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Long live the King hailed Entertainment Weekly upon the 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 toldback cover


10 thoughts on “On Writing

  1. says:

    ”Writing isn’t about making money getting famous getting dates getting laid or making friends In the end it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work and enriching your own life as well It’s about getting up getting well and getting over Getting happy okay? Getting happy”I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to over my lifetime who wanted to write a book Most didn’t know what they wanted to write about but some of them wanted to write their autobiography because their life had been so thrilling I think my life has been reasonably boring and it usually turns out that my life has been ten times exciting than theirs When situations like this happen to me it is usually mildly amusing but it can uickly turn to sneering when the person reveals to me that they don’t have time to read or don’t really like to read Don’t talk to me about writing a book if you don’t read Don’t talk to me about NOT having time to read What does Stephen King have to say about this?”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 those two things”Now why would someone not want to read? Maybe it depends on when they were born ”But TV came relatively late to the King household and I’m glad I am when you stop to think of it a member of a fairly select group the final handful of American novelists who learned to read and write before they learned to eat a daily helping of video bullshit”Now someone needs to wrap me in cellophane and stand me up in a museum because I’m probably one of the youngest members of that elite group I grew up on a farm in the middle of bumfrilling Kansas where a twenty foot antenna could only pull in three TV channels and one of those channels rolled most of the time TV had no real impact on my life until I left home at the age of 18 and moved to Phoenix Thank ZeusNow I have young wannabe writers writing me from all over the world sending me links to “hilarious” YouTube videos or they talk to me about binging all weekend on a Netflix show They are completely enad with spoon fed entertainment and what they find funny is to me like paddling around in the kiddy pool of humor in the book world I wonder why I’m so grumpy”A novel like The Grapes of Wrath may fill a new writer with feelings of despair and good old fashioned jealousy ’I’ll never be able to write anything that good not if I live to be a thousand’ but such feelings can also serve as a spur goading the writer to work harder and aim higher”I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt that way Whenever I read a wonderful book like The Great Gatsby or meet a character like Atticus Finch I fall on my bed and stare at the ceiling and think why am I harboring any thoughts that I can write a novel? My problem of course is that I don’t want to just write a novel I want to write a fantastic novel I don’t want to just entertain people; I want them to feel the socks ripped off their feet and have them floating around in the air around their head when they read my novel Stephen King will go into a time when he was struggling with alcohol and using drugs or should I say abusing drugs He will tell you all about the accident that nearly ended his life which happened while he was writing this book He will talk about trials and tribulations He will recommend books There is a whole list of modern books in the back of this book that impressed the hell out of him and impacted his writing The point is of course that even though he is probably the most famous writer on the planet he is still learning still enjoying reading and still writing every day I take a book everywhere I go I take a book with me to work every day and read a page or two while my computer is booting up I have a book with me all the time because I never know when I will be sitting in road work or waiting on a doctor or gleefully reading in the glow of my flashlight beam on the pages of my book waiting for the power to come back on at work I live to read I live to write I fornicate somewhere in the middle This has been one of the most inspiring books about writing I’ve ever read King talked about examples of the work ethics of writers but the one that resonated with me the most was Anthony Trollope He used to write EXACTLY for two and half hours every day before going to the post office If his writing time was up he would stop in the middle of a sentence and head to work If he finished a novel fifteen minutes before his time was up he wrote THE END and started immediately into his next novel It brought tears to my eyes because that is what it means to be a writerdedication to the craft If you want to get rich go be a frilling stock broker If you want to write then turn the suawk box off and search for those buried fossils in the words swimming around in your head King calls good ideas fossils For me writing is like when Michelangelo used to lay his head on a block of marble and listened to the voices in the stone that wanted to be freed All you have to do is chisel those characters free and give them life If you wish to see of my most recent book and movie reviews visit also have a Facebook blogger page at


  2. says:

    A 87% | Extraordinary Notes The first novel length book I'd ever finished over the span of one day Done over two sittings with a nap in between


  3. says:

