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Audiobook Review / On Writing

I had this on my shelf for a long time in the early noughties, along with many other King books I never got round to reading (read some I didn't like, so it kind of scuppered my interest). I gave them all away, and I am so annoyed with myself that I did, and I wish so badly that I'd read this back then. However, it's never too late.

If you have not read this book and are established, new, just starting out, thinking about writing a book, think you might ever want to write a book, or any other variation, then get on it. Not only is it an engrossing story of a rather humorous upbringing of arguably the most famous living fiction writer in the world, but it's an homage to the stresses and struggles of a person following their passion.

King didn't grow up in the same world I did, far, far from it. He didn't grow up in the same era, with the same TV or films at the core of his formative years, nor, indeed, on the same continent, but if there's any testament to the following of one's passion, it's that, ultimately, we are all slave to the same doubts and self-persecution. It's not just writing; anything that holds your soul so completely no doubt causes the same determination to succeed.

I've read quite a few reviews that seem to think that the On Writing title only pertains to the bit where he's talking about structural issues, grammar, theme and whatnot, and the rest is just biography, but his childhood and youth were the very foundations of what made him who he is, and I'm glad he felt confident enough to share them. All the style and tone of King's books (and films it seems) have quite a strong atmosphere, to the point that whenever I hear of "Maine" I have this very strong understanding of what "Maine" is (or at least was), though I've never been there...

It's also lovely to hear about his relationship with his wife, their support for each other, and a bit about their children, and that it's still all going strong. Both being writers, at least they avoided that thing where they had to try and help their spouse understand what their passion meant for their personal lives. The craft section was basically a primer (or a re-coat to those already having produced a book) to what a novel should have. It's the bones of your piece, and if you aim to follow carefully the inherent structure of your novel as laid out by an experienced and successful author, then you are likely to be able to produce something that has the structure to support your story. Don't get me wrong, King produces some hard truths. There are very few people today who will be equivalent to the masters, like Chaucer and Shakespeare, Orwell and any of your other favourite classical writers (and King isn't one of them, he says so himself) but...that's OK. Don't try to be.

And all those writing courses, he doesn't think they're much use either. Read read read, and write, write, write, is his advice.

I think the bit I always struggle with is getting the whole manuscript down before thinking too much about it. Thinking too much is my writing flaw, and I find it very hard to turn it off - where will this lead, what will they say, how will this pan out... Writing crap that doesn't make sense (as opposed to just writing crap, because we all do that) is my fear, and having to untangle it. But if Stephen King writes crap that he has to untangle (and just writes crap in a first draft like everyone else sometimes) then surely it could work out for me? Of course it could.

I swear every issue I've had producing anything is covered by this section of the book. Reminders to think about theme, to look for your symbolism, which you should enhance if there, to kill adverbs dead, kill your darlings dead (I have become somewhat ruthless over the years at doing this, so I was kind of cheering myself when he said about it), to not be precious, and all the other simple bits of advice that make all the difference not just to one manuscript, but all of them. Things that should become second nature when you're producing your work so all you're thinking of is story on your first draft, and clarity on your second. It's all there, timeless advice that will make you a better writer. Even if you don't like King's work in particular, the guy knows his craft.

Finally, the horrific tale of him being hit by a van, and the aftermath of learning to walk again and almost learning to write again, with make your teeth grind, but it's well worth the read (or listen, which is what I was doing), because the gritty, grounded detail is what he's know for, really. Life imitating art in the truest sense.

Again, read this book if you haven't already. And even if you don't think you want to, don't wait 15 years and regret that you didn't in the first place.


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