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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft Mass Market Paperback – 1 Jul 2002

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Product details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 297 pages
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press Inc.,N.Y.; Reprint edition (1 July 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743455967
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743455961
  • Product Dimensions: 17.4 x 10.6 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (317 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 815,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. Among his most recent are the Dark Tower novels, Cell, From a Buick 8, Everything's Eventual, Hearts in Atlantis, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and Bag of Bones. His acclaimed nonfiction book, On Writing, was also a bestseller. He is the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Short and snappy as it is, Stephen King's On Writing really contains two books: a fondly sardonic autobiography and a tough-love lesson for aspiring novelists. The memoir is terrific stuff, a vivid description of how a writer grew out of a misbehaving kid. You are right there with the young author as he is tormented by poison ivy, gas-passing baby-sitters, uptight schoolmarms and a laundry job nastier than Jack London's. It's a ripping yarn that casts a sharp light on his fiction. This was a child who dug Yvette Vickers from Attack of the Giant Leeches, not Sandra Dee. "I wanted monsters that ate whole cities, radioactive corpses that came out of the ocean and ate surfers and girls in black bras who looked like trailer trash". But massive reading on all literary levels was a craving just as crucial, and soon King was the published author of "I Was a Teen-Age Graverobber". As a young adult raising a family in a trailer, King started a story inspired by his stint as a caretaker cleaning a high-school girls' locker room. He crumpled it up, but his writer wife retrieved it from the trash, and using her advice about the girl milieu and his own memories of two reviled teenage classmates who died young, he came up with Carrie. King gives us lots of revelations about his life and work. The kidnapper character in Misery, the mind-possessing monsters in The Tommyknockers, and the haunting of the blocked writer in The Shining symbolised his cocaine and booze addiction (overcome thanks to his wife's intervention, which he describes). "There's one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember writing".

King also evokes his college days and his recovery from the van crash that nearly killed him, but the focus is always on what it all means to the craft. He gives you a whole writer's "tool kit": a reading list, writing assignments, a corrected story and nuts-and-bolts advice on dollars and cents, plot and character, the basic building block of the paragraph and literary models. He shows what you can learn from HP Lovecraft's arcane vocabulary, Hemingway's leanness, Grisham's authenticity, Richard Dooling's artful obscenity, Jonathan Kellerman's sentence fragments. He explains why Kellerman's Hart's War is a great story marred by a tin ear for dialogue, and how Elmore Leonard's Be Cool could be the antidote. King isn't just a writer, he's a true teacher. --Tim Appelo, Amazon.com --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"The Washington Post Book World"Combines autobiography and admonition, inspirations and instruction. It's an enjoyable mix.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

167 of 174 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 3 Mar. 2006
Format: Hardcover
ON WRITING is better than I thought it would be. It's marvelous. I finished it in less than two days.

In the First Forward, Stephen King observes that popular novelists are never "asked about the language" when queried by admiring fans. Thus, he states:

"What follows is an attempt to put down , briefly and simply, how I came to the craft (of telling stories on paper), what I know about it now, and how it's done. It's about the day job; it's about the language."

In the first hundred or so pages, King shares his experiences growing up in Maine and Connecticut, his marriage, his struggles as a novice writer, and his drug and alcohol problems. King intends this section not as an autobiography, but as a curriculum vitae. It ends with the assignment of the paperback rights to CARRIE, his first novel.

In the next 150 pages, the author describes how he performs his craft. He explains the "tools" of writing (vocabulary and grammar), the creative environment (the room, the door, the determination to close the door, and the music - Hard Rock in King's case), style and formatting (paragraphing, narration, description, and dialogue), and the final stretch to a finished piece (drafts, editing, and proofreading by a trusted friend - wife/author Tabitha in King's case).

The final few pages, in a way, are the most interesting. It's Stephen's account of the road accident in 1999 that inflicted multiple fractures to his ribs and lower body, and the effect the mishap had on his writing. Ironically enough, he'd half completed this book at the time of the incident, and he had to struggle to come back and finish.

Though King was once a high school English teacher, ON WRITING is in no way pedantic, but chatty and informal.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Sofia Romualdo on 1 Jun. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In my search for books about writing, this one came up virtually everywhere. I've read a few of Stephen King's books, and I have a mixed opinion of them, but overall I think he's a great storyteller (one just has to look at how many of his stories turned into truly influential movies!). So it was with curiosity that I set out to read this one.

The author starts by describing episodes of his life that were relevant to his eventual development as a writer, and the book ends with King recounting an accident he was involved in while writing this book, in which he was almost killed by a wandering van. In this sense, the book feels like a memoir, with a section on the nuts and bolts of writing in between. This actually works quite well, since everything is written in the same light and funny language which makes the reader feel comfortable, sort of like talking to an old friend who just happens to be Stephen King.

Even though I bought this for the section about writing, I found myself enjoying the memoir parts more. It's fascinating to see how a specific life experience can lead someone to become what you know them to be, and in that sense this book is invaluable. King writes as if he has nothing to hide, as if he doesn't care what people will say. And some of his life experiences are really interesting. I found the description of his time working at a laundry, washing hospital sheets, particularly gruesome.

His advice for writers is very much to the point, and mostly makes perfect sense. Good writing has no formulas, and it's subjective enough to leave room for interpretation, but some things are obvious, like his first advice to "Read a lot, write a lot", or, the one I found most useful for me personally:

"The scariest moment is always just before you start.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Theo on 13 Aug. 2001
Format: Hardcover
I never thought I would sit chuckling over a Stephen King book, but the first half was very funny. Then I found the writing end was inspirational. It made you WANT to read and write and described the writing state of mind so well.
I was talking about the plot free approach to some friends, in a car full of silent kids. They all suddenly started talking at once, when I paraphrased SK's approach to the restraints of plot. They have all felt repressed by the heavy planned out plot system, set out by teachers. I think they will start writing with fresh hope, as I know I will.
This book has made me feel more positive and excited about writing than the 6 others I have read over the last 15 years. There might be a few missing elements, but the germ of inspiration overrules that. That is priceless.
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67 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Budge Burgess on 30 Jun. 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is two books in one, yet it isn't. The autobiographical section is not so much a potted history of King's life as a description of his writing apprenticeship - the experiences and emotions, from the stimulants of his childhood imagination to the abuse of stimulants, from the experience of rejection to the experience of survival after being hit by a van.
Writing, King makes clear, isn't simply the ability to do joined up words or type at a keyboard. Writing is about pain and experience, knowledge and emotion, understanding and questioning. Writing is about life ... and if you want to be a good writer, then you must live to write. In the process you may have to fight to survive alcohol and drugs and poverty and loneliness ... and the dangers round that next bend. Even when you've sold your first story, you're never comfortable, never sure it wasn't a fluke and that the next one won't be hurled back in your face.
It's a fascinating insight into King's psyche, one which prepares you for the guidance he offers writers. He puts together a toolkit of advice to motivate and encourage you to write. Much of the toolkit, of course, can be described as words and sweat. If you write, language is your medium. If you want to write well, you have to work at it.
There's a strong motivational element to King's book. He pulls no punches. Not everyone can be a great writer. Everyone might have a novel in them, but not many people have a novel anyone else would want to read. Be realistic about your talent. Appreciate you can improve, can refine your skills and techniques. But, it'll take work, lots of hard work, and you may still never write a masterpiece.
But writing is a process of self-belief and self-fulfilment and self-discovery. It is, only incidentally, a commercial activity.
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