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Book Review: Stephen King’s On Writing

I thought I would try something new and start reviewing books on a semi regular basis. Talking about books isn’t something new to me, in fact I kind of get paid to do it, but it is quite rare that I actually record my thoughts in words.

I thought it would be fitting to start my review section off with a book about books, authors and writing fiction. Stephen King’s On Writing is part memoir, and part guide to writing fiction. King takes us from his earliest memories and the events that nurtured his love of writing, to the accident which left him broken and near death. Along the way he spends a lot of time talking about his love of fiction, and the craft of writing, and dispenses much of his knowledge of the subject in hopes of making the reader a better writer.

Stephen King may have received a fair amount of criticism for his work, but it’s clear after reading On Writing that he is a man who is deeply committed to his craft, and is very well read. His best piece of advice to those who wish to become successful writers is to read a lot, and write a lot. He suggests that all writers require a “toolbox” with many levels of different tools.

“Common tools go on top. The commonest of all, the bread of writing, is vocabulary. In this case, you can happily pack what you have without the slightest bit of guilt and inferiority. As the whore said to the bashful sailor, “It ain’t how much you’ve got, honey, it’s how you use it.”

He also suggest your toolbox should contain an understanding of grammar and the elements of style (see William Strunk) and although this part of the book may sound extremely dry, it is in actuality one of the most interesting, and most informative sections of On Writing. To be completely honest, I believe that I learned more from this short chapter than from an entire semester of highschool english. Even my advanced English Literature classes didn’t go into as much depth about the basic components of good writing. Although I have very little interest in writing full length narrative fiction, I will certainly remember what King says when I read something where the author relies to heavily on the passive tense or an abundance of adverbs.

What makes On Writing so interesting is King’s vast knowledge of fiction. When he says that you must read to be a good writer, he takes this seriously. Not only does he reference certain classics, but he is constantly making reference to current popular fiction as well, and doesn’t shy away from pointing fingers at lazy or sloppy writing, even when his finger might be pointing in his own direction.

The biographical part of On Writing is equally as interesting. King’s tales of his youth shed light on why he writes the type of stories that he is known for.  It’s also interesting to hear from an author who at one point relied heavily on alcohol and cocaine, but now claims to be free of such vices, and realizes they were never essential to the writing process as so many writers claim.

I can’t recommend On Writing enough for anyone who is either interested in writing fiction, or just interested in reading about an interesting and successful writer.

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One Response to “Book Review: Stephen King’s On Writing”

  1. I also found King’s book not only helpful but quite funny at times. I don’t like King’s novels, but On Writing helped me become a published author. Thanks for the reminder from us at http://www.bentpage.wordpress.com.


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