Book Recommendation – Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Over the years, I’ve read my share of writing guides, most of which have been helpful in one way or another. None of them have made me laugh out loud, however, until I read On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.

Stephen King On WritingThis book took me completely by surprise. Unlike traditional writing manuals, it’s as engaging as a novel. As the title suggests, the book blends writing advice with memoir. The writer (or reader, for that matter) who reads this book will come away feeling that they’ve been given an intimate glimpse into the life of an incredibly successful writer. Whether you are a fan of King’s novels or have never read a single word, I promise you will gain something from this book.

On Writing is divided into three parts—the first and last are memoir and the middle focuses on writing advice. At first I thought I would have little interest in the memoir sections and would want to hurry through to the part about writing, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Reading the opening section about Mr. King’s boyhood, I felt like I had just been introduced to an uncle I’d never met before—that black-sheep of the family who became a famous writer and had finally come to visit. King tells his stories of the events that formed the writer he would become with humor and honesty. He is sometimes vulgar, sometimes sophomoric, but always completely frank, with plenty of strongly worded opinions thrown in.

In the section on writing, King goes over all the necessary tools an aspiring writer needs. He provides examples of what works and why (and examples of what doesn’t work and why.) He is brutally honest about his opinions on writing, but if he doesn’t pull any punches when discussing the talents and weaknesses of other writers, he is just as honest about his own writing. For example, when advising against the overuse of adverbs and sticking to “he said” and “she said” in dialogue tags, he freely admits that this is a case of “Do as I say, not as I do.” He never pretends to be the perfect writer.

One of the most surprising lines of the book for me was a line that was not given a lot of fanfare. Still, it struck me as a shockingly intimate piece of personal information, tucked inside a tale of getting in trouble at school for writing a parody newspaper that embarrassed quite a few teachers. After describing a confrontation with one of those teachers who, in frustration, told him how talented he was and asked, Why do you want to waste your abilities? King writes, “…I had no answer to give. I was ashamed. I have spent a good many years since—too many, I think—being ashamed about what I write.”

Wow. That really shocked me, not just because it’s so honest but because I was stunned that Stephen King would ever feel that way at all. It’s this upfront openness about himself and about the writing process that drew me in and connected me to King’s story and his advice. More than just a conversational tone, the honesty of this book made me trust in what I was reading.

I highly recommend Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. It will make you laugh, it will make you flinch, but most importantly, it will make you a better writer.

Would you like a chance to win your own paperback copy of Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft? Well, you’re in luck because Pub(lishing) Crawl is giving one away! Simply leave a comment about the best writing advice you’ve ever received and enter the Rafflecopter giveaway, below.

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24 Responses to Book Recommendation – Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

  1. Rachel Jul 8 2013 at 4:13 am #

    The best advice I ever got was to use body, but in a million different ways. sometimes I can do it myself, other times I use “The Emotion Thesaurus” which is very helpful.

  2. jeffo Jul 8 2013 at 6:42 am #

    Say what you want about King, but the man is a terrific storyteller, and that’s a big part of the charm of this book.

    By the way, if you haven’t seen it, there’s a great video out there of King speaking at George Mason University from September, 2011. It’s entertaining and full of insight.

  3. An Jul 8 2013 at 9:01 am #

    I’ve received excellent writing advice over the years, but a workbook that has helped me to outline my WIPs tremendously is Donald Maas’s “Writing the Breakout Novel.”

  4. Patrick Stahl Jul 8 2013 at 10:02 am #

    I read this a few months ago. The memoirs were great. His writing advice was decent. A few of his points really angered me, like dissing muses and television. It’s still a worthy read.

  5. ellie M Jul 8 2013 at 10:29 am #

    Thats really hard. I’m going to go with the boring “READ” because it seriously does help. Even if it’s just critiquing other writer’s/ CP’s work, it really does help with you own works.

  6. Christine Jul 8 2013 at 10:37 am #

    I remember reading this book when I first started getting serious about writing (back in high school) and I loved reading everything about it!

  7. Josiphine Jul 8 2013 at 10:43 am #

    The best writing advice anybody has ever said to me is that if it’s boring to you, the author, it’s most likely going to be boring to your readers. That’s saved me time and again.

  8. Erin B. Jul 8 2013 at 10:46 am #

    This book has been on my wish list for a while now. The best writing advice for me is “write every day.”

  9. Christa Jul 8 2013 at 11:09 am #

    The best writing advice I’ve ever received was when someone told me “not to write what I know but instead write what I want to read.” Before that I was always trying to write contemporary novels and they never seemed to go anywhere. Hearing that (though simple advice) was like a revelation. I read mostly science fiction and fantasy so that’s what I’ve started to write. The words come easier, the stories feel better. It changed everything.

