Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Book #7: 'On Writing' by Stephen King

I really didn't mean to read another Stephen King book for the Cannonball Read. It would be too easy. It would only take me about a week to rack up 10 more books on my list, and I thought that that was just too damn easy. This is supposed to be a challenge, man. No more King books, I said. But I couldn't resist. It was on sale!

This won't be a very long review, as I said everything I needed to say about Stephen King in my review of Everything's Eventual. To recap: Hate him or love him, there is no denying that King has an innate talent for storytelling, and for the most part his books make for deeply entertaining, satisfying reads. I'd been wanting to buy On Writing for a long time now, but I just couldn't be bothered to buy the hardback edition and had only found paperback copies in Spanish, which just wasn't gonna fly. So when I found it at the bookstore I just snatched it up and immediately started reading it.

On Writing is the first book on the craft that I've ever read, and I'm very happy that I did. I've always had an aversion to anyone giving advice on writing, mostly because I don't think you have any right to lecture people on how to write well when you yourself haven't written anything worthwhile in your life. It would be like reading a dieting book written by a man who weighed 300 pounds. But I like Stephen King, I like his writing style, and I was perfectly willing to listen to an author who has not only mastered the art of writing but made millions doing it.

The book is divided in two parts; the first is a short autobiography that outlines King's road to becoming a writer. Though it doesn't have much to do with writing itself, King is great at making even the most mundane stories entertaining, and it's interesting to read about his struggles with becoming a writer. It certainly helps form a clear picture of an author—how he started out, how he works, why he writes what he does. It's self-deprecating and very funny in parts, and it's a great set up for the second half of the book. Here, King talks briefly about the basic tools an amateur needs to become a writer, with sections devoted to such things as vocabulary, grammar and writing dialogue. He provides a lot of helpful examples, but what I liked best is that King is always encouraging, continually pushing his belief that any competent writer can become a good writer if they try hard enough. It’s helpful stuff even if you don't plan to be a professional writer, and I think his advice could be applied to any kind of writing you want to do.

The book is short and straight to the point; King doesn't want to teach you how to write, he wants to teach you how to write better. He doesn't give you a lot of rules, just a lot of helpful tips to try out, all delivered with his particular sense of humor and no-nonsense style. This was a great read, definitely one of my King favorites, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone who wants to become a better writer.

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