On writing : a memoir of the craft

by Stephen King

Hardcover, 2000




New York : Scribner, c2000.


Writing. Language Arts. Nonfiction. HTML:Twentieth Anniversary Edition with Contributions from Joe Hill and Owen King ONE OF TIME MAGAZINE'S TOP 100 NONFICTION BOOKS OF ALL TIME Immensely helpful and illuminating to any aspiring writer, this special edition of Stephen King's critically lauded, million-copy bestseller shares the experiences, habits, and convictions that have shaped him and his work. "Long live the King" hailed Entertainment Weekly upon publication of Stephen King's On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer's craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King's advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported, near-fatal accident in 1999�and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it�fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Justjenniferreading
When I sat down with this book I was expecting a manual on writing. Do this, don't do this kind of thing. But that is so not what this book is.

The beginning of the book tells the story of Stephen King's life. Then he goes into some of the things he thinks every writer needs to know (vocabulary,
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grammar, and basic concepts for dialogue). As he continues through the writing process he doesn't say "you should do this" he simply states this is what I do.

I was amazed that Stephen King could write a book about writing and make it something I couldn't put down. But I guess that's the beauty of how he writes. I think he makes his writing interesting by making it simple. Sure there were a few words I didn't expressly know, but I used my vocabulary toolbox to figure out their meaning.

This book also gave me a ton of new reading recommendations. Will I make it through them all? Probably not anytime soon, but I'm glad that I made a list of them so that I can keep referring back to them.

I don't know if I'll ever write a book, but after reading this book I think I'm more prepared if I ever decide that I do want to try writing.
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LibraryThing member CBJames
Stephen King's fans will be interested in how he became a writer, and anyone who wants to become a writer ought to listen to his advice. But does On Writing anything useful to say to those of us who write for fun?

Mr. King divides On Writing into two sections. The first is a memoir of his early
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attempts at writing, the newspaper his older brother put out as a way to make pocket money. This part of On Writing is interesting and entertaining but not particularly useful. No one can duplicate the childhood that made Mr. King the writer he is, but his account of his early career is enlightening. In the second half of On Writing, Mr. King gets serious and gives frank, useful advice for aspiring story tellers. Though story tellers are his only real concern, his advice is still useful for non-fiction writers such as book bloggers.

I'm keeping three things he suggests in mind:

1.Favor the active voice.
2.Avoid adverbs.
3.Follow this formula: 2nd draft equals 1st draft minus 10 percent.
Numbers one and two are not new--Mr. King gives credit where credit is due and faithfully discusses Strunk and White's book The Elements of Style which every writer of any sort should own. He makes his own case for the active voice and against adverbs in On Writing and it's a good one. Though after he's made it, it's difficult not to read the rest of the book looking for examples of adverbs and the passive voice. Number three came to Mr. King in a note written at the bottom of a rejection slip for a story that was too "puffy." It's excellent advice. There is much more in On Writing that a book blogger should find useful. I'm sure any writer looking to improve their own work, whatever it is, will find at least three useful things of their own in On Writing.

In fact, if you know someone who wants to become a writer, maybe your own high schooler or college student, give them this book. If they haven't read it by the end of the following week, and if they can't tell you three things they should do, then go out and buy them a guitar because they're just going through a phase and music will probably be next. If they read it and they can tell you how they intend to use the suggestions in it, then start saving tuition money and hope for the best. Who knows, they may turn out to be the next Stephen King.
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LibraryThing member WholeHouseLibrary
How I wish I read On Writing when it was first released rather than nine years later! I am not a fan of horror stories, so to be honest, this is the first book by Stephen King that I’ve read. I knew it would be good, simply because of his reputation as a writer, but I didn’t expect it to be as
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easily read and as candid as it was.

For the past several years, I’ve been writing my own stories. Some are pure flights of fancy; most are memoirs and personal essays. I haven’t written with the intention of getting published – it’s just something I’m compelled to do, usually when I ought to be asleep. Had I read On Writing years ago, I might have taken a bit more care in my styling of the stories. As it is, I’ve now gone back and done several revisions to a lot of my original stories. I can’t seem to reduce them by 10%, though; but I suspect it has more to do with the fact that I am not writing novels.

When you read this treasure, take notes. You will want to continue reading, but trust me on this, take the time to at least write down keywords of his advice and the page number because I guarantee that you’ll want to refer back to them. I could list the talk points, but you can find them on at least a dozen web sites already, and none of them will have as much an impact on you as your own notes will. Thank me later.

