Book review: Stephen King ‘On Writing’

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I recently spent the short dark days of the British winter in Cambridge, reading ‘On Writing’  by Stephen King and watching Christmas specials. And, I admit, I developed a penchant for Strictly Come Dancing.

For those who haven’t seen it, it’s a contest which appeals to the British sense of doing things right. When partaking in something as free and spontaneous as dancing, by jove, let’s be precise!

Shortened to Strictly by its fans, I couldn’t help thinking Mr King would be wary of the title. (More on that later…)

It’s not, though, for the love of the waltz that I watched the show or I’d surely be out twirling on a Saturday, not hurling opinions at the screen, expert, quite suddenly, at the paso doble. 

I tuned in to see the journey of each star. The semi-famous folk appearing week-by-week who tried and tried. It’s their process that thrilled me from afar .

He’s got it at last,’ exclaimed a judge.

My dear those feet need work, you’re not a fish, don’t flap, don’t shirk.’

I wanted to know how far they’d come, to see them flail, then overcome.

The same, I sense, is true of stories that we read or view. It’s not the settings most we care about (although location matters – but that’s another show!) but how the characters got from A to B. The folk they met along the way, and if their leaping over obstacles allowed them change anew.

On Writing (where King describes, among other things, his aversion to adverbs) is a wonderful book. The thing that took my breath away was all the love this horror writer put into his craft. It’s his whole life, his soup, his every dream and yet he manages to share it all – to put it on the page – at least that’s how it seems.

I learned that every day he flings adverbials from his work. Occasionally they have a place, I humbly want to say. He’s right of course, their hackneyed use makes prose an over-mannered dance. But used judiciously they surely help to paint-in colour, add a stance.

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The best part, though, it came towards the end. I won’t say much, but if you like to write, this memoir is your friend. The main point is, he’s telling it from the gut. The anecdote three quarters through so bodily, it’s kind of weird what tears this multi-million dollar author at his seams. Creates a rut so frightening, it almost makes his life into a scream.

But humans have a funny knack of ploughing on. The part that says despite the falling down, the failed turn, the way that x just seemed too hard to learn, the dancer on the tv show, the writer and the folk he pens -it’s how they reach their aim that keeps us tuning in.

And it’s this ‘how’ -I truly do believe- that’s best described with ‘ly’. The way a Strictly star or horror-writer side-steps sudden death. Their story found in every dancing breath.


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