Favorite Books: On Writing

If you know me, then, chances are, you’ve heard me make a Stephen King reference. I honestly love the man. While known for being horror royalty, there’s a depth and creativity in his writing that often gets overlooked. All of his stories have elements that are scary, but most of his work is not at all what I would classify as horror. Definitely weird, sometimes quite macabre, he’s the master of asking himself the question, “What if…?” and then taking his readers on the ride to find out.

Eight years ago, fresh off my first King novel, The Gunslinger, I found myself completely obsessed with finding out how in the world he came up with his ideas. Luckily, he wrote a book that answered my question and so many others I hadn’t yet realized I had about writing and the development of stories.

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This sounds dramatic, but reading On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft was life-changing for me. This was before I had started writing again, before I took my first writing course, before I had written more than a few pages here and there of anything of substance at all. I was still firmly in a place where writing, though I loved it and ached for it, was so daunting that I didn’t even try. But every time I turned the page I felt a little more capable, the fire of passion burned a little brighter, the whole idea of writing for a living started to seem obtainable. It was exhilarating.

On Writing is the one and only book that I have ever read, and, upon completion, literally turned right back to the first page and started over immediately. It’s that good.

I’m sure some of you are like, “Really, Kelsey? A book about writing?”. YES! A book about writing. And let me tell you why. He tells his story from about three years old and onward and how life formed him into a writer. He explains how ideas and inspiration have happened for him, how two seemingly unrelated things can be pure story magic if you can see how they fit together. Only in the last third of the book does he cover any technical rules or tips for the mechanics of writing. The perfect amount to be helpful without feeling like reading a textbook. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves writing or appreciates the craft, anyone who loves reading, or anyone who is curious about the kooky guy who writes a shit ton of books that all seem to get made into movies.

Speaking of, if you’ve only ever seen the movie versions of his stuff, do yourself a favor and amend that. There couldn’t be a better example of books being better than the movies than almost the entire catalog of Stephen King films.

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I’m re-reading On Writing for the fifth time right now, and I’ve found that it’s become meaningful to me in a different way. When I first read it, my life was pretty chaotic. My marriage wasn’t doing very well, I was a new mom trying to figure out how that worked, I was preparing to move across the world from everyone I knew, and…, and…, and…etc. I was entirely overwhelmed by all of it. I felt like I was watching tiny, little bits of myself chip and fall off everywhere I went and the rest of me was starting to crack under the pressure. Something about reading this book when I did helped to ground me. Change was a hurricane, and I was still along for the ride, but rediscovering my love for writing kept me tethered to something real and something completely my own. When I was reminded that I had the capability to do something special with my talents, even if it seemed like a dream far off into the distance, I felt powerful again. Well, maybe not quite yet, but I remembered I could be powerful. And when you’re in the middle of an upheaval of that magnitude, just knowing something like strength exists within you is enough to get you through.

Because of this book, and the dozens of others I’ve read since, Stephen King will always be my writing spirit guide. When I find myself feeling wobbly or in serious doubt about my work, I look to him…and to the tattered pages of this book.

3 thoughts on “Favorite Books: On Writing”

  1. THANK YOU for writing such a great post about my hero. I, too, have read On Writing several times and now you reminded me to read it again. I have been reading his stories for thirty years, every single one of them, and some more than once, and he is, by far, the best storyteller on Earth. He isn’t always fair or kind to his characters, but he’s real and honest, which is much more important to me. I am just toddling into the writing world after making stories for my whole life but never having the guts to put them out there for others to read, and SK gives me the nerve I need to just go ahead and try it, what the hell? I am happy to meet another fan, so many people dismiss his work as second rate, or just scary movies, but he is way better than most I’ve read, and I’ve read a lot of books. You are right about his movies, and he himself is not happy with the way most of them were done, but Hollywood films and good books have never been best friends. He especially hated the Shining movie, won’t even talk about it. Now I am just diving into Sleeping Beauties, his collaboration with his younger son Owen, and it looks great, tons of blood and stupid people and mistakes and pain, just like the real world. The only thing I hate about his books is when I am done! Hahaha. Thanks for the great post and it’s only my second day having a blog so it was cool to find yours. See you around! KQ

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! I’m glad you found me and welcome to blogging! I’m fairly new myself. I started right before the new year and I’m loving it!
      I’ll see if Zen Writing is at my favorite bookstore next time I go. I also recommend Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. It also has a memoir feel and is beautifully written.
      Always nice to meet a fellow King fan! Happy writing!


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