Book Review: On Writing by Stephen King

I’ve been hearing On Writing by Stephen King recommended by other writers for quite a while.  I finally sat down and read it–and now I wish I could remember if the people who recommended it were readers of Stephen King.  Because as a non-Stephen King reader, I find that I can wholeheartedly recommend…part of it.

On Writing is sub-titled “A Memoir of the Craft,” and that “memoir” part should have tipped me off.  The first (pretty sizable) section of the book is Stephen King’s “curriculum vitae,” describing the events in his life that influenced his writing.  This would probably be fascinating…if I had read any of his writing (well, I’ve read one novella, because they turned it into a Johnny Depp movie…)

So if you’re a Stephen King fan, you’d probably like this first section.  If, like me, you’re not…well, it’s perfectly well-written and not a bad narrative…but I still skipped half of it.  Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Stephen King–he just doesn’t write the kind of books I read, and I came to this book looking for writing insights, not his autobiography.

The next section was titled “The Toolbox” which had a nice analogy about building your basic skills as a writer…but was also fairly basic, along the lines of read a lot and learn grammar.  I think this was also the section where he talked about the importance of devoting large amounts of time to both reading and writing–along the order of 4-6 hours a day.  And without any acknowledgment that most of us have to pay bills and can’t do it (right now) by writing.  His description of his typical day as someone who writes for a living?  Not helpful.

Happily, the next section, also called “On Writing,” turned things around.  This was where he got into things like situation vs. plot, developing themes, the actual process of writing a draft, the value of feedback (and at what point in the process it makes sense…)  I thought he was a little focused on what works for him without acknowledging that not all writers work the same way–but that note aside, there was a lot that was interesting and potentially helpful.  This section, about 110 pages out of the total 290, I recommend for writers whether you read Stephen King or not.

This section also contained this quote: “If there is any one thing I love about writing more than the rest, it’s that sudden flash of insight when you see how everything connects.”  Which made me think me too, and get out a sticky note to flag the page.  It also did more to make me feel I knew Stephen King than the entire (well, what I read of it) curriculum vitae/memoir section did.  Which, in fact, is an interesting writing lesson right there.

After “On Writing,” we went back to a section that was memoir-like except about the present-day of writing the book, and again…not what I came to this book for.

So!  If you like Stephen King’s books and are interested in his life, I recommend On Writing.  If you’re a writer who’s not all that interested in King but want to know what he has to say about writing, I recommend “On Writing.”

Other reviews:
James Reads Books
Blogs-of-a-Bookaholic (a non-King fan who loved the book, so go figure!)
Long River Review
Anyone else?

Buy it here: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

5 thoughts on “Book Review: On Writing by Stephen King

  1. As an aside, if this has made you more interested in Stephen King’s works, I’d recommend The Green Mile. It’s not really a horror or what you’d think of when you think “Stephen King.” It’s sort of a mystery that has a bit of fantasy to it. There is some gruesomeness to it, but it’s a pretty good story.

    I actually have found that I like the Stephen King books I’ve read. Though I haven’t read any actual… scary horror ones.

  2. That’s good to know about the first part, because I have a copy of this I’ve been meaning to read a while! Now I know to just skip to the “On Writing” part; thanks!

  3. I really enjoyed this, but while I have an interest in writing I mainly read this to find out more about King. While I haven’t been brave enough to read, what I call, his proper horror. I have read and really enjoyed his dark fantasy series The Dark Tower. It’s a shame this wasn’t quite what you were looking for but pleased you found the last section useful.

  4. dianem57

    Good warning about this book. Guess the sub-title should tip off the reader as to what it’s all about, but maybe not, either since it’s “A Memoir of the CRAFT” which could be taken as more of a technical work than an autobiography. Glad to hear he made it worthwhile for you by the end.

  5. Thanks for the link back! Sorry to hear you were a bit disappointed with this. I went in with exactly 0 expectations. I knew that a lot of people loved this book, but had never read a book on writing that I didn’t feel seething hatred towards due to the arrogance of the writers, so King’s style felt like a breath of fresh air to me and I was so glad it wasn’t pretentious! Also my grammar and writing knowledge is pretty basic, so I found all of his points really useful (except for the obvious read a lot and write a lot), but mostly, I loved this because it left me buzzing and feeling inspired, but I also found his life story and his writing habits interesting too. 🙂

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