On Writing by Stephen King

on-writing

It took me a long time to write this review, even though I’ve read ON WRITING three times. I read it once as a new writer, again after I’d been writing for several years, and again recently as a multi-published author. I enjoyed it immensely each time, but I couldn’t put my finger on why I liked it so much and why I kept coming back to it. ON WRITING has two parts. The first is sort of a memoir: unconnected snippets from King’s early life and his path to publication. I found it inspiring, but King is so far beyond my level it’s like reading the autobiography of Odin or Zeus. The second part is extremely basic how-to advice that boils down to, “read a lot, write a lot.” So what was the appeal?

I think what drew me to this book was its honesty. These are answers to questions King gets asked over and over by fans. What they really want to know is, “how do you do it?” The truth is, King doesn’t know how he does it. No writer truly does. He only knows where he came from and what experiences led him down the writing path, so he shares those memorable moments, even the ugly ones. It’s helpful to remember that even Stephen King wasn’t always Stephen King. He struggled in obscurity for years, living in a run-down trailer and selling small stories to small magazines for small money.

The second, shorter, part of ON WRITING is King’s advice to writers. There aren’t any new, different, or ground-breaking tips here, just the solid techniques that have served writers forever. There are very few universal rules, and those are very basic (for example: character and situation > plot). King knows himself and his habits, and understands that what he needs for a productive writing day is a huge desk and many uninterrupted hours. But that’s just him. Other writers need other things.

King is a working writer, treating the craft with practicality rather than reverence. He’s a blue-collar working man engaging in shop talk, even referring to writing techniques as “the toolbox.” King loves what he does and it shows, but he’s never precious about it. This is simply who he is: a writer who writes. And he makes me believe that I can be one, too. That, I think, is the magic of ON WRITING and why I’ve read it so many times.

ON WRITING can be found here.

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Rating: 4 stars

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This book is best for: all writers

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I recommend this book

9 thoughts on “On Writing by Stephen King

  1. On Writing is a big favorite of mine. Recently I bought an audiobook read by the author and enjoyed that immensely,too. It really is amazing for its honesty and simplicity, and any writer reading it and taking it to heart will be richer for it.

    His huge desk, as I recall the story, was an artifact of his pre-recovery writing life, and he got rid of it for something of a realistic size to remind him other things in life come first.

    • Ah, perhaps it’s time for yet another re-read as I’m misremembering details. I think the huge desk stood out in my mind because my own desk is the dining room table. 🙂

  2. I agree with Mr. King. Often I write a book and then when I reread it I wonder how I wrote it. Sometimes I ask myself – Did I write this? It’s a weird out-of-body sensation.

    • For sure! No wonder Mr. King calls his muses “the boys in the basement.” Don’t know how they got there, not quite sure what they’re doing down there in the dark, but as long as they keep sending up story ideas, that’s all we really need.

  3. Welcome back! ON WRITING is an excellent choice to kick off the next year of craft book reviews. I read ON WRITING when I was just starting out, loaned it to several writer friends in succession, and just realized I’ve lost track of my copy! Somehow, I’m sure it’s with exactly the writer who needs it at this moment.

    -aniko

  4. A fave of mine as well. King was a huge influence on me as a young writer (and still is as an oldish writer), so when this book came out, I ran directly to the bookstore to pick it up on release day. I’ve read parts of it dozens of times since. I’m probably going to read it again soon, now that you’ve reminded me of it.

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