On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft
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On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft

4.5 191
by Stephen King

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Immensely helpful and illuminating to any aspiring writer, this special edition of Stephen King’s critically lauded, million-copy bestseller shares the experiences, habits, and convictions that have shaped him and his work.

“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part


Immensely helpful and illuminating to any aspiring writer, this special edition of Stephen King’s critically lauded, million-copy bestseller shares the experiences, habits, and convictions that have shaped him and his work.

“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported, near-fatal accident in 1999—and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it—fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.

Editorial Reviews

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)

Library Journal
★ 02/01/2016
Entertaining and structured to please, this guide contains much about King as well as his writing wisdom. The author describes how the writing life can coexist with the everyday. (LJ 7/00)
The subtitle to Stephen King's On Writing, his missive on the art and craft that have made him rich and famous, is "A Memoir of the Craft." And that's just what this book is. Beginning with his earliest childhood, when his mother was struggling to raise Stephen and his older brother on her own, King takes readers through his life, culminating with the 1999 tragedy that almost ended it. Interspersed with King's memories are details that highlight his burgeoning career, all of it told in King's uniquely folksy but slightly twisted style.
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)
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.

Product Details

Publication date:
Edition description:
10th Anniversary Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.44(w) x 5.64(h) x 0.81(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 Iwanted 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

Meet the Author

Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes End of Watch, the short story collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Finders Keepers, Mr. Mercedes (an Edgar Award winner for Best Novel), Doctor Sleep, and Under the Dome. His novel 11/22/63—a recent Hulu original television series event—was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller as well as the Best Hardcover Book Award from the International Thriller Writers. His epic series, The Dark Tower, is the basis for a major motion picture from Sony. He is the recipient of the 2014 National Medal of Arts and the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.

Brief Biography

Bangor, Maine
Date of Birth:
September 21, 1947
Place of Birth:
Portland, Maine
B.S., University of Maine at Orono, 1970

