On Writing by Stephen King

I may have mentioned this a couple of times before, but I’m currently in the middle of a Creative Writing class, and On Writing was one of the books that was very highly recommended by my teacher. I haven’t read any Stephen King works before except Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, but I dutifully bought myself a copy and, I have to say, it really was fascinating reading.

The first section of the book is autobiographical, and looks at the key events in Stephen King’s life and writing career. I’m always interested to hear how and why authors started writing and the kinds of things that inspired their works, even if I haven’t read the books in question. It sounds to me like Stephen King’s one of those Marmite writers that people either love or hate, and I know his writing has been criticised for lack of sophistication and for the kinds of horror and supernatural stories he produces. Having said that, he’s got to be one of the most prolific and successful modern writers, so I was really intrigued to read how he achieved his success, how he keeps his writing career ticking over after all these years, and especially where he gets his ideas from. It was just very readable, and I especially liked discovering that his life is interesting enough to keep me reading, and yet average enough to give me hope that I can achieve similar things. The third section is also autobiographical, and details how Stephen King’s ability to sit and write was impaired by a very severe accident, and how he’s gradually working his way back into the routine and habit of writing. It was pretty inspiring actually.

The second section of the book is the reason my teacher pointed us in the direction of On Writing, as it’s a series of tips and tricks for the readers to constantly improve their own writing, and hopefully reach publishable standard. I’m always completely fascinated to read about different writers’ individual processes and writing disciplines, so this is the kind of reading that I really enjoyed and also found really useful. There are a number of helpful snippets I’ve taken away from this, and tried to apply to my own writing. These include practical tips, such as his editing advice that the second draft should be the first draft reduced by ten per cent to cut out the waffle, and more insightful phrases that I think are important to remember – writers don’t invent the ideas for stories, they just have the ability to notice and retain the good ideas; and, most importantly, writing is about “getting happy”. He also says that writing a first draft should be an instinctive process, and that you should write with the door shut and edit with the door open. What he means by this is that you shouldn’t ask for anyone else’s opinions or criticisms until the first draft is complete, because you need to write the story as you see it initially rather than being swayed by anyone else’s judgements.

On Writing was a really interesting book to read, and since finishing it I’ve actually purchased three Stephen King books in a 3 for £5 clearance sale. I’ve always felt a bit nervous about reading his books because I’m not one for horror really, but they were such a bargain and, having read about his life and writing habits, I’m really intrigued to see how it pans out. I’ve picked up many useful tips to apply to my own writing, but reading this book has also given me a bit more confidence that I’m doing the right thing, and to just keep going instead of worrying about whether what I’m doing’s good enough because that can always be fixed at editing stage later. I’m definitely going to take a far more instinctive approach with my own writing, and focus on just getting the ideas down and getting them down quickly. I would definitely recommend On Writing to anyone who writes or is trying to write, not only because it’s a really handy guide to the ‘craft’ but also because it’s a fascinating insight into the life and habits of someone who’s managed to make a hugely successful living out of writing, and so obviously knows what he’s talking about.

See previous Book Review, featuring Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days.

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3 thoughts on “On Writing by Stephen King

  1. Pingback: First Love, Last Rites by Ian McEwan | The Steel Review

  2. Pingback: The Steel Review Roll Call of Honour! | The Steel Review

  3. Pingback: Mr Mercedes by Stephen King | The Steel Review

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