On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

4.5 253
by Stephen King

View All Available Formats & Editions

In this master class on the craft of writing, Stephen King reveals the origins of his vocation and shares essential habits and rules that every writer can apply. A truly unique volume, it begins with a series of telling memories from youth and the struggling years leading up to publication of King's first novel. Offering readers a fresh and often funny perspective on… See more details below


In this master class on the craft of writing, Stephen King reveals the origins of his vocation and shares essential habits and rules that every writer can apply. A truly unique volume, it begins with a series of telling memories from youth and the struggling years leading up to publication of King's first novel. Offering readers a fresh and often funny perspective on the formation of a writer's character, King lays out the tools of writer's craft and takes the reader through aspects of the writer's art and life, offering practical and inspiring advice on everything from plot and character to work habits and rejection. Brilliantly structured and chock-full of master's experience and advice, On Writing will enable the work of writers around the globe.

Editorial Reviews

Bob Minzesheimer
Stephen King's On Writing, has wonderful moments. It made me think of King as I think of The Beatles. Both hit it big early. Both used their popularity to grow, experiment, study, and learn from others. King is still at, still telling stories after all these years.
USA Today
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"No one ever asks [popular novelists] about the language," Amy Tan once opined to King. Here's the uber-popular novelist's response to that unasked question a three-part book whose parts don't hang together much better than those of the Frankenstein monster, but which, like the monster, exerts a potent fascination and embodies important lessons and truths. The book divides into memoir, writing class, memoir. Many readers will turn immediately to the final part, which deals with King's accident last year and its aftermath. This material is tightly controlled, as good and as true as anything King has written, an astonishing blend of anger, awe and black humor. Of Bryan Smith (who drove the van that crushed King) watching the horribly wounded writer, King writes, "Like his face, his voice is cheery, only mildly interested. He could be watching all this on TV...." King's fight for life, and then for the writing life, rivets attention and inflames admiration as does the love he expresses throughout for his wife, novelist Tabitha. The earlier section of memoir, which covers in episodic fashion the formation of King the Writer, is equally absorbing. Of particular note are a youthful encounter with a babysitter that armchair psychologists will seize upon to explain King's penchant for horror, and King's experiences as a sports reporter for the Lisbon, Maine, Weekly Express, where he learned and here passes on critical advice about writing tight. King's writing class 101, which occupies the chewy center of the book, provides valuable advice to novice scribes--although other than King's voice, idiosyncratic and flush with authority, much of what's here can be found in scores of other writing manuals. What's notable is what isn't here: King's express aim is to avoid "bullshit," and he manages to pare what the aspiring writer needs to know from idea to execution to sale to a few simple considerations and rules. For illustration, he draws upon his own work and that of others to show what's good prose and what's not, naming names (good dialogue: Elmore Leonard; bad dialogue: John Katzenbach). He offers some exercises as well. The real importance of this congenial, ramshackle book, however, lies neither in its autobiography nor in its pedagogy, but in its triumphant vindication of the popular writer, including the genre author, as a writer. King refuses to draw, and makes a strong case for the abolition of, the usual critical lines between Carver and Chandler, Greene and Grisham, DeLillo and Dickens. Given the intelligence and common sense of his approach, perhaps his books' many readers will join him in that refusal. 500,000 first printing. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
This is Stephen King's first nonfiction book and it is excellent. Even those who do not care for King's novels will find this book worthwhile. In his first of three forewords, King explains that his purpose is to "attempt to put down, briefly and simply, how I came to the craft, what I know about it now, and how it's done." In the first section of the book King shares some of the experiences and memories that helped shape him as a person and as a writer. These "snapshots," as he calls them, are interesting, sometimes sad, sometimes hilarious, and sometimes sad and hilarious at the same time. Soon after college, King married, had two children, and taught English in Hampden, Maine, as he tried to get Carrie, his first novel, published. The paperback rights eventually sold for $400,000 and King's career was launched. Along the way, he fought battles with alcoholism and drug addiction. In another section King describes the "toolbox" that every writer must have. Among the items needed, King discusses vocabulary, grammar, and style. He offers good practical advice such as "the adverb is not your friend." He also refers all aspiring writers to Strunk and White's The Elements of Style as essential reading. In fact, "read a lot and write a lot" are two of the most fundamental keys to successful writing. Instead of advising writers to write what they know, he suggests that they write, "anything at all... as long as you tell the truth." King provides insight into the way he creates a story as well as specific suggestions about the use of dialogue, symbolism, and theme. He also discusses his approach to writing each day and his rule that a second draft should be 10% shorter than the first. He evendiscusses what to look for in an agent. King was in the middle of writing this book in 1999 when he suffered serious injuries when hit by a car while walking. His desire to finish the book actually helped in his long rehabilitation process. He explains that writing "had helped me forget myself for at least a while" and he hopes "it would help me again." The novels of Stephen King have many young people reading; this book may encourage some of them to start writing as well. Teachers will find this book full of helpful suggestions. There are examples of "bad" writing and discussions for improvement. A word of caution must be included, however, since King is fairly frequent in his use of inappropriate language. KLIATT Codes: A*—Exceptional book, recommended for advanced students, and adults. 