On Writing – Book Review

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I recently finished reading, well actually listening to, Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of  the Craft. 

Highly recommended for all writers!

There’s a lot of conflicting advice about craft books for writers—some think you can’t learn from them, or that the best way to improve your writing is just by more writing. And I agree with the latter point. I also believe that books on writing can help you improve if you already are writing.

As an editor it’s kind of engrained in me to support all writers and believe in them. BUT. I kind of also agree with one point King makes in this book. He says that basically there are mediocre writers, good writers, and great writers. The mediocre writers can improve to become good writers, but only already good writers can improve to be great writers. It sounds harsh, sure, but there is a bit of instinct involved in writing. There is just this . . . thing . . . that some writers have. It could be a bit of talent, or artistic instinct, but the greatest writers of all time have this. Basically he’s saying that some writers will never be great and no amount of writing or craft books will change this. What do you think?

Anyway, let’s rewind a bit. The first half of this book is mostly memoir. It starts with King as a kid and goes from there. These reflections all somehow relate to how he became a writer—what crafted his mind from a young age—and it’s really enjoyable to read/listen to. Then the second half is more of the writing advice. This is the part of the book I enjoyed the most and could honestly quote for days, years.

I think it’s a great book for any writer. It’s inspiring to hear him talk about writing—especially trial and error. He reminds us that it took him constant rejections and many, many stories before he finally began getting published, then eventually selling larger stories. He treasures every story he’s ever written. He’s mostly a pantser, which was nice for me to read since I am as well, and he believes in the characters and stories the characters create. He believes in letting the characters move the story, which is something I also feel very strongly about.

I loved that he admitted he doesn’t usually know how a story he writes will end. He might have an idea in mind at the beginning, but usually it never works out that way and he is always surprised at the ending. If he as the writer can’t even guess the ending, then he knows his readers will be surprised as well. He suggests starting a story with a situation and letting the story grow from there.

He provides advice on the process of writing a book and creating a story, on the process of publishing and pitching agents, of entering contests and submitting to smaller presses/magazines, and so much more.

I recommend this book to any writer—new or established. You don’t even need to go into it looking to learn something new. Hearing the experiences of another writer is humbling and inspiring.

This is one of the first audio books I’ve listened to, and it was really good. It’s turned me on to audiobooks. King narrates the book himself, so it adds a lot of color and makes it more personal.

If you’ve read On Writing, what was your favorite piece of advice?

You can buy the book in Paperback, Kindle, and Audible.

 

 

I sometimes review books on my blog and feature the reviews in the KM Editorial Newsletter. To read more of my reviews or submit your book for review, click here.

Guest review provided by Katie McCoach. Katie is a developmental book editor at KM Editorial working with authors of all levels to help them create their best story possible. Katie is a member of Romance Writers of America and the Editorial Freelancers Association. She wrote essays published in TrainWrite and Kalliope and is currently writing a contemporary romance novel. For advice on editing, writing, and publishing visit her blog.

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43 thoughts on “On Writing – Book Review”

  1. “The mediocre writers can improve to become good writers, but only already good writers can improve to be great writers.” Well, probably some truth here, but I would venture to say that mediocre, even poor writers, can create inspired and great written works. Maybe not consistently, but it’s the same as with music. Sometimes, a lousy musician can write a great song (hence the abundance on one-hit-wonders). Anyway, good post. I don’t think I will read this book, but I enjoyed hearing your thoughts on it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree with you… Also, there are those authors who had ‘one good book in them’ – so to speak… and it seemed that the book was a success because of the passion of the author. I can’t think of any authors like this of the top of my head, but I know there are such situations. Writing teachers often encourage students to write about what they know, which is good advice. Writing about what we are passionate about has to make the writing stronger, the voice more true, etc.

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  2. This may be my favorite book on writing. Stephen King’s workmanlike approach to the subject really appeals to me, as does his blunt appraisal of talent and, as you pointed out in your review, the limitations of talent.

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  3. I loved the book. One thing, well two things actually, stuck out: “Do not come lightly to the blank page” and “write from the background.”

    However, writing from the background (while watching your main character) might have been a better choice of words for third person narratives. Otherwise, a writer tends to write in omniscient, and that seems to be a POV that is looked down on these day.

    Still … a great read.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Everybody’s doing it! I just finished this book too.

    I’m not sure what to think about the suggestion that mediocre writers will never be great. But I do there that people, in general, are born with a certain amount of talent or aptitude for whatever. Folks who lack that in writing, would certainly have an uphill battle.

    What I really liked about the book was that King doesn’t usually know how a story will turn out until he’s done writing it. This is a relief to me. I’ve always felt a little bit fly-by-night with my stories. They end up turning different directions as I write. I know there are people who do a lot of planning and plotting ahead of time. They always seemed more organized and official to me.