    Let's be honest Stephen King is not one of the greatest writers of all time He will never win a Pulitzer or a Nobel he might win a Newberry though if he ever decides to tap into the KidsYoung Adult market and on the few times his books are featured in the New York Times Book Review the reviewer will treat the book with a sort of haughty disdain knowing their time could be better spent trashing Joyce Carol Oates None of this should suggest however that King is not ualified to write a book about how to write Sure he churns out pulpy horror stories that are proudly displayed in airport bookstores but the man knows how to write a good story and he's probably one of the most well known non dead American authors in the world So he must be doing something right I'm not the biggest fan of King's books but I really enjoyed On Writing He talks about writing frankly and practically mixing tried and true pieces of advice fear the adverb never write repliedremarkedmutteredyelled etc when you can write said and don't be afraid to kill off your favorite character with anecdotes about how some of his books came about I especially liked the story behind Carrie King was working as a janitor at a high school and one night he was cleaning the girls' locker room He asked the other janitor what that little metal dispenser box on the wall was and the other man replied that it was for pussy pluggers At the same time King had been reading about how psychic abilities often manifest in girls just beginning to go through puberty He combined the two ideas and wrote out a couple pages that would turn into the opening of Carrie if you haven't read it you should Many thanks to King's wife who rescued the pages from the wastebasket after King first decided that the idea was stupid and threw them away So in conclusion even if you aren't a fan of Stephen King's work he has some very good advice about writing and storytelling plus some good stories of his own Sure you can call him a sellout But I like him Also he once said in an interview that Stephenie Meyer can't write worth a darn You stay classy Mr King


  4. says:

    There's this magic thing that happens sometimes I can't wait to reread a book I haven't even finished yet It's a rare feeling but one that happens whenever I'm in the midst of a new favourite book I'm reading these amazing scenes freaking out over fantastic passages and already looking forward to the second time I'll read them when they'll be even clearer and start to feel familiarIt's a rare occurrence it only happens a few times a year but it happened with On Writing The moment it started I knew I would be flipping through it for the rest of my life It's that moment where you find a new favourite bookIf you care about writing at all if you want to be a writer or are fascinated by the world of writing I absolutely recommend this gem


  5. says:

    I know it's like saying puppies are cute but it bears repeating everyone who wants to write whether for a living or not simply must read this book On Writing did for me as a writer than anything and any success I've found as a storyteller can be traced to my reading it


  6. says:

    So it's become very clear to me now that very few writers actually write about the craft The only Latin American writer to do so? Mario Vargas Llosa who took several years off of his busy novel writing to write about his now ex pal Gabriel Garcia Maruez But I suddenly forgot who the King was no I mean literally I've not read him in years High school being the prime time for Stephen King all the guy has useful insight no shit because he is not only prolific uber successful he got 400000 for his first novel “Carrie” but because let’s all admit it he’s pretty damn good Maybe prose is not the forte per se but story sure is think of how many times he has tapped the vein of the zeitgeist to produce visceral emblematic and modern monsters It's interesting to compare this with the only other non fiction I’ve read of late “The Perpetual Orgy” “Letters to a Young Novelist” by the already mentioned Peruvian auteur They both Vargas Llosa and King tell us to seriously commit to writing to write write write write WRITE but even splendidly they endorse heavy reading duh I love Stephen King uotes like this little morsel of truth “If you don’t have the time to read you don’t have the time or the tools to write” Take that non reading punks verging perilously close to ignoramuses Let me recall some of the stuff I’ve learned the rest has been absorbed as if by osmosis 1 rewrite at least two times once the novel has been completed 2 write read for at least 5 hours every single day 3 IMPORTANT look for an editor they are eager for new talent King says 4 VERY IMPORTANT begin a serious submitting process L Williford has always emphasized the importance of this 5 write solely to your IR Ideal Reader it's all super helpful Perhaps the “Toolbox” section is its weakest part inversely MVL’s bag of tricks is on glorious display in “Letters” though he never mentions the publishing process like King does going over rudimentary English is I am forced to admit uite lame But King does seem enthusiastic throughout as only the best teachers are in the classroom—his tone is one of slight optimism for the developing novelist He cheers you on THE Stephen King Bottom line INVALUABLE stuff a few awesome for the fans confessional tidbits some golly good pointers