The book is divided into three sections, generally, and all of it is written as if Stephen is sitting in a well-cushioned barrel-back chair, legs crossed on the ottoman, conversing with you directly. It flowed from one subject to the next so easily it seemed as if the only thing he left out was the questions I would have asked him. The first section is biographical information with references to inspirations for stories that he would write later in his life. The second part is about his own struggles, both personally and professionally, as a writer. If you haven’t filled up at least half a notebook with references to advice at this point, you haven’t been paying attention. The last part is about publishing, and getting published (or not), and if that’s your goal, you need to pay particular attention to it.

As for me, I don’t expect (or plan to, or wish to pursue) getting published. I enjoy the writing process too much to spoil it with the business aspect. On the other hand, as a subset of my favorite genre (Books about Books), publishing something I've neglected, and ought to look into, just for a better understanding of what it takes. I’ll be referring back to On Writing a lot – or at least my notes. This book is a keeper!

I happen to have two copies of this book – one is a hardcover edition, the other is in an eBook format. Except for the editing examples Mr. King provided, I found myself preferring to read the eBook device over the hardcover. This was due mostly to the font that each format used; and partly because I could still read the backlit eBook in bed late at night while my wife drifted off to sleep. The above-mentioned editing examples were impossible to read with my eBook device. The characters were clear, but too small to decipher.
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LibraryThing member Stewartry
Never saw that coming. I don’t read horror novels; I don’t tolerate the whole genre well. (I tried to watch some of Halloween H2O when it played at the theatre I was working in – I lasted four not particularly terrifying minutes.) Prior to last week I’d read three of his books: Gerald’s
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Game, which I had to read for school (art school, that is: we had to do a cover for a Stephen King novel; don’t know how I chose this one), Rose Madder (did I get it from the library? I don’t own it…), and The Eyes of the Dragon. GG was a horror, all right – it was more years ago than I wish to acknowledge, and I still remember parts of it vividly, above and beyond the part I tried to illustrate. (Also, it was in this I learned “lefty loosy, righty tighty”. Seriously – never heard that before.) (ALSO, I think of it almost every time I hear The Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker” – “they call me a space cowboy”. *shudder* It would be every time, but they play it so blamed often.) The dog … *hard shudder* But what I remember most was the surprise I felt at how good a writer King is. I had assumed he was to fiction what reality shows are to television: popular schlock. Well, there’s reality tv, and there’s reality tv; Survivor is several steps above, say, “The Bachelor”, and SYTYCD is miles above Survivor. And Stephen King has chops. Rose Madder was strange, and good, and I don’t remember it as well. Eyes of the Dragon, more on the fantasy end of the spectrum, was okay, not as good as I expected. I’ve been collecting the Dark Tower novels as I’ve come across them, and after recently reading a Buffy/Salem’s Lot fanfic crossover I decided I needed to see if I could manage his vampires. I haven’t gotten around to that yet.

But in the past few months I’ve seen King’s On Writing recommended a couple of times, by writers I have some respect for. Confession: when I saw the recs, my first puzzled thought is “who is Stephen King to be writing a book on writing?” But when I did my “I’ve got my income tax refund and dammit I’m buying books” thing this year it was part of the Amazon order. And wow.

The first half of the book is a memoir, skimming over his life from his birth, through his childhood raised by his mother, alone, to the time of the writing of the book, in the middle of which latter he was hit by a van and horribly injured (1999). At first I wondered about the purpose of the memoir. I enjoyed the hell out of it, but wondered. By the time I finished the book, it made perfect sense.

The second half of the book is about, as advertised, writing. What not to do, and what to do – and a permission slip to go and do it. Read and/or write 4-6 hours a day. Not easy with a full-time job and a mom to look after – but he knows that. It’s not like Malcolm Forbes wondering why people don’t try to find work they love; this is a man who started out washing hospital laundry and trying to feed two kids on very low pay.

The advice is solid. The toolbox metaphor is brilliant. Who is Stephen King to write a book on writing? Stephen King is a man who has sold more than 350 million copies of his books, who started from nothing and made himself an icon. And who is a pretty damn good writer.

“What is writing? Telepathy, of course.”

I never, ever looked at it that way.

This is what we’re looking at, and we all see it. I didn’t tell you. You didn’t ask me. I never opened my mouth and you never opened yours. We’re not even in the same year together, let alone the same room … except we are together. We’re close.
We’re having a meeting of the minds.

And as valuable as the straightforward advice is, even more valuable is the feeling I came away from this book cherishing. It’s what the one really good teacher I can claim acquaintance with, Deb Simone of Paier College of Art, used to accomplish: that feeling of limitless space and the ability to achieve anything, the inspiration to move mountains, or at least molehills. To get out there and do something.

It’s motivation. It’s permission. It’s reassurance, and it’s a kick in the butt. It’s a slap on the hand (or a cuff on the ear) over committing some literary sins – and a high five over the shared concepts, the telepathy achieved.

