On Writing by Stephen King

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I finished On Writing by Stephen King about a week ago, and every day since I’ve found myself coming back to the things he wrote – whether it be thinking about his awful car accident, marvelling at the sheer volume of books he’s written or slapping my wrist when I use an adverb unnecessarily (which, I think I just did).

If you fancy being a writer and you haven’t read this book, I strongly urge you to do so. I know there’s a million ‘how to write’ books out there, and choosing one that will be helpful can be hard, but King’s book is consistently reviewed as being both helpful and a good read.

Personally, I’m not entirely convinced that writing, or at least great writing, can be taught (which is equal parts depressing and devastating) and, to a point, King agrees: “…while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible…to make a good writer out of a merely competent one”. In other words, if you’re a crap writer, you’ll always be crap, but if you are an ok writer, it’s possible, if you work your ass off, that you can be a little bit better than ok. I guess the only issue with this is, how do you know if you’re crap or just ok, and isn’t it all subjective anyway? If being in a book club has taught me anything it’s that two people can read the same book but have completely different opinions about how good the writing is – so who decides what’s good and what’s bad? Anyway, where was I?

The book is divided into three parts: memoir, writing tips and the story of the horrific accident he had while writing this book. I think this structure really works, because the memoir give context, and justification I guess you could say, to the writing tips (not that his ridiculous backlist isn’t justification enough).

I found a lot of the writing tips to be helpful and practical (evidenced by the masses of tags in my copy), and it really inspired me to start writing (which I must do one of these days). His writing advice ranges from stern “…avoid the passive tense”” to cautionary “If you write…someone will try to make you feel lousy about it” to big-picture(y) “…put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around”. I think it would be hard to read this book and not find at least one little nugget that speaks to you.

Perhaps the biggest impact this book has had on me, however, is that I’m finally ready to put my scaredy pants away and read a Stephen King novel (is it weird that I read his advice on being a writer before I read any of his novels?). I’d love recommendations on where I should start, but go easy on the horror recs, I like to sleep well at night.

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Categories: Reviews

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6 replies »

  1. I’m not a struggling author but I really enjoyed King’s take on what it is to be a writer. As well as On Writing, I have read Misery, Carrie and 11.22.63. Misery is a good place to start if you are new to his work – it’s a horror novel but is more creepy than scary.

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