  7. says:

    On Writing A Memoir of the Craft Superb absolutely superb I've listened to Stephen King read his audio book three times I can't recommend highly enough Since I'm on the cusp of posting 1000 reviews here on Goodreads I'd like to share my own thoughts on writing book reviews and link my reflections with Stephen King's wisdom on the craft of writing “You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you” I recall back when I was in my 20s and 30s reading book reviews in the New York Times and Philadelphia Inuirer and thinking oh if I only had the opportunity to write book reviews I so much love book reviews I was truly swept away by well crafted book reviewsOf course with and now Goodreads all that has changed Eight years ago I seized the opportunity to write online book reviews I instantly fell in love with writing book reviews and made the commitment back then to post two book reviews a week Anyway I honed the craft of writing book reviews by writing and multiple rewrites until I took great joy in reading my own reviews This to say Stephen King is so right here work away until your writing gives YOU joy to read That way your writing stands a better chance of giving pleasure to others “I'm a slow reader but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year most fiction I don't read in order to study the craft; I read because I like to read” The key here is LOVE reading books Like Stephen I'm a slow reader but as a dedicated book reviewer I read lots of books every year And like Stephen I enjoy listening to audio books Fortunately I have two abilities that help greatly as a book reviewer 1 I can easily become absorbed in a book especially a novel really absorbed as if I'm living heart and mind in the unfolding story and 2 both my short term and long term memory are excellent for fiction I can remember the details of the novels I've read 50 years ago as if I read them yesterday an ability that comes in mighty handy when writing reviews “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” So true Stephen I so much look forward to writing when I wake up in the morning understatement And I've built up my endurance to the point where I have no problem writing 2 or 3 or 4 or even 5 or 6 hours at a time For me it's not a job grinding it out but rather a continual joy I echo South American author Fernando Sorrentino who said he would never let writing become a job “To write is human to edit is divine” Spot on sir The key is to take delight in revisiting your writing again and again reading it aloud to make sure the rhythms are smooth not clunky the ear has it all over the eye when it comes to judging rhythm When I first began writing book reviews here's what I did I wrote out great book reviews written by such authors as John Updike Michiko Kakutani and James Wood just to get the feel for what it's like to write a great review I also used a digital device to record their reviews and I listened while taking my walks After a few months I recorded my own book reviews alternating with the great writers until I was satisfied with my writing my rhythm vocabulary use of examples and metaphor “Your job isn't to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up” For a book reviewer this means to be keenly aware of the book you are reading Underline passages as you read take notes read some of the book aloud to get a deeper feel for the author's voice reread pages or chapters or sections you feel are particularly important so as not to miss the subtleties of character the nuances of atmosphere along with the author's overall vision “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can your days as a member of polite society are numbered” If others think you a bookworm or egghead or oddball or goofball I've freuently been judged all of these that's their issue not yours If possible avoid people who discourage you from reading andor writing Cultivate solitude become your own best friend make books your friends make authors your friends let the creative act of reading and writing become a shining polestar in your life“The scariest moment is always just before you start” I think Stephen is thinking of those who want to write a short story or most particularly those who set out or are in the process of writing a novel For me there are no scary moments in the process of writing book reviews not at the start not at the end or anything in between So saying I'll post this review


  8. says:

