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On Writing by Stephen King

On Writing

by Stephen King

Other authors: Bertil Knudsen (Translator)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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14,653423262 (4.21)326
Stephen King reflects on how his writing has helped him through difficult times and describes various aspects of the art of writing.

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Showing 1-5 of 407 (next | show all)
I don't care what anyone thinks. Mr. King can write. It's not just my own love for his writing clouding my vision, either. My childhood was taken up reading his novels, so there's a point to be made that I might be biased as a corrupted youth fanboy with an emphasis on boy, but as an adult, I think he can write very well.

His book on writing was nothing like a manual to write; it was personal, insightful, and modest, but more importantly to me, it was honest and interesting.

I had loved the 7th book of the Dark Tower because of how he had drawn his own person into the tale, so I knew about his life-changing accident already. It was no surprise to be reading about it all again, but with a lot more detail. No matter how many novels of his I've read, I always come out of it a bit changed and curious. This book is no different. So what if he's popular? He's very interesting, too. :) ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
Stephen King's On Writing is more than just a book on how to write. It is a memoir and a journal about how he wrote several of his best sellers. It also showcases his keen eye for what makes a good story.
King is in the camp that believes writers are born, at various skill levels. A writer cannot be made of someone who is not born a "writer". Mr. King does believe that the skill can be sharpened, thank goodness.
I found the memoir section engaging. I'm not sure why this surprised me. Each of these little vignettes was a little story of its own. Even though they were non-fiction, they were quite entertaining. He remembered things that had some aspect that was either jarring or gross. Elements that, no doubt, helped shape the direction his writing life would take. I definitely empathize with getting poison ivy in all the wrong places as a kid. I did notice, however, that even Stephen King uses passive voice when describing something, colorful and evocative though it may have been.
Another facet that helped forge the writer King was to become -- his voracious appetite for reading. He experimented with copying form, and the encouragement of his mother was enough to set him on his course. It amazes me that he still remembers the first thing he wrote.
I gleaned a few writing tips from the first part of the book, including turning off the television and learning to recognize ideas when they show up, usually two unrelated ideas that come together. Also, writing a lot, and develop a thick skin. Stephen wrote a ton, and kept submitting stories despite rejection after rejection. He watched a lot of movies and paid attention, soaking up the stories. But any writing endeavor was usually accompanied with a dose of disapproval. Shame from writing "junk," and not living up to his talent, started early in Junior High School. "If you write . . . someone will try to make you feel lousy about it."
John Gould, editor for the "Lisbon Weekly Enterprise," taught Steve a valuable lesson when he had a brief stint as a sports writer. "When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story." Gould's other quote that resonated with King was, "Write with the door closed; rewrite with the door open." He mentions this idea several times throughout the book.
After college, King got a job teaching English. He said that teaching zapped his brain, and writing got hard for the first time in his life. Despite that he kept at it. By then he was married, and living hand-to-mouth in real poverty, but his wife kept encouraging him to write. In discussing the development of his first big money piece, Carrie, he learned that stopping a piece just because it's hard is a bad idea.
King talked about his drug and alcohol addiction. His discussion on mind-altering substances, spoken from someone who knows, is a message that needed to be addressed, lest our young artists fall into the same trap trying to emulate Earnest Hemingway. After getting sober, he came to appreciate his life even more. "Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around."
In the next part of the book he gets down to the nitty gritty about writing. It's chock full of good nuggets of writing wisdom. I've heard the analogy several times but King has a colorful way of describing the idea that writing is like telepathy, across space and time, from the writer's mind to the reader's. He had some concrete ideas on how to go about starting writing. Construct your far-seeing place, your writing cave. Someplace that you can go, away from distraction. Take the craft seriously, and read a lot.
Good writing consists of mastering the fundamentals. Grammar is touched on, but not at length as he felt this is an entry level requirement. Vocabulary should not be dressed up, but honest, direct, and clear. Words are only a representation of meaning, and may fall short, so you need to strive for clarity. Avoid passive verbs and adverbs are not your friend. "The road to hell is paved with adverbs . . . " His favored dialogue attribution is "said." He is a fan of Strunk and White Elements of Style.
King thinks the paragraph is the basic unit of writing, "where coherence begins." The pace should be varied with beat and rhythm. "The object of fiction isn't grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and tell a story. To make them forget they are reading."
Mr. King shared advice about how to go about telling a story. Write about anything as long as you tell the truth. Don't commit intellectual dishonesty in the hunt for the buck. Meaning "write what you like, then imbue it with life, friendships, relationships, sex and work." Write a lot and read a lot. He reads seventy to eighty books a year. Set a daily word goal. He recommended a thousand words a day. He shoots for two thousand. Don't wait for the muse to show up--write six days out of seven. He also listens to music, which he related as another way to "shut the door."
King is a self-confessed pantser and thinks that outlining robs something from creativity. He believes that plotting and spontaneity of real creation aren't compatible. "Story is honorable and trustworthy; plot is shifty, and best kept under house arrest." ( )
  Kardaen | Apr 24, 2020 |
Stephen King mastered great writing a long time ago. He understands storytelling, use of language, how the right word is the only acceptable word rather than the "almost right word. I found myself enjoying the first section of the book, the section about how King himself developed as a writer, and was impressed with his exposition in the second section.
I have no illusions of becoming a writer, but I was interested in how those who have succeeded at it went about doing what they do so successfully. King's normal genre of writing is not one that usually appeals to me, but I do know a good writer when I read one. With the insights King offers in this book about the things he does to achieve his good writing, I have a much better understanding of why I enjoy or am impressed with some books and why other leave me cold or send me away without completing them. In fact, in the last couple of months, I actually wasted time finishing books I did not think were good and also out down without finishing them a couple more. King's description of a writer's work in this book helped me see why those other books were failures for me and why I think they would have the same impact on other people.
I am glad I picked up this book and have recommended it to a friend of mine who actually has managed to publish a couple of things.
  Paul-the-well-read | Apr 18, 2020 |
I read this shortly after it came out but lost my copy. Time to retrieve it! ( )
  drew_asson | Mar 22, 2020 |
Although I have no intention of writing anything other than reviews, I found this book about writing to be interesting and chock full of good information.

