Book Beat December 09 2000 (1)
Fans of Stephen King’s scary novels get compared to the type of drivers who like to slow down to gawk at automobile accidents. Many rubbernecking readers will be picking up his On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. During the composition of the book, King was struck by a van and suffered near-fatal injuries, and On Writing ends with a first-person account of his near-death experience and recovery.
The inclusion of the accident and how completing On Writing restored King’s confidence as an author gives the book an edge it would otherwise lack. Still, it’s not a bad combination of how-to text and account of an artist’s early struggle. King calls the book’s first section “a kind of curriculum vitae — my attempt to show how one writer was formed.” He relates his earliest childhood memories, the lousy day jobs he worked while writing, the “overnight” success of Carrie (the paperback rights for which sold for $400,000) and his later battles with alcoholism.
The memoir and the accident description bookend a section devoted to the nature of good writing, and King freely offers plenty of sensible advice, such as the elimination of adverbs and the formula for rewriting (“2nd Draft = 1st Draft - 10%”). Pooh-poohing high-brow aspirations, he advocates “truth” as a writer’s watchword and uses plenty of examples from his own work, even providing the copy-edited pages of a recent short story. And he acknowledges that his own success tends to be the exception, not the rule, although a chapter on breaking into the industry is unexpectedly positive.
As in his fiction writing, King seems overly enamored of expletives to get his point across. He has bouts of self-consciousness about On Writing itself, so humbly citing the superior examples of Mary Karr’s memoir The Liar’s Club and Strunk and White’s writing manual The Elements of Style as to nearly drive readers away. But generally, On Writing has an amiable tone and practical suggestions, and it proves that it takes more than an auto accident to slow this prolific writer down.