    Overall I really enjoyed it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I read this book years ago and enjoyed it… and it’s so strange that last week I posted with the title “On Writing,” admitting the fact I named the title after this book…. and now I keep seeing other people writing about this book again… maybe this is a sign I’m supposed to reread it again ;)

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  6. Ryan, I really appreciated this review. I’m wondering, though, since I haven’t read this book yet, if it would help those of us who write non-fiction. What do you think?
    I really liked what Rebecca V wrote – about writers needing to be readers. Soooooo true!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jo! Thanks for your comment. I really think this book is great for any writers. I mean, this IS nonfiction, so by just reading another nonfiction book alone I believe you can learn from it. If your nonfiction is more reference or guide based, it may be a little different, but just reading this book helps understand writing style and ways to craft a strong sentence to engage readers. No matter the subject matter or genre, I think this is important for all writers.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Is this the one he wrote 10 years plus ago? Maybe he has updated and released it again. The one I read I really got nothing out of it on writing. It spoke of his injury when he was almost killed by an unlicensed, legally blind driver of a car. He was walking along the road near his home in Maine. His whole style of writing changed after that trauma … in my opinion.

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  8. It is one of my top three books for those who intend to write. The other two are Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down The Bones and Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird. While King focuses more on writing a book, the other two are simply about writing anything.

    Thank you for choosing to follow one of my blogs. I do hope you will continue to enjoy the posts. Léa

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  9. I have passed on Stephen King’s book on writing for quite some time but this review has piqued my interest, in at least the last half of the book. I may have to break down now and buy it.

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  10. I thought ‘On Writing’ was a solid, no nonsense book. I found King’s personality brash and disagreeable but some of his advice is invaluable. The piece of advice that I have taken to heart is, quite simply, to write every single day.

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  11. I’ve read Stephen King’s book, On Writing, several times. Great book for writers! Lately, I’ve gotten sucked into Julia Cameron’s writing books. Very inspirational! I just finished reading The Right To Write and now I’m reading The Sound Of Paper. I’d recommend both if you’re looking for books to get you writing again, especially for writers who’ve been depressed.

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  12. I bought On Writing years ago and think it is the best how-to book. I don’t recall anything specific to quote here, but I keep the book close to pick up now and then when I need to get excited about writing again. Every author should read On Writing.

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  13. I had read this some years ago, way before I knew I could write. I knew I wanted to write though, and thought maybe Stephen King would provide insight into his craft. He did provide insight and much more. His passion for writing leapt off the page! That excitement, love and respect for writing was the most inspiring aspect of his work, “On Writing.” The feeling I experience while reading has for me, always been the inspiration to write. If I can share a vision and inspire a response in like kind, that is enough for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I read On Writing a long time ago, and was glad I did. I remember it more as a writer’s journey, which I enjoyed. I try to read a “how to” book every few years to refresh my memory, remind me of the basics–recently finished Chuck Wendig’s KickAss Writer book. Everyone comes at writing from a different angle, so I almost always learn something new. Nice review. And good points about writing.

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  15. Ryan…first of all, thanks for stopping by marc’s blog tonight…and I am especially pleased that you did because otherwise I would have missed your piece on King’s audio book. I was startled to learn that he usually doesn’t know how his books end which is exactly how it goes for me. I’ve just completed the manuscript on my third novel and I really did not know how it was going to end until this past Thursday night as I was writing it. I could have never predicted the ending before then!!! And here I thought I must be going about it all wrong…if I can be as wrong as Stephen King, I’ll take that any day. I love audio books…will be sure to track this one down…thanks again for showing up; now I have one more place to go myself!

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  16. For all writers continuously seeking to nuance the craft in different ways… I recommend Ray Bradbury’s “Zen and the Art of Writing”. And check out “Dandelion Wine” one of the best books ever written, by Bradbury and anyone else for that matter. It will remind you what good writing is like!

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  17. Thanks for checking my blog.

    Stephen King’s On Writing is the best book about writing I have read with the big plus of being entertaining as its bonus. I recommend everyone read this.

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  18. I read “On Writing” as well. While I don’t give it quite the thumbs’ up I see both in your blog and many of the comments, I did enjoy the story of King’s early years and his journey as a writer. Where the book failed, in my opinion, was in some of his advice to other writers.

    Mr. King has an incredible talent – and it is uniquely his. However, what works so well for him may be death to another. I don’t think a thesaurus is a useless tool (https://alumberingsoultryingtofly.wordpress.com/2015/09/04/on-the-contrary-mr-king/). Nor do I think every writer should be churning out novels every three months.

    Instead, I advise writers to read “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamont (for emotional support) and Gotham Writers’ Workshop – Writing Fiction (for the tools every craftsman needs). https://alumberingsoultryingtofly.wordpress.com/2015/09/14/art-and-craft/

    Liked by 1 person

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