I first read On Writing five years ago as I was working on the manuscript for my children’s book. I loved it. I read On Writing again last week as I was gathering inspiration for an article on creativity. I loved it.
If you want to be a writer, read this book. If you want to be a creative and live the creative life, read this book. Or, if you just want to be authentically you and courageously bring your best self to the world, read this book.
What I love about greatness—human greatness—is that it manifests in the most unexpected places. King is not a literary icon—his work is not taken seriously in elite circles. And he’ll never win a Nobel or any other coveted, shiny literary thing. He’s King—the people’s writer. And, man, are we blessed by that.
Stephen King gives us a gift like no other—the perverse joy of sleepless, terror-filled nights (Hello! Can you say, The Shining?!) and the thrill of Big Screen storytelling, whether consumed in book or film form. Carrie. Misery. The Shawshank Redemption. The Shining. Children of the Corn. The Green Mile—King’s stories are varied and plenty. They make an indelible mark. On Writing does too, but for wholly different reasons.
On Writing fundamentally shifted my perception of King. After I read it the first time, he was no longer a creepy, offbeat horror writer but a remarkable, insightful man. As the name implies, On Writing, is a memoir that takes us from King’s childhood when he discovered his love of writing through the development of his career and, finally, to the terrifying accident in 1999 that almost took his life.
What I love most about this book, and King’s writing is his no BS insights about writing, creativity and the creative life. King is “real peeps” who calls a spade a spade, offers advice but doesn’t care if you take it and is, importantly, absent of the ego—the tedious “puffery”—we see in so many literary figures. King is refreshing and real—the kind of guy you’d want to hang out with over a pint or a game of poker. (I don’t do either—but I might with King!)
There’s so many tiny pearls of wisdom in this book, I can’t help but share a few of my favorites:
“Stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”
“Talent renders the whole idea of rehearsal meaningless; when you find something at which you are talented, you do it (whatever it is) until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head. Even when no one is listening (or reading, or watching), every outing is a bravura performance because you as the creator are happy.”
“Here comes the big question: What are you going to write about? (or create?) And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want. Anything at all… as long as you tell the truth.”
On Writing is a special book, coming straight from the gut of a special man. I guarantee you’ll never look at the man or his work the same again. More importantly, you’ll never look at creating or creativity the same again. There’s no reason to be afraid of the climb or to become haughty and pretentious once you get there. The best work—our best work—comes from the craggy depths of our insides. And there’s nothing fancy or superior about that.