2000, Pocket Books, 288p., $14.95. Ages 17 to adult. Reviewer: Anthony J. Pucci; English Dept. Chair., Notre Dame H.S., Elmira, NY , September 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 5)
Library Journal
In 1981 King penned Danse Macabre, a thoughtful analysis of the horror genre. Now he is treating his vast readership to another glimpse into the intellect that spawns his astoundingly imaginative works. This volume, slim by King standards, manages to cover his life from early childhood through the aftermath of the 1999 accident that nearly killed him. Along the way, King touts the writing philosophies of William Strunk and Ernest Hemingway, advocates a healthy appetite for reading, expounds upon the subject of grammar, critiques a number of popular writers, and offers the reader a chance to try out his theories. But most important, we who climb aboard for this ride with the master spend a few pleasant hours under the impression that we know what it s like to think like Stephen King. Recommended for anyone who wants to write and everyone who loves to read. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/00.] Nancy McNicol, Hagaman Memorial Lib., East Haven, CT Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-By the time King was 14, the scads of rejection slips he'd accumulated grew too heavy for the nail in the wall on which they were mounted. He replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing. This straight-up book inspires without being corny, and teens suspicious of adult rhapsodies to perseverance will let down their guard and be put at ease by the book's gritty conversational tone. The first 100 pages are pure memoir--paeans to the horror movies and fanzines that captivated King as a child, the expected doses of misadventure (weeks of detention for distributing his own satirical zine at school; building an electromagnet that took out the electricity of half a street), and hard times. King writes just as passionately in the second half of the book, where the talk turns to his craft. He provides plenty of samples of awkward or awful writing and contrasts them with polished versions. Hand this title to reluctant readers and reluctant writers, sit back, and watch what happens.-Emily Lloyd, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
This presentation is mostly a memoir with a treatise on writing thrown in, and will attract any fan of horror writer Stephen King. King's life, his penchant for horror, and his influences and intentions come alive in descriptions which welcome the reader into King's life and art. The final chapter, chronicling his fight for life and ability to walk again, is a moving conclusion and testimony to his life of life - and writing.
Janet Maslin
[King's] warmly conversational book about literary craftsmanship should interest even those who find something oxymoronic in its conception. As someone who describes the authorial brainstorm of setting off a bomb in The Stand because the story was becoming overpopulated, he may not be the most noble of stylists, but there's no denying that he knows how to make a story fly...Monstrous as it was, [King's accident, in which he was struck by a car] turned On Writing into a much stronger, more meaningful book than it might have been. Halfway through this project, when he was hurt, Mr. King incorporated his revivifying return to work into this book's narrative in ways that will make readers realize just how vital it has been for him. And the accident is eloquently described here, as a sterling illustration of all the writing guidelines that have come before. For once, less is more in Mr. King's storytelling, and the horror needs no help from his imagination.
New York Times
Marla Abramson
Part memoir, part guide, King's ode to writing is filled with deft humor and detailed instructions. Starting with the recollection of the first time he pretended he was someone else (a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus strongboy), King charmingly recounts each incident that shaped his career. Eula-Beulah (which name was hers, he can't remember) readied him for critics. He writes, "After having a two-hundred-pound babysitter fart on your face and yell Pow!, The Village Voice holds few terrors." King takes us through his earliest writings, rejections, alcoholism and success, up through his recovery after being hit by a van last summer. He imbues each snapshot with wisdom and advice for writers. For those who don't dream of picking up a pen, skip the toolbox section, where he gives practical advice to writers. But this book still holds many lessons, such as when to keep going: Carrie, his first commercial success, originally ended up in King's trash can. After writing the first four pages, King felt the story had major problems and threw it away. His wife rescued the pages and urged King to continue. "You've got something here," she said. "I really think you do."
Kirkus Reviews
Generous, lucid, and passionate, King (Hearts in Atlantis, 1999, etc.) offers lessons and encouragement to the beginning writer, along with a warts-and-all account of a less-than-carefree life.

