Book Review: On Writing (Stephen King)

Worksheet from Martha Alderson’s “Plot Whisperer” workshop with Jordan Rosenfeld: Writer Path.

You’d think I had other things to do, but I just reread this how-to and wanted to share some thoughts while they were still fresh in my mind. I’m a great re-reader of books (see last Monday’s blog), and needed a kick in the pants this month to get me back on track with my revisions. Herewith, my review of SK’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

Stephen King began writing his book on the craft of writing to delve into the language and show fledgling writers something about how it’s done, or how he does it, anyway. Midway through the manuscript, he was gravely injured in a well-publicized accident and almost died. That experience shapes the rest of the book and gives the ultimate section of On Writing a particularly poignant tone. This section was serialized in The New Yorker, and those who haven’t read it already may turn directly to it with good cause: King’s story is powerful personal drama. But turn back to the beginning for an equally powerful, if much lighter, look into King’s development as a writer.

In the first section, “C.V,” King mines his memory for early glimpses of the evolving writer, in hilarious tidbits. King is not the pop-horror hack that many of his critics claim him to be; in On Writing, King is on his game: intelligent, bluntly honest, profanely funny. He tells how he came to succeed as a writer and what mistakes he’s made along the way, including an alcohol and drug problem that nearly cost him his marriage. In the center section, “Toolbox,” King gives the nuts, bolts, and how-tos of writing, none of which are unexpected nor too revelatory. His advice is mostly practical: “Avoid bullshit,” he says, among other bons mots. As a how-to-write book, you could do worse, or better, than this one. As a peek into the King psyche and wit, On Writing is a must-read.

* * *

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

by Stephen King
Scribner 2000
$25.00 288 pages
ISBN 0-684-85352-3


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7 Replies to “Book Review: On Writing (Stephen King)”

  1. I love this book. I loved seeing that behind it all, there is a normal, flawed man, who struggles the way the rest of us do. This was the first writing advice book I ever read, and much of what he said was new for me, while other things he said confirmed instincts I had. I’ve reread it at least three times, and I treasure it. 🙂

    1. Funny but I used to dread and loathe Stephen King. I only picked up the book as a review assignment many years ago. But it turned out to have some of the best advice. I have a much greater appreciation for SK now.

  2. I used to devour his books when I was younger. At some point I stopped reading them as they came out, but then I’d pick one up every now and then. given that this is the second time I’ve heard this book mentioned by another writer in a week, I think I may have to pick it up, just as soon as I make yet another attempt at reading Infinite Jest.

  3. I’m afraid of reading his books, but this isn’t the first time I’ve heard good things about On Writing. Okay, all I remember hearing is “It’s good.” Now I have a little insight into why it’s good, thanks to you, I think I’ll pick it up and read it. Thanks.

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