On Writing is not a typical writing book. For one thing, it isn’t an instructional manual, it doesn’t give the reader a step by step break down of the process and it only has one, albeit rather interesting, writing exercise prompt. For another thing, it’s written by Stephen King. King puts his own stamp on the genre, turning what could’ve been a dry academic text into cross between a memoir and an advice book nearly as addicting as a fiction page-turner.
One of the greatest things about On Writing is the brutal honesty with which King tackles the craft of writing. “This isn’t a popularity contest, it’s not the moral Olympics, and it’s not church. But it’s writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else. Wash the car, maybe.” (King, 107)
His honesty extends to his life story, chronicling his childhood, struggle to get published, addiction, and terrible car accident in 1999 with the same bluntness. In the memoir section, he dispels the romantic myth of the Hemingway writer who spends his days strung out on his drug of choice. “Hemingway and Fitzgerald didn’t drink because they were creative, alienated, or morally weak. They drank because it’s what alkies are wired up to do. Creative people probably do run a greater risk of alcoholism and addiction…but so what? We all look pretty much the same when we’re puking in the gutter.” (King, 99)
On Writing is a fantastic book and an inspiring read. It will test your mettle if you are unsure of yourself as a writer and reinforce your will if you are set on your path to writing. Either way it is worth reading.