The first portion was autobiographical in nature, and that was the part I enjoyed most. Hearing about King's menial jobs and how hard he worked, combined with the drug and alcohol abuse and other obstacles he's overcome, made him seem more real to me, somehow. More like a regular guy.

The parts on writing, even though I'm not an author, were helpful to me as a reader and a reviewer. I know that in the future I will be on the lookout for a few of the common errors mentioned herein.

At the end, King goes into detail about getting hit by that van and boy, is it ever horrific. Even though he wrote Misery long before this incident, when he was talking about it, all I could think about was James Caan's battered legs and Annie Wilkes. In fact, from King's descriptions, I think his legs were in even worse shape than Caan's.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about writing, and also to those who are just curious about Stephen King and the stories behind some of his most popular books. ( )
  Charrlygirl | Mar 22, 2020 |
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» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
King, Stephenprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Knudsen, BertilTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Juti, RikuTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kuipers, HugoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rekiaro, IlkkaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Honesty's the best policy. -- Miguel de Cervantes
Liars prosper. -- Anonymous
This book is dedicated to Amy Tan, who told me in a very simple and direct way that it was okay to write it.
First words
I was stunned by Mary Karr's memoir, The Liar's Club.
"I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs and I will shout it from the rooftops."
"... there is a huge difference between story and plot. Story is honorable and trustworthy; plot is shifty and best kept under house arrest." (page 170)
(p79) Look — here's a table covered with a red cloth. ... Do we see the same thing? We'd have to get together and compare notes to make absolutely sure, but I think we do. There will be necessary variations, of course: some receivers will see a cloth which is turkey red, some will see one that's scarlet, while others may see still other shades. ... and a cat with an 8, clearly marked on its back in blue ink ... This is what we're looking at, and we all see it. I didn't tell you. You didn't ask me. I never opened my mouth and you never opened yours. We're not even in the same year together, let alone the same room ... except we are together. We're close. We're having a meeting of the minds.
(p102) The object of fiction isn't grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story ...
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
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 ever writer must have.
Haiku summary
On Writing tells of

writer's background more than rules

aspirants should learn.


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