    I read this shortly after finishing NaNoWriMo National Novel Writing Month this year actually it would be accurate to say I devoured it This is full of great writing advice and I'll need to get a copy and read it 1 2 times a year Most helpful? The section on grammar Seriously I never really learned grammarGould said something else that was interesting on the day I turned in my first two pieces write with the door closed rewrite with the door open Your stuff starts out being just for you in other words but then it goes out Once you know what the story is and get it right as right as you can anyway it belongs to anyone who wants to read itThe writer's original perception of a character or characters may be erroneous as the reader's Running a close second was the realization that stopping a piece of work just because it's hard either emotionally or imaginatively is a bad idea Sometimes you have to go on when you don't feel like it and sometimes you're doing good work when it feels like all you're managing is to shovel shit from a sitting positionYou can approach the act of writing with nervousness excitement hopefulness or even despair the sense that you can never completely put on the page what's in your mind and heart You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed ready to kick ass and take down names You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world Come to it any way but lightlyThe object of fiction isn't grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story Writing is seduction Good talk is part of seductionOnce I start work on a project I don't stop and I don't slow down unless I absolutely have to If I don't write every day the characters begin to stale off in my mind they begin to seem like characters instead of real people The tale's narrative cutting edge starts to rust and I begin to lose my hold on the story's plot and pace Worst of all the excitement of spinning something new begins to fade The work starts to feel like work and for most writers that is the smooch of deathIf I have to tell you I lose If on the other hand I can show you a silent dirty haired woman who compulsively gobbles cake and candy then have you draw the conclusion that Annie is in the depressive part of a manic depressive cycle I win And if I am able even briefly to give you a Wilkes' eye view of the world if I can make you understand her madness then perhaps I can make her someone you sympathize with or even identify with The result? She's frightening than ever because she's close to realWhat you should probably be doing is writing as fast as the Gingerbread Man runs getting that first draft down on paper while the shape of the fossil is still bright and clear in your mindThe scariest moment is always just before you start After that things can only get betterWriting is magic as much the water of life as any other creative art The water is free So drink Drink and be filled upReading is the creative center of a writer's life


  9. says:

    The book is great and if you like writing it is probably a must readI could write a summary of the book it is easy enough to summarize and there are only a few important points that King presents but then I dont want you to get it for free Go and read the book yourself it is worth it Rude? As King says if you expect to succeed as a writer rudeness should be the second to least of your concerns The least of all should be polite society and what it expects If you intend to write as truthfully as you can your days as a member of polite society are numbered anyway Here is are a few excerpts from the book that might inspire you to take my advice 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 shortcutI’m a slow reader but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year mostly fiction I don’t read in order to study the craft; I read because I like to read It’s what I do at night kicked back in my blue chair Similarly I don’t read fiction to study the art of fiction but simply because I like stories Yet there is a learning process going on Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons and uite often the bad books have to teach than the good onesIt’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little or not at all in some cases should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written but I know it’s true If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me heshe wanted to become a writer but “didn’t have time to read” I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read you don’t have the time or the tools to write Simple as thatThe trick is to teach yourself to read in small sips as well as in long swallowsTalent renders the whole idea of rehearsal meaningless; when you find something at which you are talented you do it whatever it is until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head Even when no one is listeningor reading or watching every outing is a bravura performance because you as the creator are happy Perhaps even ecstatic That goes for reading and writing as well as for playing a musical instrument hitting a baseball or running the four forty The sort of strenuous reading and writing program I advocate—four to six hours a day every day—will not seem strenuous if you really enjoy doing these things and have an aptitude for them; in fact you may be following such a program already If you feel you need permission to do all the reading and writing your little heart desires however consider it hereby granted by yours trulyI love this book because it agrees with all my preconceptions Feels nice to be on the right track It is also uite inspiring when it comes to kicking you into putting on your writing capI couldn't resist putting in this anecdote about James Joyce as wellOne of my favorite stories on the subject—probably myth than truth—concerns James Joyce According to the story a friend came to visit him one day and found the great man sprawled across his writing desk in a posture of utter despair“James what’s wrong?” the friend asked “Is it the work?”Joyce indicated assent without even raising his head to look at the friend Of course it was the work; isn’t it always?“How many words did you get today?” the friend pursuedJoyce still in despair still sprawled facedown on his desk“Seven”“Seven? But James that’s good at least for you”“Yes” Joyce said finally looking up “I suppose it is but I don’t know what order they go in”Of course the book is not intended just as a writing manual Even if you never intend to write the memoir is a wonderful graphic tale on King's life and like all his stories it does not lack in imagination or entertainmentMeanwhile let me get down to some actual writing