From the Publisher
"A one-of-a-kind classic."—The Wall Street Journal

"This is a special book, animated by a unique intelligence, and filled with useful truth."—Michael Chabon

"On Writing had more useful and observant things to say about the craft than any book since Strunk and White's The Elements of Style."—Roger Ebert

“The best book on writing. Ever.”—The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

Read More

Product Details

Pocket Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
4.20(w) x 6.60(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

I actually began On Writing in November or December of 1997, and although it usually takes me only three months to finish the first draft of a book, this one was still only half-completed eighteen months later. That was because I'd put it aside in February or March of 1998, not sure how to continue, or if I should continue at all. Writing fiction was almost as much fun as it had ever been, but every word of the nonfiction book was a kind of torture. It was the first book I had put aside uncompleted since The Stand, and On Writing spent a lot longer in the desk drawer.

In June of 1999, I decided to spend the summer finishing the damn writing book -- let Susan Moldow and Nan Graham at Scribner decide if it was good or bad, I thought. I read the manuscript over, prepared for the worst, and discovered I actually sort of liked what I had. The road to finishing it seemed clear-cut, too. I had finished the memoir ("C.V."), which attempted to show some of the incidents and life-situations which made me into the sort of writer I turned out to be, and I had covered the mechanics -- those that seemed most important to me, at least. What remained to be done was the key section, "On Writing," where I'd try to answer some of the questions I'd been asked in seminars and at speaking engagements, plus all those I wish I'd been asked...those questions about the language.

On the night of June seventeenth, blissfully unaware that I was now less than forty-eight hours from my little date with Bryan Smith (not to mention Bullet the rottweiler), I sat down at our dining room table and listed all the questions I wanted to answer, all the points I wanted to address. On the eighteenth, I wrote the first four pages of the "On Writing" section. That was where the work still stood in late July, when I decided I'd better get back to work...or at least try.

I didn't want to go back to work. I was in a lot of pain, unable to bend my right knee, and restricted to a walker. I couldn't imagine sitting behind a desk for long, even in my wheelchair. Because of my cataclysmically smashed hip, sitting was torture after forty minutes or so, impossible after an hour and a quarter. Added to this was the book itself, which seemed more daunting than ever -- how was I supposed to write about dialogue, character, and getting an agent when the most pressing thing in my world was how long until the next dose of Percocet?

Yet at the same time I felt I'd reached one of those crossroads moments when you're all out of choices. And I had been in terrible situations before which the writing had helped me get over -- had helped me forget myself for at least a little while. Perhaps it would help me again. It seemed ridiculous to think it might be so, given the level of my pain and physical incapacitation, but there was that voice in the back of my mind, both patient and implacable, telling me that, in the words of the Chambers Brothers, Time Has Come Today. It's possible for me to disobey that voice, but very difficult to disbelieve it.

In the end it was Tabby who cast the deciding vote, as she so often has at crucial moments in my life. I'd like to think I've done the same for her from time to time, because it seems to me that one of the things marriage is about is casting the tiebreaking vote when you just can't decide what you should do next.

My wife is the person in my life who's most likely to say I'm working too hard, it's time to slow down, stay away from that damn PowerBook for a little while, Steve, give it a rest. When I told her on that July morning that I thought I'd better go back to work, I expected a lecture. Instead, she asked me where I wanted to set up. I told her I didn't know, hadn't even thought about it.

She thought about it, then said: "I can rig a table for you in the back hall, outside the pantry. There are plenty of plug-ins -- you can have your Mac, the little printer, and a fan." The fan was certainly a must -- it had been a terrifically hot summer, and on the day I went back to work, the temperature outside was ninety-five. It wasn't much cooler in the back hall.

Tabby spent a couple of hours putting things together, and that afternoon at four o'clock she rolled me out through the kitchen and down the newly installed wheelchair ramp into the back hall. She had made me a wonderful little nest there: laptop and printer connected side by side, table lamp, manuscript (with my notes from the month before placed neatly on top), pens, reference materials. Standing on the corner of the desk was a framed picture of our younger son, which she had taken earlier that summer.

"Is it all right?" she asked.

"It's gorgeous," I said, and hugged her. It was gorgeous. So is she.

The former Tabitha Spruce of Oldtown, Maine, knows when I'm working too hard, but she also knows that sometimes its the work that bails me out. She got me positioned at the table, kissed me on the temple, and then left me there to find out if I had anything left to say. It turned out I did.

Copyright © 2000 by Stephen King

Read More

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"A one-of-a-kind classic."—The Wall Street Journal

"This is a special book, animated by a unique intelligence, and filled with useful truth."—Michael Chabon

"On Writing had more useful and observant things to say about the craft than any book since Strunk and White's The Elements of Style."—Roger Ebert

“The best book on writing. Ever.”—The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >