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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. It's a book straight from the author's heart, and it shows.

"Don't wait for the muse ... This isn't the Ouija board or the spirit-world we're talking about here, but just another job like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks. Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you're going to be every day from nine 'til noon or seven 'til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he'll start showing up, chomping his cigar and making his magic."

This last excerpt illustrates why I like this book so much. It's applicable to any sort of writing whether it be reviews for Amazon or technical writing on-the-job, both of which I do in tremendous amounts.

The author's first rule for good writing is that the writer must read a lot. Well, I do that - constantly. Perhaps I can improve my own poor scribbling. In this overview of the volume, I've followed his advice; I've kept the paragraphs short and avoided use of passive sentence construction. That's something, at least.
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on 30 June 2005
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. If you can make a living from it, so much the better. Writing is as much an addiction as drugs or alcohol. It is, however, a life enhancing and life asserting addiction.
I doubt if King needs the money, but you should buy this book if you have any love of or interest in writing - whether you harbour the notion of writing that masterpiece, of simply seeing a piece in print, or whether you write a private journal and enjoy the texture of passion and tactile delight of putting words on paper. For the writer in you, this book is a must read. It's life-affirming, and so well paced, it reads like a thriller. You'll keep turning the pages and won't be able to put the light out.
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on 1 June 2010
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. After that, things can only get better."

However, there were a lot of things I just didn't see eye to eye with the author - which is actually perfectly okay with me, since if I agreed with everything I would probably end up writing things that were too similar to his style. Still, this was a very useful read, not just because it was funny and entertaining, but also because it showed a glimpse into the mind of one of the best storytellers alive today.
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on 6 November 2001
Although Stephen King does give helpful tips and advice, this isn't a 'how to write a best-seller' book.
What makes this book remarkable is that a best-selling author has bothered to open-up and share his writing process with his readers.
Stephen King reveals where the seed for 'Carrie' came from, the changes that were necessary to make 'Misery' a success and how he coped with writer's block during 'The Dead Zone'.
Even if you're not a fan of his work, Stephen King is a number one best-seller and this is an opportunity to look into his creative process that can not be overlooked, particularly if you are a would be novelist yourself.
I particularly like the style of writing that leaves you believing the author is in the same room chatting to you personally over a cup of coffee.
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on 13 March 2001
This is one of the most helpful pieces of information I was able to find. After attending short courses, reading self-help books and dummies guides, I finnallly found what I was looking for. A no nonsence guide to the craft.
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on 13 December 2004
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. If you can make a living from it, so much the better. Writing is as much an addiction as drugs or alcohol. It is, however, a life enhancing and life asserting addiction.
I doubt if King needs the money, but you should buy this book if you have any love of or interest in writing - whether you harbour the notion of writing that masterpiece, of simply seeing a piece in print, or whether you write a private journal and enjoy the texture of passion and tactile delight of putting words on paper. For the writer in you, this book is a must read. It's life-affirming, and so well paced, it reads like a thriller. You'll keep turning the pages and won't be able to put the light out.
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#1 HALL OF FAMEon 2 September 2001
Having grown up on Stephen King- 'Salem's Lot', 'The Dead Zone', 'Pet Semetary', 'It'& 'The Stand' were big favourites (and still are!). I had gone off him around 'The Tommyknockers'. Discovered other writers. Came back and was unimpressed by 'Needful Things'& 'Gerald's Game'. Read others. Came back to 'Insomnia', which was good (if a bit overlong)& his 3rd collection of short-stories (always a source of gems...). Read other authors, discovered alternate worlds, went to University, got a bit snobbish about texts that weren't Camus or Nabokov (or whoever). Started having good memories regarding King's work. Re-read 'Thinner' (for some reason), then read 'The Green Mile' (I had started reading the episode editions, but lost track of them due to a bout of hedonism) & then 'Hearts of Atlantis'. I couldn't get away from it- Stephen King is an excellent writer. He might entertain & shift units to those who haven't read Achebe or Joyce (or whoever is in vogue within the realm of literary study...). But he has something...
And that something is on show here- in this look behind the curtain. In this 'How to-' book and a whole lot more...
The first part takes in King's formative years- frequent readers will recognise parts of 'The Body'& 'It' (amongst others)in some of the portraits. Here we have autobiography blended with the cloud of remembrance- fiction protects the actual...One of the most moving parts here is the recall of the influences for 'Carrie'- it took me back to school, where I could see the people who didn't fit in. I didn't bully them, but probably added to it by making fun, going with the herd or just ignoring them. I hope they're flowers now- rather than beneath the earth as the people here are...There is also a lot here about King's hard times- life wasn't always so easy. He had to work hard to get where he was- and finally it was down to good fortune & commitment. King concedes if he had been as busy as his wife,his writing career might not have been as fruitful.
The second part tells you about writing- tips & examples are given; this will be of interest to King's fans (how he constructed these worlds we live in) & those who wish to write (not forgetting those in both camps). Intriguing is the 'influence' for 'Misery'- and a depiction of it's original end (which, thank God, he managed to avert). This section is writing at its best, laying out rules & advice for those who wish to write.
The final section takes in the 'interruption' of King's near fatal crash- and his slow recovery. Here, it seems like another hurdle for King to transcend (and this he does, by finishing this very book).
There is also a reading list- of some of the books he has read over the past few years; the one's I've read I feel much the same about. The one's I haven't are names to add to the list of books that I intend to read...
I don't know if by reading this book (or the equally good, if a bit more 'establishment' 'The Creative Writing Coursebook')that everyone who does so will become a King,or a Tan ,or whoever. My usual complaint about 'How to Write a Novel/Short Story'-books is that you have never heard of those who have written it. So, what can someone who you have never heard of say to you- who is on an equal footing?...This book is one I will come back to- and proof that King is a very good, if not excellent, writer. Ultimately, this book comes from a deep love of the craft of writing- the sense of vocation Dennis Potter talked of. If you love books, then this book is for you...
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on 6 April 2008
I first came to this book when it was published, and I was not. Now, with my own portfolio of publications, I have returned to it and find it as interesting, insightful and honest as I did the first time around. This isn't a "nuts and bolts" book, it tells a writer's story, his experience, his success and failure. But crucially it motivates because of its honesty. On Writing isn't prescriptive like so many, it isn't dull like so many, it is very entertaining. I can think of only two books which have a similar motivational effect: Journal of a Novel, by John Steinbeck, and Wannabe a Writer? by Jane Wenham-Jones.
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on 4 June 2007
Just a brief review as others have eloquently mentioned how good this book is. For the first time in a lot of years, I read a book in a day and a half. That was this book. I was hooked. Stephen King's chatty no nonsense style is brilliant for the lessons he teaches here.

