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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft Paperback – 11 Oct 2012

4.7 out of 5 stars 516 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks (11 Oct. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1444723251
  • ISBN-13: 978-1444723250
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 2.5 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (516 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 829 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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 the Audio Cassette edition.

Review

Absolutely fascinating . . . basic instructions . . . sensible advice (The Sunday Times)

The childhood memoir is a triumphant display of wit, story-telling and guts. His advice to writers is hard-nosed, practical and level-headed in the classic journalistic Orwell-Hemingway tradition (Evening Standard)

This is the written equivalent of Delia Smith's How To Cook. And, like British home cooking, the world of popular fiction will be better off for it (The Times)

Stephen King is a genius . . . In this book he tells us what first made him a horror writer . . . I find King fascinating because he writes in the least florid way possible, yet his very direct approach to getting his awesome imagination onto a blank page works. (Jeremy Vine in We Love This Book)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book isn't a set of rules about writing. It's more interesting than that. There are vivid descriptions of Stephen King's struggle to make it as a writer. You find some of the sources for his dark style in visits to the ear doctor.

There is also a great sense of the power of writing to communicate. I loved the section where he imagines the reader's "receiving station" - a comfortable armchair perhaps. My receiving station was the staff room at the pharmacy where I work. This was the best thing for me about On Writing, the way it very directly came to talk to you.

There were disappointments though. You got to know Stephen King, and he often left me exasperated. In his days of struggle he seemed to spend a lot of money on drink and cigarettes, but moaned about the cost of amoxicillin for his daughter's ear infections. He also claimed that cigarettes were good for his creativity which I thought was ridiculous.

Then there was a bewildering claim that novel writing was really the only proper writing. TV writing came in for short shrift. He even picked out the wonderful show Frasier as an example of the drivel to be seen there. Once again I thought this was absurd.

The TV prejudice seems to be part of Stephen King's grumpy old man view of modern society and technology. That message just didn't make sense at my receiving station, reading on my Iphone, which I love.

So overall a good read, with some useful tips on writing, in the details of adverbs and so on, and also in the big picture of communicating. But you see the man behind the stories, and as with us all there are disappointments.

Martin Jones
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is certainly much more readable than most books on the subject of writing. Anyone who has read Stephen King's fiction will recognise his direct, lively and conversational style. I think a lot of his suggestions on writing fiction are sound advice for any writer, but there's also a strong element of 'horses for courses' when it comes to certain elements of King's approach. Not everyone will be able to produce their best work with King's way of writing, which seems to be to start writing as soon as you have a basic starting premise in mind and not to worry about having a plot because that will more or less write itself. It's also worth noting that the world of publishing has changed a great deal since King's first novel, Carrie, became a bestseller. Nonetheless, King writes about writing very well - it's small wonder that so many of his protagonists are authors.

King's writing advice, however, is by no means the whole focus of the book. A large chunk of it is a nostalgic memoir about King's childhood, adolescence, marriage and struggles with drugs and alcohol, which are reasonably engaging but somewhat digressive and not directly connected to his craft. We learn that King became a keen reader as a child when he was suffering from repeated bouts of ill health, but we don't need a long description of his recurrent ear infections to make this clear.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found a fair amount of it useful, but this is more for Stephen King fans than for me as there is a lot of autobiographical content in it. It wasn't uninteresting, it was just that I want to cut to the chase and know what he had to say about writing.
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Part of me is appalled that this is the first book by the King I'm reviewing, but I suppose we all have to start somewhere :P

I didn't expect it to be so hilarious, honest, open, and encouraging. I feel like I can come back to this any time I'm stuck with my writing or feel bad about any part of the writing process, and it'll lift me up. It's such a wonderful book, friends. I can't believe it's sat on my shelf for a few months before I finally read it!

I'm not entirely sure how to review it beyond that, besides telling you that, if you're a writer, you need to read this. We writers tend to put ourselves under a tremendous amount of pressure and self-doubt. It's so important you see that every writer struggles at some point, even legends like Stephen King. You want the encouragement you get from this. And you will learn something. I've made so many notes I had trouble deciding which quotes to include and which ones to leave. Once I've got a bigger shelf (or just a second shelf would do, actually) I will have a separate space for inspiring books, and this one will be right up there at the front.
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By Dr. Michael Heron TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 1 Jun. 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the book I recommend to anyone who wants to get better at writing. I read it because it had been likewise recommended to me, even though I wasn't a Stephen King fan. I fell into the dumb and elitist prejudice at the time that anyone as popular as Stephen King couldn't possibly be any good as a writer, and as such I had never actually read any of his work. On Writing turned me into a Stephen King fan - it's a searingly insightful work of absolute genius, managing to weave real 'nuts and bolts' advice into a semi-autobiographical overview of his own evolution as a writer. More than most, it's clear Stephen King earned his success - while many may dismiss the personal stories as self-indulgence, they're actually little vignettes of perseverance against the long, long odds of writing success. They help explain the kind of mindset that a writer must have, and how tough the journey might be. Having set the reader up with the necessary perspective, he then effortlessly helps construct a genuinely useful writing toolkit. This book isn't just useful for those who might want to learn how to write fiction - it's all but required reading for anyone who wants to express themselves through the written word.
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