King, Stephen: On Writing (audio and text)

I listened to Stephen King’s On Writing as an audiobook read by the author. As other people have observed, the mix of autobiographical sections and writing sections make slightly uneasy companions. I think the autobiographical stuff has obvious relevance to King’s writing for someone familiar with his work, however, and considering how popular King is and how many people out there apparently want to write fiction (not me; I know my limits), I imagine the audience for each part overlaps more than a bit.

The autobiography is involving, and includes a very vivid description of the life-threatening incident where King was hit by a van. I was slightly more interested in the writing sections, as I’ve been lurking about authors and writing forums for a bit now, hearing about the many different ways that people create the books I love to read. King’s advice on writing is interesting and pungent and had me nodding along most of the time; I particularly liked how he drew examples from popular fiction like Grisham and Rowling as well as Literature-with-a-capital-L. It is at a fairly basic level and thus is not new to anyone who’s already read up on the subject—which, I hasten to add, is not a bad thing, because there is no super secret shortcut and so all good advice at this level is going to be similar. My major quibble is that King appears to think of “plot” solely as a verb, something the author actively forces on a book; but then, some large percentage of writing discussions are always definitional. I forgive that, and would forgive a lot more, though, of a book that calls fee-charging agents “unscrupulous fucks.”

As for On Writing as an audiobook, it was mostly a good experience. I would have preferred if King had also read the section numbers, to indicate breaks in the autobiographical portion: I initially thought it was all one continuous section, because it was told in straight chronological order up through the sale of paperback rights to Carrie; when the narrative then went back in time to tell the story of his alcohol and drug addiction, I was briefly disoriented. And there are a few extras at the back of the physical book, including a marked-up first draft, that can’t be included in the audiobook. King is a good reader, though, and I’ll keep an eye out in the library for other short-ish works he’s narrated.

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  1. I also listened to the audiobook. Overall, I think that it would have been better for King to have divided the work into two separate books: an “On Writing” book, and then a Stephen King autobiography.

    The autobiographical portions of the book that dealt with King’s early years as a writer were helpful. However, I felt that the author went into too much detail about some childhood incidents (ex: the babysitter story) that didn’t really fit in a book about writing.

  2. I could see how they were relevant to his writing, but at an angle–his way of looking at the world, his sense of humor, that kind of thing. But how well the bits fit together will be largely a matter of taste.

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