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Review: King's 'On Writing' shows the growth of a writer


"On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft"
By Stephen King
288 pages

In this story:

'Immense feeling of possibility'

Doubts about writing again

RELATED STORIES, SITES Downward pointing arrow

(CNN) -- It's been awhile since Stephen King was between hardcovers. The incredibly prolific horror writer put out his last hardback, "Hearts in Atlantis," last summer. It was released just after a horrific accident in which King was struck by a van while he was out walking.

But it's not as if he's been silent. In the spring, he released "Riding the Bullet," a work only available over the Internet. He followed that up in July with "The Plant," another e-book, this time only available through King's Web site. And through the months, occasional news reports noted King's health condition and his comments about the accident, particularly last week, when Bryan Smith, the driver of the van that struck King, died.

  • Excerpt: 'On Writing'

    "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft" is not a horror book. It's an introspective look, part autobiography, part tutorial, at what has shaped Stephen King. But that's not to say it doesn't have horrific elements, if that's what readers are looking for. It concludes with King's recall of the accident and the trauma that followed, and that's a more immediate, personal kind of horror -- as well as a humane, matter-of-fact story of courage.

    'Immense feeling of possibility'

    "On Writing" is divided into three sections. The first section discusses how King was "formed" as a writer; the second is on the craft of writing; and the third, as noted, is about the accident.


    King grew up with his brother in what he describes as a poor, but loving, single-mother household. In his description of his grade-school writing days, we get a feeling of the disciplined storyteller he grew up to be. King also writes of the personal demons he faced with alcohol and drug abuse.

    It was writing that offered him freedom, he writes. "I remember an immense feeling of possibility at the idea, as if I had been ushered into a vast building filled with closed doors and had been given leave to open any I liked," he writes. "There were more doors than one person could ever open in a lifetime, I thought (and still think)."

    We also get some insight into the influences of King's early life and adolescence that shaped his later fiction. One summer, King writes, he worked as a janitor at Brunswick (Maine) High School. While there, he saw a dispenser for feminine hygeine products. He combined this with some recent material he'd read about telekinesis. The entire experience formed the seed for his first major success, "Carrie."

    The second and longest section of the book concerns the craft of writing. This material could be dry, but King gives it life in the style of an engaging high school English teacher -- perhaps no surprise, since King was a former high school English teacher. He gives examples of how he attacks the creation of a story, as well as pointers in all aspects of writing, from polishing the finished product, finding a publisher, and getting an agent.

    Doubts about writing again

    In the final section, King tells the story of the accident that almost killed him. The tale is all the more excruciating for being told in King's unadorned prose (he holds up Strunk-and-White basics as the foundation of good writing). After the accident came the pain and torture of physical therapy, and perhaps worst of all, his doubts about being able to write again. With the help of his wife, Tabitha, and his own love of the profession and the art, he regained his confidence and began again.

    "On Writing" is a short read, by King standards, at 288 pages. It is written in the style of an after-dinner conversation with a favorite uncle, only this uncle happens to be able to relate his early life, current medical problems and advice on writing in a page-turning manner. "On Writing" also makes the reader wish that Stephen King would pen a full-fledged autobiography.

    He explains: "Writing isn't about making money. In the end, it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It's about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay?"

    Readers will no doubt agree.

    W(h)ither 'The Plant'?
    September 22, 2000
    Will 'The Plant' grow?
    August 21, 2000
    Review: Downloading King's 'The Plant,' Part One
    July 26, 2000
    It's good to be King
    July 25, 2000
    Stephen King plans exclusive eBook release
    March 8, 2000
    Stephen King is writing again
    July 28, 1999
    Stephen King overwhelmed with well-wishes and therapy
    July 15, 1999

    The Official Stephen King Web Presence
    Scribner (Simon & Schuster)

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