Today we’re reviewing On Writing by Stephen King. Published in 2000, this book has long been hailed as a Bible of sorts by fiction writers. In it, King walks the reader through how he was “made” as a writer, about his life, and about the craft of writing. Although he specializes in all things horror it was this book, oddly enough, that first put King on my radar.
I read it as a teenager and picked it up, as most do, to learn how to improve my writing skills. I thought it would be an experience like reading a textbook and, honestly, wasn’t looking forward to it. And then I couldn’t put it down. It’s incredibly funny, witty, and heartfelt. It taught me a lot about the little complexities of writing, while not making me feel like I was in class at all. I also learned a lot about life.
In the book, King speaks with refreshing candidness about some of the great difficulties in his life. He opens with stories from his childhood, where he got his start reading piles of books stuck in bed, always sick, when he was supposed to be in school. From there he moves into the realities of being poor as a young adult, starting out, gathering stacks of rejection letters from publishers, which he kept, all of them. He even opens up about his struggles with addiction to drugs and alcohol. It’s rare that a book meant to teach you a specific, academic skill can make you laugh and cry too, but this one does, and I think it’s a definite testament to King’s abilities as a storyteller.
This book doesn’t, however, seem like an obvious choice for a corporate book club. About a month ago, one of my colleagues asked me what he could do to improve his copywriting skills. I asked him why as he doesn’t do much copywriting, he does marketing strategy. He told me that he thought that writing was always a useful skill to have, which is true. I ended up recommending this book to him, but continued to think about this conversation, about why my first instinct was to recommend a book marketed to those who write novels.
I thought about another conversation I’d had with a history teacher in high school. I was going into an essay test in American History that I didn’t study for, and I was panicked. She told me, “you’ll be fine … If you can write, you can write your way into and out of everything.” She was right. I got the highest score in the class even though I was just guessing at the answers and trying to make my lack of knowledge sound competent. Real life is a lot like this too. In talking to clients, for example, a business consultant might not be the smartest person in the room about the client’s specific specialty, but it’s their job to use the same communication skills honed by novelists to come off as comfortable and capable in any arena.
If you think about it, fiction writers can and have sold you on everything. Stephen King, apparently, sold me on a textbook, and if I’ve done my job in this review, I may have just sold you the very same textbook. To wrap up, I cannot recommend this book highly enough and I hope and believe that, no matter what industry you’re in, you will find it useful and applicable to you. After all, if you can write, you can write your way into anything.
Rating: 5/5 Stars