  10. says:

    Like the curate’s egg this is good in parts I can see why writers and budding writers find this book inspirational and fans of his oeuvre will enjoy learning how certain stories came to be But it’s several very different books and booklets within a single set of covers curious that a book about writing doesn't seem to know what sort of a book it isIn one of the three forewords King says “ Most books about writing are filled with bullshit” I found a fair bit here too But I also found good things including a passionate passage about books being a sort of telepathy culminating with the delicious “ Books are a uniuely portable magic”This book isn’t about how to write in general it’s about how to write like Stephen King and for that it may be excellent1 CV 4 memoir 118 pages or 33% of the bookThis is a charming scattering of snapshots of King’s childhood and snippets of adulthood and advice; the CV of how one writer was formed I enjoyed a peek into ordinary 1950s small town USA He points out that he is one of the final handful of American novelists who learned to read and write before they learned to eat a daily helping of video bullshit He was 11 when the family got their first TVHe missed most of first grade because of ear related health problems so retreated into comic books and writing stories in a similar vein His mother always encouraged him and the importance of encouragement is the strongest message of the book Conversely a teacher criticised him for wasting his talent writing junk and King remained ashamed of what he wrote until his forties The “junk” was a novelisation of the film of The Pit and the Pendulum which he’d been selling at school – unaware that it was originally a short story by PoeHis wife Tabitha also gets much credit her belief in his ability and her conseuent encouragement even when they could barely pay the bills They have much in common but “ What ties us most strongly are the words the language and the work of our lives”The other key message is that there is no repository of great story ideas They come from nowhere The writer has to spot recognise and polish them and King gives examples of how he came upon the seeds of many of his stories King points out that even the author’s perception of his characters may be wrong I don’t disagree and it may be related to his not realising that he was writing about himself when he penned Jack in The Shining But in a foreword he makes a extreme generalisation “ The editor is always right” An interesting case study is to compare Raymond Carver’s short story collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love in their originally published and heavily edited form with his originals now published under the title Beginners Sometimes I think the editor was right but in several cases I prefer Carver’s version I’ve explored the differences a little in my reviews HERE and HERE respectively2 Toolbox 1 grammar etc 34 pages“ Writing is seduction” Not necessarily Reading this short section the only thing that prevented me from throwing the book across the room was that it was borrowed from a friend It does what most prescriptive guides do conflates stylistic preference with grammatical rules and makes sweeping generalisations such as “ the best form of dialogue attribution is ‘said’” largely ignoring the paramount importance of context and audience It’s easy to teach and test rules but serious writers need to cultivate an intuitive feel for language in a variety of styles rather than being bogged down analysing parts of speechKing taught grammar but gives examples of Tom Swifties that aren't and keeps talking about the passive tense though later correctly says passive voice He decries it using ludicrous unidiomatic examples “My first kiss will always be recalled by me” He decries adverbs by using a convoluted passive they “seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind” and an adverb saying writers use them when not expressing themselves “clearly” and says both passives and adverbs are the resort of timid writers He claims “ The road to hell is paved with adverbs” One is OK but they’re like dandelions prone to multiply In section 3 he berates pronouns too using a pronoun “ I hate and mistrust pronouns every one of them as slippery as a fly by night personal injury lawyer”” Why?Strunk and White’s infamous rule 17 “Omit needless words” is lauded It’s hard to disagree with but it’s no help with discerning which words might be needlessKing says this section is short because readers probably know enough grammar already but he then agrees with Strunk and White that if readers don’t “It’s too late” So much for encouraging timid writers And yet many find this book helpful I’m pleased for them but a little surprised There are some good points He stresses the importance of an extensive vocabulary and says it should be acuired through reading widely rather than conscious effort He describes paragraphs as “maps of intent” and “the basic unit of writing” rather than sentences And there is a nod to context negating much of what precedes it “ Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace up shoes” Amen to that3 On Writing 3 how he writes 143 pages or 40%And suddenly