Another reason to love the man: “King was quoted as calling conservative commentator Glenn Beck ‘Satan’s mentally challenged younger brother.’” Oh, heart.
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LibraryThing member msf59
I am not sure how this one got by me and I’ve been a fan, since the mid-70s. Maybe it was released during a period that I was taking a break from Mr. King. There were some weak stretches in his bibliography, along with the amazing ones. Whatever the reason, I am glad I finally picked it up.
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It’s quite a joy to read.
The first half of the book is a memoir, taking the reader through his hard-scrabble childhood, raised by his tough hard-working mother. We look at his college years and his many attempts to publish his short stories and then there is his early marriage, struggling to support a growing family on a teacher’s salary and then the eventual sale of a little book called Carrie. All perfectly told in his smart, amusing, no nonsense style.

The 2nd half is about the craft of writing and it’s equally as fascinating. He keeps his advice pretty simple:
"I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs and I will shout it from the rooftops."
"... there is a huge difference between story and plot. Story is honorable and trustworthy; plot is shifty and best kept under house arrest."
Even if you are not a King fan, I know there are a few of you out there, give it a try. I have a feeling you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
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LibraryThing member csayban
For decades, Stephen King has delighted reading audiences with his shocking tales, powerful prose and frighteningly realistic characters. In the late 90s, King sat down to pen a book on how he became the writers that his is, the lessons he learned and how others can become better writers. After
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several long years – and a near-fatal encounter with a van – King completed On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

I’m going to just come out and say it - if you are a writer, you must read this. It is both inspirational and educational. It is typical Stephen King bluntness as well and really cuts to the heart of what it takes to be a writer and why you shouldn’t fear writing what you believe in no matter what other people think about it. Successful writers are successful because they are passionate about what they write – not because they are trying to make a buck. This is not a point-by-point how-to book on writing novels. There are plenty of those out there and most of them will bore you to tears. What King offers is a look inside his writing methods and some hard-won insight into what works and what doesn’t in the publishing world. It is divided into several sections. The first gives a history of his writing career that is so funny I was laughing out loud more times than I can count. It is also includes a painful account of the drug and alcohol addiction that nearly killed him and the loving intervention of his wife, Tabitha. He then goes into the tools that a writer needs to develop to do the things that a writer needs to do. The third section is really the meat of the text and shows the methods that King uses to develop a story from idea to finished manuscript. The final section is a very personal account of the horrific accident that nearly ended his life and how the lifelong devotion of his wife Tabitha and his writing – specifically finishing this memoir – contributed to his return to life. On Writing is a much a deeply personal memoir as it is a dialog on getting the most out of your writing. It is a book that I will read again and again as inspiration for my own writing. I recommend it to everybody, but most especially to every aspiring writer. If this story doesn’t send you to your keyboard with renewed motivation, you probably want to find a new pursuit.

One final note – my copy of On Writing was an advance reader copy. Yes, it’s been hidden away for nearly ten years and this is the first time I have read it. The strange thing is that I have no memory of how I ever received the ARC in the first place. It still has a postage-paid return card with it, too. Either way, I’m not parting with it and I will be rereading it quite often I’m sure.
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LibraryThing member edgeworth
Say what you will about Stephen King's fiction, but in all his non-fiction - his forewords, his introductions, his EW column and this book - he's refreshingly honest, down-to-earth and easily readable. "On Writing" is part memoir and part writing guide, written as King was entering his fourth
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decade of being an author (and, if I'm not mistaken, had only recently been unseated by J.K. Rowling as the world's most popular author).

"On Writing" begins with about a hundred pages of vignettes across King's life, beginning with his earlist memory and ending with him kicking his drug addiction in the 1980s. It moves on to a central section full of King's thoughts about writing (theme, plot, characters, dialogue etc) and advice on how to become a writer, and finishes with a section about his near-fatal 1999 car accident (painful even to read about, particularly since he chose to weave it into The Dark Tower series). One of the most interesting things throughout is his little thoughts on all kinds of things related to the trade: genre prejudice, the reliability of agents, anecdotes about writing at Rudyard Kipling's desk, and so on.

King said he was aiming to write a book on writing without any bullshit, and I think he succeeded. He makes it quite clear throughout the book that there is no magic solution or bag of tricks to being a writer. You just have to work very hard. You have to write a lot and read a lot, and there's no getting around that. Creative writing classes and writing guides (including "On Writing") may help a little, but nothing will get you there in the end except hard work. Lazy people won't be writers (which I shirk from hearing, since I'm very lazy indeed).

