- 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)
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft Paperback – 11 Oct 2012
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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.
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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A must read book, for those who attempt to express themselves through writingPublished 5 days ago by Dr Jalal
Anyone who wants to be a writer MUST read this book. So many insights that it would otherwise take you years to learn. Improved my writing discipline no end! Read morePublished 8 days ago by Keith D
This is an important book that every serious writer should read. Stephen King's approach to writing is practical and more akin to blue collar working class people than academics. Read morePublished 15 days ago by Steven Ramirez
Listening to Stephen King talk about his humble beginnings is truly inspiring for any writer. One hour into listening and I'm already hooked and decided to give this book a five... Read morePublished 20 days ago by L Liebrand
I found his thoughts on writing to be interesting but the book itself was unstructured and lazy. Most of it is biographical which is quite interesting but only tangentially about... Read morePublished 24 days ago by Dermot
A recommended book which I got from you in great time and had a great read. It is a bible for writing.Published 24 days ago by Patricia Quigley
I'm currently writing my first novel and I found the common-sense advice in this book to be invaluable.Published 26 days ago by Eileen Hogg
Extraordinary- eye opening and a year later I still regularly dip into it. Refreshingly direct.Published 1 month ago by KH