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On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 192 reviews.
Grandma-in_Texas More than 1 year ago
I have never read a Stephen King book, nor did I anticipate ever reading one. I am not one who likes to be scared. I have a 50 year habit of sleep walking after scary movies, and I sleep in the nude... but then that is another story....and a little scary in itself. Anyway, I was given this book by my sister, who knows that I will only read the truth. No previous use for fiction, or fantasy books here. As it turned out, I really did enjoy this book, and I have since referred it to a couple of friends, who are budding authors. I feel that the tips and suggestions were very concise, and I had many "well duh" moments. It seems so easy, and so obvious. And yet, it took the book to make me realize it. Genius!! I would highly recommend this book, to anyone planning to write, or who thought that they knew how to write already. Heck, I may even buy a Stephen King Book of pure fiction soon. Egad!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this book insanely inspiring. Sometimes vulger, sometimes surprisingly romantic and moving, reading this was like spending an evening with a master storyteller and having him answer all the questions you've always wanted to ask. I loved it.
Antoinette Armocida More than 1 year ago
an excellent view inside the mind of successful creative genius. i will never look at adverbs the same.
Tonja_Steel More than 1 year ago
What a brilliant book by a brilliant man. I love how he discusses how story matters and to forget about plot. I've been writing a novel and have found his advice incredibly inspiring and helpful. I'm a fair writer who hopes to become above average and I think with the help of this book and lot of practice, I can get there. I am so grateful to King for taking the time to write this book. I know it was not that enjoyable to write but WOW, what a difference it's made in my world. It's been better than ANY creative writing course or book coach I could have hired. Kudos to the King! 
ionestjames More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. It has to be my favourite book of 2010. I have always been a fan of Stephen King and I found, as an aspiring writer, that a book about writing written by someone who knows what they're doing is a great help. I initially had to read this book for my Fiction Writing class, I absolutely fell in love with it from page one and my love for it continued all the way to page 288. There were times when this book made me laugh out loud, embarrassingly on my part, in public places and there were times when I was reading it that I realized some of the mistakes I made as a writer and I learned ways in which I could fix those mistakes without taking away from the idea I want to get across. Now, Stephen King is a very blunt man. He is not shy about saying that there is such a thing as a "bad writer." To quote the book, he says: ...while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one. He gives you the facts, straight from the horse's mouth, if you will, and yet he puts it in a way that not only comforts you, but helps you learn exactly why it is the way it is. He even uses examples from his own writing, whereas a textbook would merely give you examples of someone else's work. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone. Anyone at all. Especially those who are looking to become professional writers. On Writing helped me out so much, I don't know where I would be if I hadn't read this book. Probably writing crappy novels that border on fan fiction. Who knows?
jmeeks More than 1 year ago
This is a must read for writers. King's folksy review of his life and how it affected his writing is an easy read. His tidbits of basic writing tips give writers the background as to why writing should follow established guidelines . . . or not. These are tips that will make you view your writing in a new perspective. He is irreverant and totally believable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or despair ... Come to it any way but lightly.” Stephen King. There is a reason why Stephen King is my favorite writer and it isn’t just because he is an author of mind-twisting tales, but is a teacher through his writing. The book On Writing; A Memoir of the Craft, isn’t a step by step book on how to write a novel, but is inspiriting boost of confidence. He teaches his readers how to be the best writer they can be. This book is set up in sections. Through the first section King shares childhood stories and his path on becoming a published writer. He shares his troubles through his old addictions of alcohol and drugs and finding his wife Tabitha. I have to admit some of these childhood memories did have me laughing out loud. The second section talks about all the tools a writer needs to be successful. He introduces how to be descriptive by giving an example of a table with a red cloth and a bunny cage set on top. He told you his idea of what this set would look like and this made me think because it was NOTHING like the picture in my head. The third section is about king’s “toolbox”. He explained how there are different “shelves” that are important to writing which are vocabulary, grammar, and elements of style. The fourth section is all about the cream inside the Oreo. He describes how to go from the idea in his head to the story on the white piece of paper. The final section was all about editing. The thing I enjoyed about this book is how inspired Stephen King is about writing. He is dedicated and obviously loves what he does. Also, I find it important that an author stays truthful. Stephen didn’t have one issue telling you what is good and what plan out sucks. I recommend this book to anyone and everyone. Even if you aren’t a serious writer, there are many tips given that even I found helpful.
Sandy5 29 days ago
