Themes

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Last Updated on November 21, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 406

The Formative Years of a Writer

The first section of On Writing, in which King offers brief vignettes from his life from childhood until the writing of the book, provides a personal glimpse into the incidents that contributed to King’s development as a writer. King claims that a writer cannot be made; rather, a writer comes into the world with a set of writerly “equipment.” He believes that a good deal of people have what it takes to be a writer and that their talents can be strengthened and sharpened. King speaks to incidents in his childhood that, in retrospect, can be seen as clear influences on his taste for horror fiction. When he wrote his first story—mainly to please his mother—a new world opened up for him. 

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Addiction and Recovery

Many of King’s great works were written when he was addicted to drugs and alcohol, and as a result, King does not recall crafting some of his bestsellers, such as Cujo. His wife, Tabby, intervened and set him on the path to sobriety. King confesses that his nature as an addict led him to try to bargain and charm his way out of becoming sober. He attributes his decision to get clean to a character in one of his novels: Annie Wilkes in Misery. For King, Wilkes (who keeps a famous author in captivity) represented the drugs and alcohol in his life; after writing her character, King no longer wanted to be under the thumb of his addiction. Throughout his memoir, King describes the hardships he has endured in an honest voice that never becomes self-pitying, and he emphasizes that he has kept writing in spite of the personal struggles he has gone through.

The Craft of Writing

In the second section of the book, King discusses the craft of writing, which he sees as a form of telepathy. He explains that when he writes, the process transports him to a faraway place and brings his reader with him. He also discusses the fundamentals of how to produce good writing, which he refers to as a writer's "toolbox." King stresses the importance of avoiding unnecessary words and keeping one's vocabulary simple. He also emphasizes narration, dialogue, description, and the necessity of showing rather than telling. Throughout On Writing, King references The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, endorsing the book as an essential manual for any aspiring writer.

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