Monday, October 19, 2009

It's Memoir Monday...with Stephen King's On Writing

Thanks for stopping by for Memoir Monday. Today's memoir is Stephen King's On Writing. So let's get right to it.

I have to admit that I put off reading this memoir for a while. Not that I have anything against Stephen King, I'm just not a big fan of horror. I assumed that because he wrote mostly scary stories that his memoir would be similar. I was wrong.

What I did find in this memoir was a lot of great advice and real life experiences from his own writing journey. The best for me was reading about his rejections. This is a normal part of writing, but so many of us take each one like a brick being thrown through the front window of our writing career. So, it's great to read that even an accomplished and prolific writer has rejection scars.

As in all reading, we take from it what pertains to our lives at that specific time. A good book will have a different effect each time it is reread. Different ideas and details will be noticed depending on where we are in our lives. These are the things that stood out for me in this memoir. You might have similar points or might have been drawn to something completely opposite. Maybe you didn't find anything at all you could relate to in this book. I don't think that's the case, but I also am a firm believer that every book has something -even the smallest bit of something- that teaches us a valuable lesson. Yup, even really bad ones can teach you what not to do in your writing. That's what we're here to discuss. What did this book do for you?

First of all, this book made me laugh. King started off with quick glimpses into his childhood and although they had a certain sadness to them they are told in a way that you find yourself chuckling. I mean, a babysitter who sat on his head and farted? That's gross and comical. His description of being buried in marsh-gas fireworks, and the fact that he credits her with preparing him for future literary criticism, is just plain funny. Other parts made me laugh too, but this one was right in the beginning. Make me laugh right away and I'm hooked.

Next thing that stood out for me was the reoccurring advice to "write with the door closed and rewrite with the door open". What he says is to write the story by yourself, get it all down on paper and then let someone else read and comment. He warns that letting people in before will make you write to please them and that will change your story. I related with this message because I have a hard time letting anyone see my writing until I feel it is done. Not completely edited, but done to the point that it's not floating around my head anymore; it is securely anchored to the page. I thought it was just an insecurity of my own, which probably is part of it. When I was working on my first book I could only write when everyone was out of the house. I have since forced myself to get over that. With 4 kids and a husband finding time alone is as rare as finding $20.00 in the dirty laundry pile. It happens, but not enough.

Another section that caught my attention was about King's struggles with writing The Stand. I can relate to many of the things he said and the frustrations he felt trying to get the story to come out right. I am going through this with my current WIP. After writing the 300+ page first draft I found myself unhappy with some parts. After a lot of rewriting I still didn't love it. I have gone back and forth with killing the idea all together, but I always come back to try again. I know there is a better story still hiding somewhere inside of this one that hasn't come fully to light yet. After reading chapter 10 of On Writing I had a new outlook on it. King was having problems with his novel The Stand and turned his focus to theme to get it back on track. It got me thinking what was the theme, the main idea, or lesson of my story?

I wrote down some things that repeated themselves through out my WIP; really starting digging for the deeper story underneath. I kept thinking about it until finally it hit me the other night while making dinner. I knew what was missing and I actually got goose bumps. Also almost burnt dinner when I ran for my notebook to write it down, but that is a different story :)

There are many other things I learned and liked about this book, but these were the main ones that jumped up and grabbed me by the collar. Here's my question to you.

After reading Stephen King's On Writing what parts jumped out for you? Or if you couldn't relate, what disappointed you most?

I would love to hear your thoughts and will respond to all comments left today. Please be aware that my comment page can be touchy. It often gives me hard time publishing my own comments. If it rejects your comment, please click publish 1 or 2 more times. It usually works then. It it stubborn sometimes ;) If you still have a hard time you can drop me a note on Twitter, @KCBOOKS or email me at .


~Kristin : )


  1. Probably the thing I like most is the way King relays what he knows about writing in a common sense way. He doesn't mystify the process. He explains it much in the same way he writes his stories, making his insight very accessible.

    The concept of writing with the door closed has been wonderful. I try to remember that I am writing a story that I want to read and use that as motivation. It also helps me get the story out without too much niggling at the finer points.

    I also love when he talks about his ideal reader, his wife Tabitha. Maybe it's because my wife purchased On Writing for me and set me on this path of writing. But his descriptions of her reading his stuff (and pulling Carrie out of the trash!) is adorable.

    Thanks for the post!

  2. I agree, he is very straight forward and honest. I was amazed how prolific he was even with an admitted drinking problem. Also loved how he proved the drinking author myth wrong.

    Having support is important. It is nice that King respected and appreciated his wife's role in his writing.

    Thanks for your comment.


  3. Hi Kristin. Great to see this book being given credit where it's due. I reckon many 'serious' writers would dismiss the idea of writing advice from Stephen King - but I admire his grasp on language and characterisation. I've had this book for a while and I've read it about six or seven times; I can't really pick out a part that stands out for me because you've kind of covered the gist of it and I love the whole thing.
    I'd recommend it to any writer, both as an enjoyable read and as good, common sense guidance from a guy who knows what he's talking about. His sense of humour helps a lot when it comes to the frustrating aspects of attempting a writing career: rejection, writers' block, criticism, dead-end plots etc.

    Cheers for inviting me to this blog.

    C. Boylan

    p.s. I guess the 'writer's toolbox' and 'the guys in the basement' who send up ideas like flares stand out for me; it feels like I'm carrying them around with me all the time.

  4. Yes, his idea of a writer's toolbox and his basement muse are great. I know I will read this memoir again, and will probably connect to different parts every time.

    Thanks for stopping by and for your comment C. Boylan.

    Kristin :)

  5. Hi, Kristin! I am in the middle of reading King's book, actually. I had started it and now I'm taking a class for which it is required reading! It's nice to have an excuse to sit down and read (such a luxury!). So, I haven't finished it yet, but my favorite parts thus far are his explanation of the craft and trying to eliminate redundancies. I like that he doesn't beat around the bush with tidbits like "i don't care that your mc has brown hair or blonde hair unless it's relevant" (i'm paraphrasing). Now as I am writing, i have the voice of King and several of my critiquers in my mind and I'm wondering what they would think of this phrase or that line. It's helped me to tighten my writing enormously! Nice post! Keep up the good work!

  6. I liked his advice on leaving a lot of the details up to the reader to imagine. I try to be conscious of that in my own writing. After reading this book I found that I too went back through my WIP and cut out even more unneeded words.

    Thanks for your comment PJ and good luck with your class and all your writing.

    Kristin :)

  7. I have had Strunk and White's book for years. He distills those ideas into an accessible form. I also like his section on rewriting.

  8. Hi Clive,

    Thanks for your comment. Elements of Style is a must have book for writing. Rules of Thumb by Silverman, Hughes & Wienbroer is a good guide too. The rewriting section was especially helpful to me since that's where I am on my current WIP.