I’m a big Stephen King fan and look forward to every new book of his. I particularly enjoyed 11/22/63 on the Kennedy assassination and am in awe of his productivity. I recently reread his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, first published in 2000 and talked about it with some of our English teachers. I was curious if they used it and, indeed, some do, especially with older students.
Unlike his novels, this volume is part autobiographical, part how-to manual. Explaining why he wanted to write the book, King notes “Many of us proles also care about the language, in our humble way, and care passionately about the art and craft of telling stories on paper.” He argues that while the basic talent for writing “comes with the equipment,” it can be “strengthened and sharpened.” And, indeed, for those students looking to hone their skills, King’s advice is excellent: “The adverb is not your friend,” “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open,” and “If you want to be a writer… read a lot and write a lot.”
The stories about his childhood and, in particular, his high school years made me wish he had attended my school. As a teenager, in flagrant violation of all copyright rules, he would turn movies he had watched into short novels that he printed on a drum press in his basement and distributed to his classmates for a quarter. The principal quickly put a kibosh on his operation and asked him why he was wasting his talents. In an effort to direct his obvious talent the principal helped him to get a job with the local newspaper as a sports columnist—and it was there that he learned to write and to tell a story.
One of the things we do really well at Loomis is teach writing. Some students write beautifully—they have that natural talent identified by King—but I hope all write well by the time they leave. When I travel for the school, countless alumni tell me that they learned to write at Loomis. Our writing curriculum begins in the freshman year where students start to hone their skills and learn the basics of grammar, and continues through a four-year program. That program is supplemented in the sophomore year by the writing workshop—a once-a-week session that focuses on the power of language and the mechanics of grammar—and through all years by writing in other disciplines.
King makes two essential points: “Good writing consists of mastering the fundamentals (vocabulary, grammar, the elements of style);” and “it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.” Whether our faculty use King’s book or not, these two principles underpin the Loomis writing program: we teach the fundamentals and work with all students to help them to become good writers.