On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft Summary

Stephen King

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft Summary

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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King is half-memoir, half-treatise on the craft of writing. King begins by writing about his childhood and young adulthood; how his experiences relate to writing and led him to become an iconic writer. From there, he transitions to the mechanics of writing, adding tips and advice on how to build a successful writing career.

King was raised by his single mother. His childhood was defined by several moves in order to be closer to family. He was frequently ill as a child and missed an entire year of school because of chronic throat and ear problems. By the time he reached adolescence in his high school years, writing had already begun to provide him an outlet for his creative mind. He took his passion for writing farther by helping his brother publish a family newspaper. He also worked for his school newspaper. He found himself in some hot water when he started publishing and selling his own stories. After high school, he went to college, where he sent stories out to publications, earning several clips before he graduated. King also met his future wife, Tabitha, in college.

Following his college years, King worked in a number of manual-labor jobs before he became a high school English teacher. During this period of his life, he continued sending out short stories to literary magazines and kept working on novels. When he had the idea to write about a young woman with telepathic abilities, he started to draft the story but became displeased with it. He threw the start of the manuscript away, but Tabitha discovered it and insisted he continue writing. That story became King’s first published novel, Carrie.

More novels followed, and King decided to focus his career on writing. However, he became an alcoholic after he convinced himself that drinking helped him write. In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, he specifies that drinking did not help his writing. Unfortunately, alcoholism led to a cocaine addiction for King. Tabitha presented him with an ultimatum, and he worked to become sober.

King talks about the Writer’s Toolbox and what should be in it. He begins with a foundation of grammar and vocabulary. For King, vocabulary can be simple or complicated. He offers words of caution against actively trying to increase one’s vocabulary because that might make a writer sound dishonest in the hope of coming across as intelligent. King believes grammar is a more important a tool because grammatical errors make writing weak. He advises writers to ditch the passive voice and use active verbs. King suggests writers pay particular attention to paragraph structure, and when to use—and when not to use—fragments and run-on sentences.

He discusses his own writing process. He suggests writing the first draft all at once, taking at most three months to punch out eighty-thousand words. Then, he says, the novel should be put away for at least six weeks, to allow the writer some distance from the work. After those weeks pass, writers should read through the manuscript and edit to fix any holes in the narration, as well as to highlight themes and symbols. Then, the writer should pass the draft along to trusted friends before attempting a final draft.

For King, writing is important in his life, but it does not define his life. In 1999, he was hit by a van and thought he might never walk again. As he recovered, Tabitha suggested he get back to his work and set up a space for him to do so. At first, King struggled to write, but then it became a soothing practice for him. While writing is not the center of his life, he suggests writers make it something that can support their lives.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft was first published in 2000. It made it onto Entertainment Weekly’s 2008 list of “The New Classics: Books—The 100 Best Reads from 1983 to 2008.” He received mixed reviews on his advice on writing, though the book continues to be a top seller. Despite that, even his critics lauded his honest telling of his own bout with alcoholism and cocaine abuse, as well as his struggle to recover after he was hit by a van. In 2008, a ten-year anniversary edition of On Writing was published.

Stephen King ranks among the best-selling fiction authors of all time, and he takes the number one slot in the horror genre so that he is known as the “Master of Horror.” Some of his many awards include fifteen Bram Stoker Awards, the Edgar Award, six Horror Guild Awards, the Hugo Award, the National Book Award, and the O. Henry Award. Overall, he has won more than sixty awards. Of those, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft has won four awards.