Great first section on his youth and you truly see some of the things that made the man.

Excellent straightforward advice in the writing section.

The final section about the van that ran him over seems like personal therapy but it is very well written and witty despite the terrible injuries he suffered.

I say to those interested in the man, Stephen King, this is a fantastic insight.

To those thinking of writing - this is inspirtional. Remember - try to type 1000 words a day and you'll have a novel in no time at all. As Stephen says though he cannot guarantee if it will be any good.
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on 12 May 2009
I have read enough of Stephen King's books to know that he is one of the most gifted writers and storytellers of recent years, but I have to admit that I had never asked myself why or how? It seemed to me that good writers were just born with an innate sense of language and story, and all the rest of us could do was sit back and read their prodigal masterpieces (and believe me, some of King's books are masterpieces). But in this book, part autobiography-part manual, King states categorically that this is not necessarily the case.

On Writing is comprised of several parts.
The first section is King's autobiography, from his earliest memory of an act of showmanship ending up with all the toes on one of his feet smashing, through accounts of drunken revelry, wiping his derriere with poison ivy, countless stories being rejected by magazines, ending with his big break with Carrie. In King's capable hands, these incidents, however seemingly minor, are absorbing and fascinating. Some are hilarious, some are painfully honest, others are just, well, painful. Through them, King explains how he came to be where he is in terms of his writing, and one can see how some of his experiences shaped the stories he tells, and the way he tells them, too.

The next parts of the book are concerned with the physical art of writing. King suggests that all budding storytellers construct for themselves a Toolbox, its compartments filled with "the fundamentals": vocabulary, grammar and the elements of style. When sitting down to write, all they then have to do is pull out their own personalised Toolbox and get to work.
If you have written as many books as Stephen King has, you are in a pretty good position to give advice on the craft. King's advice is simple, practical and blunt. He believes most people can write, but concedes that "I can't lie and say there are no bad writers", adding that if you are one of the great ungifted, there is no hope: "it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer". This is the kind of hard-nosed "advice" that runs throughout this section. King takes us through what he believes are the vital ingredients necessary: language, vocabulary, grammar, style, form and structure, but the overriding message throughout his guide is practise, practise, practise. You will get nowhere without writing and reading until your eyes are bleeding and your hands are aching. He can say it because he has been there. King never stops talking about all the rejection slips stuck on a spike he had as a young man, but the fact that he can use so many titles of his that we are all familiar with (The Shining, Carrie, Misery to name but a few) to explain his advice simply proves that he knows what he is talking about.

In the final chapters of the book, King continues his autobiography with an account of the time he nearly died. It is a story straight out of one of his own books: a solitary walker on a lonely road in Maine, a driver with more points on his record than King has written bestsellers, and an out of control dog in the backseat. Combine the three, and you have King's near-death experience, his long and painful recovery, and his eventual rehabilitation back into the world of writing, all told in the gripping and graphic style that has made King such a successful and brilliant writer.

At the end of the book is a short-story, Jumper by Garrett Addams, handpicked by King as the winner of his On Writing competition. The tale of a shop assistant driven to extremes, it has many merits, but unfortunately King is a hard act to follow, and placing Jumper right after a master class in writing from one of the world's most brilliant storytellers doesn't do it any favours.

On writing is characteristically honest, immeasurably useful and utterly compelling, and should be read immediately by all aspiring writers.
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