Review: Stephen King “On Writing”

Stephen King is a massively popular professional author, so when I found out that he had written a book called “On Writing” I knew I had to read it.  I first got a copy of the book from the local library, read it and then went out and bought a copy anyway, as I thought it was worth the money to be able to read it again at leisure.

“On Writing” is however, definitely not a normal “How to become a writer” type book.  Instruction and hints, books to read etc., are present, but the book is as much autobiography as instruction.  If you are looking for instruction on writing only, you may well be disappointed.

On Writing

Instead the book deals with Stephen’s experiences as a writer and how various events have changed his life, not least being run over by a van and nearly killed.  Being the master storyteller that he is the books anecdotal sections are excellent.  There is some great information about the early days as an unknown writer and the effect of his first sale “Carrie” had upon his life. If only that could happen to us all!

Stephen expresses the viewpoint that “Fiction writers, present company included, don’t understand what it is that they do – not why it works when it is good, not why it doesn’t when it is bad.”  He holds the opinion that any instruction book on writing should be short as it will be mostly *ahem* nonsense (not his actual words, but if you want to know what words he did use, buy the book!).

It is this viewpoint that writing cannot truly be taught that keeps him from giving a true tutorial.  This is, in my personal opinion, a shame as the small amount of material he includes on the “How to” of the writing process is excellent.

The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition

What I found interesting was that he was yet another author that recommended Strunk and White’s guide.  At the time I read “On Writing” I admit that I didn’t possess a copy and had never read it.  It was Stephen King’s recommendation of the book, along with his scathing attacks on the poor English employed by many writers, which finally pushed me into ordering a copy.  This small book has no doubt improved my English, but I still have a long way to go.  Stephen’s attacks on various aspects of poor writing can at times be hilarious and the book is worth buying for this reason alone, for example; “The road to Hell is paved with adverbs”.  Great stuff, especially from a horror writer.

In closing let me say that Stephen King’s “On Writing” is a great book.  It made me laugh and cry, provided some excellent advice and gave an insight into the mind and the life of one of the most popular authors of our time.  While it is not an instruction book on writing, it certainly is worth your time and money.  Go out and buy it.

Dave Felton

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