He also shoots down a common myth in the creative writing world - something almost taboo, in fact - which is that a bad writer can ever become a good writer, or that a good writer can ever become a great writer. A mediocre writer can become a good writer, but other than that, you either got it or you don't.

It only took me a couple of days to breeze through, since Stephen King (being Stephen King) is quite easy to read:

Grammar is not just a pain in the ass; it's the pole you grab to get your thoughts up on their feet and walking. Besides, all those simple sentences worked for Hemingway, didn't they? Even when he was drunk on his ass, he was a fucking genius.

Whether you're a Stephen King fan, or an aspiring writer, this book is definitely worth a read. Roger Ebert (one of the greatest writers in modern America) called it the best book on writing since Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style," which I'll also have to get around to reading someday.
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LibraryThing member JeffV
On Writing is two very different books rolled into one. The first is more of a memoir, with King recalling early life experiences that ultimately led to his becoming a writer in the first place. Disconnected from this section, yet part of it, is the epilogue, where King addresses the accident that
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nearly took his life, and the part finishing this book played in his professional recovery. The other part of the book is mechanics -- some of it is what to do, but good portion more is what NOT to do. I could almost hear my own editors echoing his words; everything he said not only rings true, but also can't be said often enough. And rarely does one hear it put in such elegant prose..."don't DO THAT!" "Cut that shit out!" Not only is he very encouraging towards anyone who really wants to make a run at it, but after hearing King describe the nuts and bolts of "the craft," it becomes apparent why himself and other bankable authors churn out consistently high quality work.

While King is quick to admit there is no magic bullet to becoming a good writer (and, in his opinion, it is not possible for a truly bad writer to learn to be significantly better, nor is it possible for a good writer to become great...however, it is possible for a decent writer to become good), there are two inescapable truths he does harp on. A writer has to write, and just as importantly, a writer has to read. King suggests that one will learn more reading a bad writer than a good one, to which I laughed, thinking, "but Uncle Stevie, I learn more about writing from reading you than I do any other author!" But he adds that it can be a terrific morale boost reading someone who obviously has reached a measure of success (they are published) while knowing you can do better.

I think Stephen King has a lot to say on the art of writing, and would have liked to have seen this part of the book expanded to make it a dedicated volume. He was a former English teacher, so he is classically educated on the subject, although I think his style better communicates the basics than your typical college composition class. I also think his autobiography would be worth a look (his life is no Jack London, but well-lived in any event), and would read that as a separate book. For all of his success, it didn't seem like King was confident that his fans would like either, so it all ended up in a single volume. Hopefully he'll be with us a lot more years and reconsider both in time.
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LibraryThing member 391
Though I'm not an aspiring writer, On Writing has had me reconsider how I read. I've started to pay closer attention to syntax, to structure - King's frank, blunt opinions on how to craft style have left me aware of just how much work goes into the creation of a story, and now I feel like I have
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'insider information' on its development. Also, I've decided to pick up a few of his books (weirdly enough, I've never read them - I'm not sure why I decided to read On Writing in the first place, actually, but I think it may be that some of my friends namedropped it, and I was curious), because I found him so immensely readable. There is an invigorating strength to his prose, something that even I - who has no aspirations to writing anything in any shape or form - am inspired, so much so that I went out and bought a steno pad just to see if I could get ten pages out after finishing this book.

(I can.)
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LibraryThing member swl
A 5 for the first, autobiographical portion of the book; a 3.5 for the latter, the "how-to," which - while cleverly wrought - is not much different from the advice you can find many other places. I think an expansion of the former and major haircut to the rest might have improved the book.

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said, King says some things really well.

On using stark language (something that will anger some portion of one's readership for the rest of time):
"Some people don't want to hear the truth, of course, but that's not your problem. What would be is wanting to be a writer without wanting to shoot straight...the important question has nothing to do with whether the talk in your story is sacred or profane; the only question is how it rings on the page and in the ear."

On theme:
"Starting with the questions and thematic concerns is a recipe for bad fiction. Good fiction always begins with story and progresses to theme."

On getting the job done:
"The scariest moment is always just before you start."

Regarding the first part of the book: it's utterly engaging. Pure magic to see behind the scenes, including the rags-to-riches story, the addiction battle, the struggling young parents, but most especially King's unshakeable resolve to write exactly what he damn well wanted - and lots of it.

In fact that's not a bad take-away for the book - King makes a very convincing argument that if you say you're a writer you better be backing it up with time in the chair.
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LibraryThing member CBollerud
Written with wit and honesty and a bit of literary snobbishness--Stephen King is entitled to his opinion and 99.9 percent of what he says about the writing process I agree with. Yes, King has talent but he has also put in his hours and works hard at what he does. What many forget, King not only
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started story-telling as a child, but he studied and taught literature as an adult--he knows the craft and has learned his lessons well from the masters. Best advice in the book to me is his simple mantra "Read a lot and write a lot."