  10. Rowenna Jul 8 2013 at 12:10 pm #

    I love this book–I don’t really care for the kinds of stories King writes, so I haven’t read much of his fiction, but oh my gosh! his memoir is great. Really, really funny–surprisingly funny.

    Best writing advice? I think, more than anything, that writers write. It’s so insanely basic, but if you just write, everything else will follow. Also, not to be too precious–that is, you don’t “need” your perfect cup of coffee or just the right playlist of music or whatever. Just sit down and write.

  11. Aneeqah @ My Not So Jul 8 2013 at 1:26 pm #

    I’ve been meaning to read this book for really, forever. I’m so glad that you found it was worth reading! One of my favorite writing advice is: The dream is only crushed if you crumble it in your hands. It’s so true, though. You’re responsible for your own dreams. If you want to go for your dreams, then you can do it. Nobody else.

    Thanks for such a lovely review! <3

  12. Peggy Eddleman Jul 8 2013 at 5:08 pm #

    I think the best writing advice I’ve ever gotten is to never stop learning. Seriously– I don’t think you can ever learn everything in this profession!

  13. Sarah Wolf Jul 9 2013 at 11:22 am #

    The best advice I’ve gotten is to write, write, write. Building that daily practice is key.

  14. Alexa Y. Jul 9 2013 at 2:19 pm #

    It’s funny, but the best writing advice I’ve received is pretty simple – JUST WRITE. It’s actually really difficult to get started on writing something, at least for me. I’m always worried about getting things wrong, or not being good enough, or not being able to finish. I’m also an eternal perfectionist, so I always want to do things write. I don’t think I would ever have started writing again if someone hadn’t encouraged me to simply WRITE. I’m still learning how to deal with my fears and take that plunge constantly – but it’s definitely getting better!

  15. Loie Jul 9 2013 at 10:50 pm #

    Age old advice…read, read, read and write, write, write 🙂

    Thanks for the giveaway!!
    Loie x

  16. Hamed Jul 10 2013 at 6:04 am #

    Actually, there are two pieces of advice that changed my way of [wannabe]writing; the first came to me as an insult when my so-called friend heard my idea for a short story about a man who tries to proof that lies are not bad but “loose” lies are bad. He looked over my head with a disappointed-art-teacher smile and quoted:” A writer is not a confectioner, a cosmetic dealer, or an entertainer. He is a man who has signed a contract with his conscience and his sense of duty.” Then he sighed, gazed into my empty mind through my shortsighted eyes and added: ”Anton Chekhov”.
    I hated him for a long time after.
    The second was a souvenir from the land of boredom. I had no idea what should I do so I freed my right hand from the weight of my chin and Googled –in Farsi- “what should I do? What should I write about?”. And there it was; an old bearded chubby face, tilted a little bit to the right with the most unnecessary ripple-effect of wrinkles from his eyes to his forehead, under a white baseball cap, Like I asked the easiest question of all times. I clicked, scrolled down and read “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
    And the truth is I’m still trying to figure out what that means.

  17. Julia Jul 10 2013 at 11:36 am #

    I’ve always wanted to read Stephen King’s On Writing. I’ve heard that its amazing advice for writers, something that I need if I want to move forward with writing my book.

  18. Julia Jul 10 2013 at 11:37 am #

    The bset advice I’ve ever recieved was to write at elast 500 words a day, even if it is crap. You can always go back and revise it later, but trying to write the perfect sentence the first time around will never be successful. By getting into teh habit of writing every day, eventually you will finish your first draft 🙂

  19. Leigh Smith Jul 10 2013 at 8:13 pm #

    The best advice ever is BICHOK, butt in chair hands on keyboard. No matter how many great tips you read or hear about, you still have to just do it!

  20. Alyssa Jul 10 2013 at 10:32 pm #

    Anne Lamott’s book on writing, BIRD BY BIRD, has taught me so much about being a writer. That book helped me let go of perfectionism when I write, and that to me has been the most important advice I’ve received. I’m a perfectionist in my life and work, so I struggle when things aren’t just right, but Anne Lamott talks about how we need to make messes in order to find what we’re looking for, and that’s true in both life and writing.

  21. Kim Jul 14 2013 at 5:21 am #

    I love this book! It’s a great mix of Stephen King’s take on writing and about his life. It’s inspirational too, since he had to go through so much to get where he is 🙂

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  23. Amazon Sep 26 2014 at 1:31 pm #

    Very energetic article, I loved that bit. Will there be a part
    2?

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