The subtitle of this book is probably the best description for it. This is a memoir of the craft of writing and it’s actually quite wonderful and full of some of the most practical advice. It’s also advice that is really hard to follow.
Stephen King starts by sharing a few snapshots of his life growing up and publishing his first stories and essays and novel. These are things that he thinks influenced him as a writer, from working in a laundry with a guy who had hooks for hands to selling his own stories to kids at school because they were too gory to publish in the school paper. Some of them are amusing and some of them are poignant, all of them are interesting because Stephen King is a story-teller — there’s a reason that he sells as well as he does.
The advice section is more opinionated than most authors are willing to be. Stephen King actually calls out some authors by name when criticizing certain styles, which most authors will not do publicly for obvious reasons. Most useful to me is his examples of how to cut unnecessary information and how to avoid the use of adverbs.
George R. R. Martin has said that writers are either architects or gardeners. Most authors are more one of those than the other. Architects make an outline and they stick to it. Gardeners make up a bunch of characters and a situation to put them in and see what happens — they don’t know how long the story will be until it ends. Stephen King is a gardener and can’t imagine any other way of telling a story — which is fine for him. I am the opposite and found most of his advice on character and plot useless as it consisted of make up a real seeming person and start writing. Making good characters is a useful lesson, just starting writing gets me nowhere. I have to know where I’m heading.
For writers this is a good book with great advice and entertaining examples and stories to back up the advice. It’s also an honest account of a popular writer’s life.