I love his personal memories, his honesty about his foibles are refreshingly unapologetic. He is not a victim. He never says, "Oh I didn't know what to do with my success so I drank and took drugs" A drunk is a drunk period! Wow! He was lucky enough to have his family step in and save him otherwise he could have been another brilliant but sad literary cautionary tale. He remembered the magic and the joy of writing he always got as a kid way before he had his first drink and was able to get back there. And now we all get to enjoy his victory when he shows us his latest book (chip).

To date, I've read this book four times and sometimes sleep with it. So if some tabloid comes out saying that an unbalanced woman says she sleeps with Stephen King, don't worry Mrs. King, it is probably me.
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LibraryThing member ValerieAndBooks
In the first part of the book, Stephen King provides a memoir of his life up to the time that he became a writer. He covers events in his childhood that shaped him as a person and a writer.

The middle part of his book is where he gives a lot of great advice about writing, and even if you are only a
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reader, how to recognize bad writing. He says, for example, on avoiding passive verbs:

“I think timid writers like [passive verbs] for the same reason timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe. There is no troublesome action to contend with; the subject just has to close its eyes and think of England, to paraphrase Queen Victoria”

He says, instead of writing “The meeting will be held at seven o’clock“, write “The meeting’s at seven“.

Stephen King’s advice is very direct and to the point, as is his writing style. He also says,

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut”.

In the final part of this book, Stephen King relates his near fatal accident (when a car hit him while he was walking down the road), his long recovery, and how he got back into writing again.
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LibraryThing member upstairsgirl
I really enjoyed this. I've never read any of Stephen King's fiction (I'm too suggestible and nightmare prone) but I've really enjoyed some of the things he's written about baseball, and this book was recommended to me by a bunch of different writers. The writing advice, in terms of mechanics, is
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really solid. King is a devotee of Strunk and White, and therefore a man after my own heart. I've no idea whether he puts this in practice in his own writing, but a writer can do far worse than omit needless words and be wary of adverbs. In terms of the non-mechanics writing advice, I think King is pretty upfront about the fact that your mileage may vary and that what he describes is simply what works for him. He's not covering any particularly new ground, but he strikes me as earnest in what he says and as honest about what he's up to.

This is not, of course, a book about how to write bestsellers, or about how to write the kinds of books King himself writes. It's about evenly split between memoir and advice, and I think the two parts work together well. I found the style to be straightforward and really engaging. It's a fun and not at all difficult read, and, I think, worth reading if you are interested in the process of writing, and in what different writers say works for them.
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LibraryThing member knitwit2
Reading this book was like having a conversation with Mr. King. It was an honest look at the process that he goes through while writing a book. Great advice provided for the would-be writer.
LibraryThing member Daniel.Estes
I first read On Writing in college as a film student and now I reread it (or listen to the audiobook) once a year or so. This memoir speaks to me on many levels: the process of writing and of being a good writer, the inerrant passion of living creatively and as a short history of one of my favorite
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I doubt I'll ever be a writer of novels, but there's no denying how inspired I am by the process. Stephen King describes writing a story like an archaeologist unearthing a fossil - discovering a small section at first and then, over time and with great care, uncovering the whole creation. This frames writing more like a journey, and that idea changed my life.
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LibraryThing member bokai
I'm not a Steven King fan. That is to say. I've read exactly one of his many books, the first Dark Tower novel, and my favorite part about it was the introduction. To be fair to the rest of the novel, it was a very good introduction.

I spotted On Writing in a giveaway bin at a local library and
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figured, what the heck? (ok, I said "Hell," Mr. King. There's your honesty.)

It seems to me that Steven King's non-fiction is much better than his fiction. It's earnest with a strong vein of humor. His recollections of his own life as a writer are part memoir, part "permission slip" to his readers to get on with it and just write, which is exactly what most would be writers need. He is most interesting when he writes about his own books, how they challenged him, how he "dug them out", what he thought of them once they were complete. When you read you feel like you are sitting next to someone who has made the journey and is giving you advice for your own trek.

At the same time, King's advice on the craft of writing is rather basic. Some goes beyond things like know your grammar, ("Starting with the questions and thematic concerns is a recipe for bad fiction"), but it never goes much further than that. If a writer is reading this book to really improve their writing skill, I think they would have to be starting from square one to get a whole lot out of here craft wise. On Writing is more a book about how to approach writing than one on how to do it. A telling point; there is no index. This is not a style manual.

It may be telling that my least favorite part of the book was the small sample of creative writing in the back and the edit that follows it. As an exercise I pretended to edit the pages before looking at King's second draft, and let's just say he was much more conservative than I was.

