On Writing Summary
On Writing, as its title suggests, is Stephen King’s book on how to write. King has split the book into two parts; in the first, he narrates the story of his life in a series of vignettes. Here, King displays his characteristic wit and pathos in telling the humorous and bittersweet story of his genesis as an author.
He begins with his first memory as a very young child, of disturbing a wasps’ nest hidden in a cinderblock and dropping the block on his foot. From there, he moves on to growing up in the 1950s with his older brother and their single mother. They were poor, and his mother struggled to make ends meet. The beginnings of King’s horror writing can be seen in his funny but ghastly tales of his mother describing a dead body to him; of being locked in a closet by the babysitter, who would sit on his face and fart in it; and of painful treatments for an ear infection.
As the narrative progresses, King shifts his focus to his fascination with horror films, his nascent writing attempts, and his moving account of selling his first novel, Carrie. In one passage, King recounts the memorable story of the phone call in which he found out the paperback rights for Carrie had sold for $400,000. When he received the news, he looked around his shabby Maine apartment and almost couldn’t absorb what he had heard.
More difficult moments include his mother's death from cancer, shortly after he sold Carrie, and his struggles with substance abuse. Through it all, King’s prose serves as a model of great writing.
In the second half of the book, King details the actual mechanics of writing. He recommends that writers think of their writing tools—such as vocabulary and grammar—as part of a mental "toolbox." Much of his advice is standard fare: use verbs, not adverbs, to move your writing along ("rocks explode," he says, is vivid writing); trust your own voice; and trim the fat. What makes the book so memorable is his direct, straight-to-the-point style, including his use of curse words for emphasis and his ability to illustrate his points with vivid imagery. For example, he doesn't just say writing is telepathy; instead, he has readers imagine a white rabbit in a cage with a number eight painted on its back—and voilá, we realize we are all seeing much the same thing across space and time.
At the book’s end, King adds the story of a nearly fatal accident he suffered while writing the book, in which author Bryan Smith hit him with a van as King was walking on the side of the road. King writes that this memorable incident taught him about recovery and regaining his voice as a writer.
Stephen King is among the world’s best-selling authors. He turned out one or two novels a year for over twenty-five years, bringing his grand total of novels, short stories, screenplays, and even comic books to over forty. His previous books include Bag of Bones (1998), Hearts in Atlantis(1999), and Storm of the Century (1999).
Ever since he published his first book, Carrie (1974), King has been asked how he writes on a regular basis. He hints around in interviews and in the forewords to his books, but only now does he finally tell the reader the truth in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. King has dividedOn Writing into three main parts: autobiography, how to write, and an account of the 1999 automobile accident with Bryan Smith that almost ended his life. Unlike other writing books, King writes On Writing as he would write anything else, with the honesty and middle-class crudeness that his fans would expect of him. Instead of being a turn-off, this “middle-of-the-road” style is to King’s advantage. Everybody knows he is like McDonald’s rather than the Brown Derby, so he tries to write that way, as well.
In the first part, “C.V.,” King tells the reader his life story. Unlike other biographies where the author tells everything from beginning to end, King honestly says that he cannot remember everything. Instead, he offers the reader little...
(The entire section is 2,226 words.)