it’s back to memoir ish but with focus on the process of writing and a smattering of prescriptive absolutes and empty homilies alongside fascinating insights and ideas King promises “ Everything I know about how to write good fiction” along with encouragement but with the caveat that you can’t make a bad writer a competent one or a good writer great but you can make a competent writer good as long as they master the basics in the previous section vocabulary grammar and style King stresses the importance and joy of reading in all and any situations developing “ an ease and intimacy with the process of writing”But for writing itself he says you need good health though poor health was what got him started and he was successful when a heavy drinking alcoholic a stable relationship don’t many great writers emerge from the opposite? strict routine and your own space no distractions and a door to close “ Put your desk in the corner Life isn’t a support system for art It’s the other way round”“ Good fiction always begins with story and progresses to theme Starting with the uestions and thematic concerns is a recipe for bad fiction” The ideas about story and plot were fascinating and liberating in stark contrast with the straitjacket of the previous section You need a concrete goal but “ Don’t wait for the muse” and “ Write what you know” He lists only three components of a story narrative description and dialogue Don’t worry about plot because our lives are plotless “ Stories are found things like fossils” and the writer has to give them somewhere to grow fossils growing? thus “ My books tend to be based on situation rather than story The situation comes first The characters come next” Then there’s narration and he lets the characters figure things out – not always as he expected Ultimately “ The story should always be the boss” The story not the plot “ Plot is the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice” And “ There’s a huge difference between story and plot Story is honorable and trustworthy; plot is shifty and best kept under house arrest” Huh? Fortunately Bryce came to the rescue in the second comment on her review herePlot is a series of events But story is about the motivations behind those eventsHer example is that plot is The king died and then the ueen diedThe story is The king died and then the ueen died of griefWhen you’ve finished the first draft which you should never show anyone else for comment you have to step back to see the wood for the trees and figure out what the book is about Work on a second draft then take a break and let someone else review that “ Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story” but you must beware of over describing “ Description begins in the writer’s imagination but should finish in the reader’s” That sounds wise and wonderful but I’m unsure how to apply it Still less “ The use of simile and other figurative language is one of the chief delights of fiction” when you’re supposed to be hunting down adverbs pronouns and other allegedly needless words “ It’s not about the setting it’s always about the story” Absolutely always? I think not So many of my favourite works of fiction are about the setting that I have shelves called Landscape Protagonist and Sea Islands Coast “ One of the cardinal rules of good fiction is never to tell us a thing if you can show us” Never? Again it’s the absolutism I object to And then relax “ Try any goddam thing you like If it works fine If it doesn’t toss it Toss it even if you love it” Hooray 4 On Living 3 surviving a life threatening accident 22 pagesThis is a moving addition to recent editions and briefer versions have been published separately King writes of when he was out walking in 1999 and was hit by a driver who could have been from one of his books It recounts his serious injuries multiple operations and slow recovery “ Writing didn’t save my live but it makes my life a brighter pleasant place”5 And Further 3 annotated example of first and second draftsThis has a very short story that King invites readers to edit It is followed by an annotated version with explanations of the suggestions Most of them are cuts back to “Omit needless words” King reckons editing should trim at least 10% The other key thing is follow through “ If there’s a gun on the mantel in Act I it must go off in Act III” otherwise it will be either pointless or a deus ex machina See Checkov’s Gun6 Booklists 3 books to read mostly fictionThere are two fiction booklists mostly novels but a few short story collections It’s a varied mix of classics and modern highbrow and less so King’s firstmain list Notes I tried to read this with an open mind I was bored by the only other King I've read The Shining my review HERE and I generally abhor the narrow prescriptivism of How to write guides Most of it defied my fears – except for the grammar stylistic advice But what do I know? I’m not a published author let alone one as successful as Stephen King For a strident critiue of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style beloved of many US students and largely unknown in the UK see Prof Geoff Pullum on Elements of StyleImage source for classic Punch cartoon “The Curate’s egg”