For a writer who is looking for something that tells them, "come on, you can do it!" On Writing is perfect and quite entertaining. If you want English instruction, this is not the book for it, nor was it ever intended to be. For what it was I enjoyed it. 3 1/2 Stars.
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LibraryThing member KinnicChick
Organized in three parts, this book is a treasure to anyone who enjoys autobiographical sketches and/or books to aid the writer in a slump, or the wannabe writer, or even someone who already writes but perhaps wants a refreshing reminder of what she could do to sharpen the skills of her craft.
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(parts one and two... part three discusses in painful detail the accident that nearly killed him midway through writing this book.)

This was not my first reading of this book and I'm quite certain I'll be reading again. I find the stories fresh and funny each time I pick up the book and I learn something new to help in my own writing.

I have many books on writing instruction, but this is one of very few that I return to and reread from cover to cover.
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LibraryThing member PennyAnn
As a fiction writer and huge Stephen King fan, I couldn't wait to get my hands on this book when it first came out ten years ago. Part memoir, part how-to book, there is something for both reader and writer alike. I love reading books about writers, delving into their thought process, discovering
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the roots of their creativity, maybe discovering a kernel of knowledge I can apply to my own work. I've purchase copies as gifts for writer friends. Recommend for reader and writer alike.
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LibraryThing member sedelia
Having read quite a few books on writing, I now expect to disagree with some rules that writers put out there -- no joke, Stephen King is quite the master, but I'm not as offended by adverbs as he is. His process of drafting is also vastly different from mine. However, I have found that writing is
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more of a personal discovery, and it really does differ with each writer.

There is a lot to appreciate in this book, though. I like the fact that King gives a lot of examples to prove his points. I learn so much more from examples than from simple explanations, so I really appreciated that. I also like that when King sets down a rule, he doesn't make it an absolute and even admits to falling victim to sloppy/indulgent writing himself. When he talks about how you shouldn't use adverbs, he straight-out admits that he wishes he used fewer, which is nice. It gives the book a very helpful, conversational feel instead of a "I know everything, so this is what you should do" kind of thing.

The one thing that I really loved about On Writing: you can tell, throughout the entire thing how much King loves to write. He completely lays out the magic, and the utter pleasure of creating a story. I so enjoyed that. Besides giving solid writing advice, he inspires his readers by making them want to write. While reading, I kept thinking to myself, "I want to start on my story right now." Few books have that power.

Anyone interested in writing should read this book. It's a fast-paced, entertaining read -- not at all like the dry reference-type book I think of when I think of "how-to" books. You'll enjoy it, you'll learn some good tips, and you'll be inspired. There's nothing more anyone can ask for.
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LibraryThing member ntempest
One of my favorite books on writing and craft. King includes some autobiographical information here that is, by itself, an interesting read, but his approach to honing one's writing skills is still the main thrust of the book. You don't have to enjoy his fiction to appreciate his no-nonsense
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approach to writing and to the all-important phase of self-editing and polishing a completed effort.
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
This is a much-loved and dog-eared book you will have to pry out of my cold, dead hands. And it's not that I'm a huge Stephen King fan. I don't rush to buy everything he puts out, and I haven't read all his novels. Though I do think The Shining and Salem's Lot are the scariest novels I've ever
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read, and I think he's at his strongest in his shorter works--the short stories and novellas, especially Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. And of course, purely in terms of selling books, King is one of the most successful of living authors. All of which means, if he's going to talk about writing and the writing life, I'm going to listen. As it was--and I have a shelf full of books on writing, this is my favorite, the one I find the most valuable.

One of the things King said that resonated with me was this:

I'm convinced fear is at the root of most bad writing.

That was in a passage against loading dialogues with book-saids. ("said" is transparent, things like "he ejaculated" and "she retorted" is not.) The reason he felt people often used them, is that writers felt insecure that the dialogue itself wasn't enough to convey information to the reader: fear. But really, that says so much about every kind of writing fault. Writer's block? Fear. Plagiarism. Fear. Overuse of adverbs, adjectives purple prose. Fear.
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LibraryThing member ecw0647
This is a wonderful book that can be enjoyed from several perspectives. For aspiring writers and students of writing, it’s a great handbook; for those who enjoy King’s work, it reveals the background for many of his books; and for those of us who enjoy a good memoir, it’s a treat.

