and nuts-and-bolts advice on
dollars and cents, plot and character, the basic building block of the paragraph, and literary models. He shows what you can learn from
H.P. Lovecraft's arcane vocabulary, Hemingway's leanness, Grisham's authenticity, Richard Dooling's artful obscenity, Jonathan
Kellerman's sentence fragments. He explains why Hart's War is a great story marred by a tin ear for dialogue, and how Elmore
Leonard's Be Cool
could be the antidote.
King isn't just a writer, he's a true teacher.
On The Flap
"If you don't have the time to read, you don't
have the time or the tools to write."
In 1999, Stephen King began to write about his craft--and
his life. By midyear, a widely reported accident jeopardized the
survival of both. And in his months of recovery, the link between
writing and living became more crucial than ever.
Rarely has a book on writing been so clear, so useful, and
so revealing. On Writing begins with a mesmerizing account of
King's childhood and his uncannily early focus on writing to tell a
story. A series of vivid memories from adolescence, college, and the
struggling years that led up to his first novel, Carrie, will
afford readers a fresh and often very funny perspective on the formation
of a writer. King next turns to the basic tools of his trade--how to
sharpen and multiply them through use, and how the writer must always have
them close at hand. He takes the reader through crucial aspects of
the writer's art and life, offering practical and inspiring advice on
everything from plot and character development to work habits and
Serialized in the New Yorker to vivid acclaim, On
Writing culminates with a profoundly moving account of how King's
overwhelming need to write spurred him toward recovery, and brought him
back to his life.
Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On
Writing will empower--and entertain--everyone who reads it.
On The Back
For years I dreamed of having the sort of massive oak slab
that would dominate a room.... In 1981 I got the one I wanted and placed
it in the middle of a spacious, skylighted study in the rear of the
house. For six years I sat behind that desk either drunk or wrecked
out of my mind....
A year or two after I sobered up, I got rid of that
monstrosity and put in a living-room suite where it had been.... In the
early nineties, before they moved on to their own lives, my kids sometimes
came up in the evening to watch a basketball game or a movie and eat
pizza.... I got another desk--it's handmade, beautiful, and half the size
of the T. rex desk. I put it at the far west end of the
office, in a corner under the eave.... I'm sitting under it now, a
fifty-three-year-old man with bad eyes, a gimp leg, and no hangover.
I'm doing what I know how to do, and as well as I know how to do it.
I came through all the stuff I told you about..and now I'm going to tell
you as much as I can about the job....
It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and
every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn't in
the middle of the room. Life isn't a support-system for art.
It's the other way around.
--From On Writing
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