Book Review: Stephen King’s On Writing

I’ve never read a Stephen King book and associate his name more with movies than I do books. I haven’t seen too many of his movies either — Carrie and Misery are the ones that standout the most. Horror and sci-fi are not really my thing.

Regardless of my limited Stephen King experiences, I found King’s non-fiction On Writing very intriguing. In it, King tells a little about himself and his background that lead to his becoming a writer. That takes up about the first third of the book. I’ve always enjoyed learning how people got to where they’re at, so reading how King navigated through a sometimes tough childhood to a life as an award-winning novelist was fascinating.

In the last two-thirds, King tells how he does it — how he writes what he writes — and in telling that he gives a lot of practical writing advice.

His profound insight? If you want to write you need to read. “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

I couldn’t agree more. If you’re writing fiction you should read others’ fiction works to see what they do well, what they do poorly and what you like and don’t like. Reading others’ work will help you find your style and genre. While not a fiction writer myself, the same is true for non-fiction. I learned how to write for newspapers by reading newspapers. So not only should you read, you should read what you want to write. Don’t emulate, King cautions. Be your own writer. But by consuming the kind of writing you want to write you will pick up on the tricks of the trade and start implementing what you’ve learned, often without even realizing it. It will become ingrained.

I very much enjoyed both King’s personal stories and his writing advice. The book has a fair amount of profanity in it so know that going into it, if that kind of thing is bothersome or distracting to you.

My favorite line in the book — which has absolutely nothing to do with writing — is this:

“At the time we’re stuck in it, like hostages locked in a Turkish bath, high school seems the most serious business in the world to just about all of us. It’s not until the second or third class reunion that we start realizing how absurd the whole thing was.”

My second favorite quote comes at the end of the book:

“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”

Well said, King. Well said.

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