King is
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just as good a reader as he is a writer, and some of the stories of his childhood are just side-splitting. I particularly enjoyed his encounter with poison ivy: rather than walk him home to go to the bathroom, David, his older brother, suggested it would really be cool to go potty just the way the cowboys did and to use with leaves for toilet paper. Stephen needed soda baths for six weeks, and his hands ballooned to the size of elephant ears. It seems he was always being asked to be the test pilot for inventions of his precocious older brother, who was always trying to do things bigger and better than the directions. For a science project, David thought he would make an electromagnet that could lift a railroad car, not just metal filings. He managed to short-circuit an entire subdivision in the process.

They had some of the weirdest babysitters. Eulah-Beulah thought it was fun to leap on to little Stephen’s face and pass gas. “It was like being buried in marsh grass fireworks. I remembered the dark, the sense that I was suffocating, and I remember laughing because while what was happening was sort of terrible, it was also sort of funny. In many ways, Eulah-Beulah prepared me for literary criticism. After having a two-hundred pound babysitter fart on your face and yell “Pow,” the Village Voice has few terrors.”

The memoir part of the book is terrific, a vivid description of his transition from adolescent misfit to popular writer. He was a devotee of horror flicks, and his first stories sold to men’s magazines. His early writing reflected it. "I wanted monsters that ate whole cities, radioactive corpses that came out of the ocean and ate surfers, and girls in black bras who looked like trailer trash." But he read constantly -- he still does and insists that constant reading is a prerequisite for any writer, that anyone who claims not to have time is either lying, in denial, or has his face glued to the tube. He wrote often and soon was raising a family in a trailer. By now he had his teaching degree, but teaching jobs were in short supply. One story, inspired by his stint as a janitor cleaning a high-school girls locker room was rescued from the trash by his wife, who read what he had written and told him he had the beginning of a really good novel. That novel became the best-selling Carrie.

We learn much related to the origin of characters in his books. The kidnapper character in Misery, the mind-possessing monsters in The Tommyknockers, and the haunting of the blocked writer in The Shining symbolized his cocaine and booze addiction. He finally overcame these addictions through the intervention and assistance of his wife and friends.

Always the focus is on writing and the basic “tools” every writer should have: vocabulary, grammar (he’s a big fan of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style), building a sentence, the role of plot (stress character and situation over plot), knowing when to break the rules, and writing tightly with no bullshit. He’s not a fan of adverbs, either.

A recurring theme is honesty. He has no time for would-be censors — and he gets lots of mail from folks complaining about this or that word — because an author must be honest not just to himself in the portrayal of a scene but to the characters themselves. To change “shit” to “sugar” when a character has just smashed his thumb with a hammer would be dishonest, he insists.

Writing this book was interrupted by a horrible accident. King was struck by a van driven by a man who had numerous traffic citations. King had been fond of walking several miles each day along the Maine roads near his house. The accident left him with many broken bones, a lung collapse, and several very painful months of rehabilitation (PT is short for pain and torture). Thankfully, he recovered — he bought the van that the man was driving and had it crushed — and completed this delightful book.
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LibraryThing member BrendanPMyers
If you've ever given any thought to writing fiction (or are simply curious about the process) then this is the book for you. It is perhaps one of the best (and most readable) books on writing ever written.

In this book, King channels the English teacher he once was, and yes, there is much
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discussion straight out of high school English about parts of speech and the correct use of language. But sprinkled throughout are anecdotes galore about his own personal experiences that are simply golden nuggets of knowledge for any aspiring writer.

Another thing fascinating about this book is that he was about halfway through it when he had his horrific pedestrian accident. I remember it being clearly demarcated in the book, where he mentions that it happened to him, but I also recall a distinct change in tone. I remember thinking the person who kept on writing the thing after the accident was not the same person we’d already spent half the book with.

Another great thing about this book is it includes an example of his own work (a short story) from draft all the way through to final product. Again, any aspiring writer of fiction is going to want to learn from the “Master of Horror,” no?

Finally, what made (and still makes) me smile about this book is how he does not, in at least one specific instance, take his own advice. For example, in the book, King claims to be at war against the adverb, telling the aspiring writer, “The adverb is not your friend,” before going on to write this:

I can be a good sport about adverbs, though. Yes I can. With one exception: dialogue attribution. I insist that you use the adverb in dialogue attribution only in the rarest and most special of occasions . . . and not even then, if you can avoid it. Just to make sure we all know what we’re talking about, examine these three sentences:

‘Put it down!’ she shouted.
‘Give it back,’ he pleaded, ‘it’s mine.’
‘Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,’ Utterson said.

In these sentences, shouted, pleaded, and said are verbs of dialogue attribution. Now look at these dubious revisions:

‘Put it down! she shouted menacingly.
‘Give it back,’ he pleaded abjectly, ‘it’s mine.’
‘Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,’ Utterson said contemptuously.

The three latter sentences are all weaker than the three former ones, and most readers will see why immediately.

