Monday, March 1, 2010

Review: On Writing

I'll say this right up front: I don't particularly enjoy Stephen King's books. Too gory or too long, I usually think. There's only been one of his novels that I liked enough to finish (The Eyes of the Dragon) and its sort of a non-Stephen King, Stephen King novel. I couldn't deny, though, that the man knows what he's talking about when it comes to writing, for shear quantity alone. So when a few people mentioned I should read his memoir/how-to book On Writing, I decided to give it a try. I'm so glad that I did. I really enjoyed this book.

In the first section, King describes his life and how it led him to becoming a writer. Avid fans will enjoy getting to read how King came up with the ideas behind some of his most famous books, including Carrie. He also describes in some detail his addiction to drugs and alcohol. A final section, a coda of sorts, describes his life and how he returned to writing after a brutal accident that nearly killed him.

In the second section of the book, King goes more deeply into how to write. He talks about the tools a writer uses (language, grammar, etc) and gives examples (mostly not his own) of writing styles and successes. The advice was solid and I especially liked the concrete examples King gave of editing his own work. I do think that advice on writing can only go so far (a sentiment King and, I think, most other writers would agree with) and that, in the end, reading about writing may be like listening to music about sex: interesting, educational, but probably won't really make you better at it.

Still, On Writing allowed me to see more clearly how a best-selling author approaches his own work, which was a process I find fascinating. I am certain Stephen King fans will love the inside look at their favorite author. More than that, though, I think other readers will enjoy this book as much as I did.

Buy On Writing on Amazon.

Also, there's an On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition coming out this July. I wonder what new information it will contain.


  1. I'm not a Stephen King fan either, but this sounds like something I might like since I'm a wanna-be author of the next great American novel :) Thanks for such a nice review.

  2. Well said! Your "listening to music about sex" comparison is right on the money. It's also like watching sports on TV - sure, you can pick up a few pointers, but it's no substitute for getting out there and actually practicing!

    I loved King's style in this book - it made it a lot more fun to read than any other book on writing I've ever picked up.

  3. My favorite Stephen King book was...On Writing!

    But I also enjoyed The Green Mile and The Stand. IT, however, gave me nightmares for years. Shouldn't have read it when I was 12 I guess.

  4. I haven't read King's book, but my favorite book about writing is What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. Obviously, its a memoir about running, but since he's a writer, it's also a memoir about being a writer. I also like Triggering Town by Richard Hugo, which are essays about writing poetry. I read more than 15 years ago and I remember it. Elizabeth Alexander, who wrote the inaugural poem, recommended it in a class I took from her. And then there's Strunk & White Elements of Style. Can't be denied.

  5. Thanks for the suggestions, Andrea. I'd like to read the Murakami book sometime (I know how much you enjoyed it).

    Lenore, why I am I not surprised that you, Queen of Dystopian Fiction, enjoyed The Stand? =) I've actually picked it up a few times and just never gotten past the first chapter. Maybe I should give it another try.


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