Geek Girl Learns

From On Writing by Steven King

First, a Disclaimer

I don’t like Steven King, as a writer. I don’t like his books. I don’t like some of his representation of women in his books. I don’t tend to like horror in general.

But everyone has told me I should read this book. That this book is very inspirational and the work on craft in the last twenty years. So. Here I am. Reading the book.

Well, having Steven King read it to me, at least.

The Good

I will admit. It was inspirational. I did want to go forth and write after reading this book. And it did have some good advice, in little bitty snippets. Not unique advice, but told in a unique way.

Told with humor. I often found myself unexpectedly laughing out loud when I was listening to the audiobook. So that was a plus. And I did like the advice on how to write your first draft as opposed to the second or third. The little story of the aspiring author was pretty inspirational, too.

I did like how, in the very beginning of the book, he talks about how writing is like time travel. How he was sitting in his office, writing, and now you were reading his words how ever many years later. That was very cool to me, and struck a major chord in how I want my writing to be.

The Bad

This is very much a book on how Steven King writes novels and fiction, and not necessarily how everyone else should write novels and fiction. Starting from a situation and finding characters to fit that situation, and then moving onto plot makes a lot of sense for the horror genre. And even then, I’d bet a lot of authors will start with character, or a particular scene they want to get to, not just a situation. So what about the authors who don’t write horror or other genres that this method doesn’t fit into? Nothing, because we are given no other advice.

Even when King gives straight up advice, he makes it sound like an immutable law of the universe. Then he tells us that he doesn’t follow his own rules?

The Ugly

True, the title of the book is On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. So, it’s a memoir far, far more than it’s a craft book. Fine. But I skipped half the book. I do not care about Steven King’s life, and I certainly don’t care about the time he wiped his ass with poison ivy. I am here for advice on how to make it as an author. Not to hear about the three times he went to the ear doctor at a young age.

So I skipped it.

And then I skipped some more. King makes a wonderful metaphor about the writer’s tool box, but he spent a good fifteen minutes of the audiobook describing his grandfather’s and uncle’s tool boxes, how wonderful they were, and what they used them for. Enough already. He said he was finally getting to the writing advice, so get to the advice.

Then there is a bit about his treatment of women. He gives us one writing prompt in the whole book, an urban horror tale where the wife of an abusive husband comes home to find that her husband has potentially broken out of jail. King admits that this is a pretty generic prompt. But he challenges us to change one detail to make it unique.

Alright! I’m already crafting a story with a lesbian relationship, and the abuser being the classic “strong woman” archetype, who can fight her way out of things and takes no shit from anyone at the prison and…

Nope.

King wants us to make the abused wife an abused husband. That’s it. That’s his change. And, of course, the wife has now escaped from a mental institution, rather than prison.

Thanks, Steven King

The Verdict

I will not be keeping this book. I’m glad I only checked it out from the library. Read it if you’re a fan of King, and want to hear how he got the inspiration for some of his stories. As a craft book, it’s not.

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