On Writing by Stephen King – Review

on writingI debated whether or not the world needed another review of Stephen King’s famous book on the craft of writing but since many of my followers expressed an interest in hearing my thoughts on the book I assume it would be no harm to give my own two cents here.

The book is split into two sections – a memoir of key events in his life that he feels shaped him as a writer and a guidebook on the writing process garnered from things he has learned throughout his career. I’ll admit that I read the memoir section, rather quickly, in one afternoon. I’m sure it will be a pleasure to read for King fans but I really wanted read his thoughts on writing and not about his life as such. That said there are some great anecdotes here about how he struggled to both write, hold down day jobs and take care of his growing family; about how Carrie nearly ended up in the bin; and how he dealt with the onslaught of rejection letters from magazines, journals and agents.  There are darker moments too as he describes his battle with alcoholism, which he discusses head on and makes no excuses for – an admirable quality in King I feel.

The second half of the book is the more interesting as he offers up morsels of insight on how he does it.  He’s smart enough not to lay down any particular dogma describing how one must write, but rather demonstrates what has worked for him and what might work well for others.  In fact there is only one ‘rule’ that King offers, namely that in order to be a writer one must read a lot and one must write a lot.  Frankly, I can’t see how this one can be debated. If you don’t have a passion for the thing that is the creative writing process then you have no business doing it. It’s akin to wanting to be a famous tennis player but having no love for tennis.

In some respects I think this book has been the victim of its own success.  Much of the advice he offers I (and I presume many other writers) already knew – such as it doesn’t matter where you write so long as it’s a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed; try to use the active rather than the passive voice; write first, edit later; and so on.  However, to offer this as a criticism is to do the book a disservice.  Just about anyone who has ever expressed an interest in creative writing has heard about the book and it has been torn apart for soundbites by as many vlogs, blogs and other ‘on writing’ articles in the 14 years since it was published.

That said, On Writing remains a very worthwhile read because he uses examples from his own experience to illustrate exactly the value of the advice he offers. While, I never unquestioningly follow anyone’s writing advice, I am always interested to see how it reflects my own experience and remain open to improvements I can make to my own process.  On Writing gives me much food for thought.  For this alone, I understand why it is so widely recommend as a text for writers and, as I type, I find myself recommending it to you too.


2 Comment

  1. Thanks for the review – I have had this one sitting on my shelf for a while but haven’t gotten around to reading it. I haven’t read anything else by King, so was thinking I should probably read one of his novels before I think about taking his advice 😉

    1. thenovelprojectchronicle says: Reply

      I think your instincts are right. I’ve read some of his novels, some of them great, some of them not so great but his writing style really shows in his advice. He seems to be a big believer in plot first, theme second and in pushing the story along at the earliest opportunity. For many writers, particularly genre fiction, this is probably pretty good advice.

      With that in mind reading one or two of his novels I a good idea I reckon 🙂

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