Sunday, January 11, 2009

On Stephen King's "On Writing"

As part of the Feature Writing class this term, we're starting to read "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft" by Stephen King. Yes, that Stephen King, author of "Cujo," "Carrie" and other assorted tales of horror and woe.

While not necessarily a huge King fan, I enjoy this foray into the writer's craft immensely. If nothing else, it makes me laugh out loud every couple pages.

It has several things to offer young writers: Inspiration that they too might make a living someday by exercising their creativity and adhering to Strunk and White's "Elements of Style," and that like anything else you don't become expert at your trade without practice, practice, practice. But that comes later in the book.

Our first assignment was to read pages 1-50.

Here's my favorite inspirational moment from this section (it's on page 37 of my edition):
"Let's get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn't to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up."
One of the hardest things for young reporters is recognizing the good feature story right in front of them. Or they choose a topic that's way too broad when answering one compelling question will more than propel them to a good clip containing their byline.

In the first few pages King also addresses the mystery of inspiration: "We are writers, and we never ask another where we get our ideas; we know we don't know."

I've suggested my students share some favorite passages from "On Writing" in their newly created blogs. I'm looking forward to reading what they discover.


Photo credit: "Creepy!" by Midnight-digital, courtesy of

1 comment:

Steve said...

I've read a few books on writing. That is one of my favourites. I think one of the reasons that I like it so much is because it is also biographical. One of my favourite parts was when the young Stephen King needed the toilet, while outside playing with his brother, and was pretending to be a cowboy as he did what he had to do. Just before he used the poison ivy as toilet paper. Ouch!