I got to know Stephen King on a personal level by reading this short novel. I learned how he made his first buck and I felt like we connected even though we never really personally met. I never expected to get this much out of this small novel and never did I expect to even find this novel to be something that I would recommend to anyone else. The title of this novel is what turned me off. I am not a writer. I like to express my thoughts about the books that I read but I don’t put myself into the category of a writer so when my daughter-in-law suggested that I read this novel, I was hesitate. So much so, I have shelved the novel for many months. Crazy me! This novel was fantastic, this novel had energy and I can now see why she loves it so. My daughter-in-law adores a novel written by one of the kings of horror yet she hates horror, it’s amazing! As a high school literacy teacher, I can see why she adores it. Inside this novel, Stephen begins by addressing his childhood and you begin to see how his upbringing shapes the stories that he writes later in life. As a teen, he liked the things that excite me: horror movies, movies with teenagers on the prowl and science fiction movies. Reading about his teenage years, you can see his novels beginning to take shape. He talks about his marriage, how it works for them and how they survived the rough years. No, this book is not all about the writing process yet it is about writing as he talks about how an individual’s life and their journey will shape their writing and this book will show you that everyone has a story to tell. There is a story within you Stephen believes, a story just needs to be pulled together and you, the writer needs to find it and put it all together, the way you see fit. I was excited as I read this novel; I was seeing it all come together as Stephen laid out his own journey/story for us. I don’t agree with everything that he writes inside this novel but he made me think about a lot of things. I love what he says about fear. He believes that fear makes people write badly. I have to agree with him. Fear of rejection, fear of confrontation, fear of unknowns and fear of uncertainty are things that make people not write as good as they could. He also writes about word choice and how people choose their words. Are you an individual who writes down the first word that pops into their head or do you think about what word to use? I won’t tell you what Stephen thinks but he has some thoughts on the subject. This novel is funny at times; his stories really had me going which I did not expect at all. He is real in this novel and I appreciated his honesty and now I feel a connection to the stories that he wrote and I know that they came from his heart. The second half of the novel he writes more about how to write. He talks more about the writing process. Not being a writer, I didn’t find this section boring. I found what he wrote fascinating and energizing, he gives the reader interesting ideas to think about. Providing excellent examples, you understand exactly what he means, he’s doesn’t preach to you and tell what to do, Stephen makes you think and he offers suggestions. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel as he gives the reader an excellent perspective on his writing and he offers suggestions and ideas hoping to ignite the writer that is within all of us. I, myself liked looking at his novels through his eyes. “Writing is seduction,” you should writ
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've read a ton of "how to" books, and if I had to pick just one, I would pick Stephen King's "On Writing." Everything you need to know is in this book. Character development, plot, dialogue, pacing, revision--it's all here. King has distilled a lifetime of writing into this little book. He also says what many other books say but adds biography and unmistakable King-like humor as he goes along. I wish I'd read King's book when I started to write fiction. I probably wouldn't have read all the others. I also don't keep many books on my shelf--most go back to the used bookstore--but Mr. King's is definitely a keeper. Also recommended: "Jenna's Flaw"
NatalieRae More than 1 year ago
It's not often I can read a Stephen King book and not come away with nightmares or jump at any odd noise or shift in shadows but this book leaves me wanting more. The book is broken up in sections. First, you get a little background information on the writer, himself. It's easy to see where inspiration struck turning horrific pain into horrifying fiction. Second, you get to see how his writing journey came about along with the love story of the woman he continutes to see as his Ideal Reader. Next, you get hands on, nitty-gritty suggestions by Mr. King on what makes good fiction. Last, Mr. King offers you a peek at a rough draft WIP in its raw form, and then in its edited form-complete with Mr. King's scribbles and notes for changes. He also adds a list of books that have influenced him, his writing, and are just plain entertaining. On Writing offers a peek into the life of Mr. King, his writing career, and the personal struggles he's faced and overcome. He even shares the tragic accident that almost claimed his life on that stretch of road in Maine. The writing is personal and since much of it was done while Mr. King was recovering it's clear to see that for him, writing this book was very much personal. The advice, the tips, the encouragement are refreshing. Some of it I've heard before but for some reason hearing it from Mr. King felt like he was talking to directly to me. Inspiring me to just write. Not for money, not for fame, but because it's what I was made to do. This book should be on every writer's shelf. **As with all of Stephen King's books there is a bit of language in this book too. It wasn't enough to cause me any discomfort and because I'm aware of who this author is and the type of writing he does-it was expected. He's real. This book is real. It's worth the @#*$&! money and time. :)
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A must read for any writer. Valuable insights, clear and to the point
Madme More than 1 year ago
Stephen King lays it all out for the would be writer. I am not a writer, but I like this author enough to read his books. And this is a great way to understand how he creates his fiction. If you think you know it all, or just want to get into writing, then you should read this book. He pulls no punches about what constitutes bad, good or great writing with many good examples and great stories. He talks about grammar and all the other crap that make a good writer. And if you're not reading this book , then save your money and knit something instead. Enjoy.
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Kim_Mason More than 1 year ago
Stephen King proves his ability to write anything by penning this combination of autobiography and "How-To Write" book. He had his share of hardship, pain, and addiction -- just like a lot of other people, but he tells us how he overcame these and continued writing.
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Whether you use his advice or not, some interesting helps from a master of his craft.
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