However, I can't help but notice when reading Stephen King . . . well, let's just look at Chapters 23 and 24 of "The Stand," shall we?

Lloyd responded smartly.
Lloyd said dramatically.
Devins exclaimed suddenly.
Lloyd said righteously.
Lloyd said sulkily.
Devins asked quietly.
Lloyd said unconvincingly.
Lloyd said bleakly.
Lloyd said defensively.
Mathers said sincerely.

In fact (and open any one of King's books to almost any page and you'll see exactly what I mean) it is the rare instance in which King leaves the "said" alone entirely, letting the context of the scene and the character's words alone impart whatever emotion he's trying to get across. (And we wonder why his books are so long.)

Anyway, I've always found that both interesting and amusing. As an aspiring writer myself, who rarely used adverbs in his writing, you know what lesson I took from this book?

Use adverbs . . . at least every once in a while. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, no?
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LibraryThing member figre
I put off buying/reading this book for quite a while. (Evidenced by the fact that the copy I am reviewing is the tenth anniversary edition.) I kept hearing great praise about it from people I truly respected and admired. But I am not big fan of books about how to write. And, while I am perfectly
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fine with Stephen King, he is not on my top ten (or maybe more) of writers I want to run right out and read. Yes, I've read and enjoyed some of his work. But other pieces have left me cold

At this point I must do a quick aside. The first novel of King's that I read was a huge disappointment. I won't share the title; no need to taint your enjoyment. But there was a section that completely turned me off (not because it was gross or vile – a completely different reason that, once again, I won't go into here). And that experience kept me from reading King's work for a very long time. Eventually I got over it and I've enjoyed some of his work (for example, the Dark Tower series) while still being indifferent to others.

So, a lot of obstacles to overcome before I finally broke down and read the book. I can't remember which recommendation it was that finally wore me down, but I decided it was time to see what all the hype was about.

Three small words to share with you: Everyone was right.

What makes this book stand out is that it actually represents a journey.

It starts with his curriculum vitae. Now normal CVs are a page. Instead, King uses it to explore his life. In other words, he uses just over 100 pages to provide an autobiography that does an incredible job of not just telling the story of his life, but telling the story of how one writer became the writer that Stephen King is. The story is warts and all. And it is compelling and interesting. And it truly lays the foundation for the exploration of writing upon which he is about to embark.

Section two is "What Writing Is". In five short pages he provides his thoughts on the idea of "writing". Ultimately, one person trying to convey concepts to a second one in the most durable form we have – the written word.

Section three: "The Toolbox". Yes, King finally gets to the nitty-gritty of writing. This can often be the most boring subject any writer tackles – words, grammmar, etc. Again, King does a great job of explaining the necessity of knowing the basics while keeping the reader entertained.

In section four, King finally gets to the title of the book: "On Writing". This covers a lot – his philosophy, his style, his approaches. And this is where the foundation of his CV becomes so important. King is only able to tell what works for him. Yes, there are some things everyone must consider. But he shows how his life has led to the way he writes, and how the life every author lives is reflected in their ability to convey thoughts through messages on paper.

And, just when you thought it was all over, the journey continues to an interesting end with the section "On Living: A Postscript." As King was writing this book, he experienced the accident that almost killed him. It is easy to see how, when your life has almost been taken, a book like this might take a back seat. And yet, his completion of the book is exactly the imprint needed to sell everything he has said before.

Others have said it. I have said it. I'll say it again. This is an excellent book. It is a must-read (and I never thought I'd say something like that about a book on how to write) for any author. But it is not just for authors. There is a great experience to be had by anyone who reads this book.
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LibraryThing member magemanda
This book is a curious mix of King's memoirs and some of his thoughts on what helps to make a successful writer. It was an odd book for me to pick up, since I have not read a single Stephen King book (a fact of which I'm obscurely proud!) However, I am rather in awe of the fact that he consistently
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churns out best-selling doorstop novels, and I figured he would have interesting things to say about how to write.

I was not wrong at all - he wrote very easily about the dos and, more crucially, the don'ts of writing, and I was fascinated by some of his methods. The idea that he often proceeds into massive novels with no more than a 'what if?' scenario is, frankly, amazing.

The problem was that I ended up far more interested in the memoir aspect of this little book. The snippets of his life - covering humorous escapades with his brother; his fight against alcoholism; and the course his published career took. I would have liked to read far more of this.

In fact, I concur with a number of the other reviewers - this book didn't know whether it was an autobiography or a 'how-to' manual on writing, and suffered as a result. I do think that either could have stood up to being a lengthier book in its own right.

Overall, a neat little look at the craft of a writer, but King does not say anything new and certainly doesn't say anything more enlightening than you can find for free on any decent author's website these days.
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