Book Reviews

Stephen King- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Stephen King

I had Stephen King’s novel On Writing on my TBR list for a long time and finally had a chance to read it. I’ll share the advice/tips that resonated with me but your best bet is to simply read On Writing. (And take copious notes).

* On Why Not to Stop- “Realization that stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea.” I have an amazing (at least I think it is) novel in my head and I’ve created a loose outline, completed the first chapter, etc. but for whatever reason it’s not as easy to write as my YA novel Jaded was. I’m pretty sure it’s because my main character is male. Another reason is that I have Jaded and a collection of short stories nearly finished and I’ve got to publish those to clear some space in my head before I can begin another project.

Writing Toolbox- King suggests that you carry your writing tools with you wherever you go (as well as a novel b/c you never know when you’ll have the opportunity to read).

In the Top Level of the Toolbox: 

1. Vocabulary

* King says that often the first word that pops in your head is the one to go with, as long as it’s “appropriate and colorful.”

* Don’t try to “dress up” or consciously improve your vocabulary- if you do, it will sound fake. I used to do this when I was a teenager. I thought that tossing “big” words in a poem was impressive but my poetry professor disagreed.  “Cerulean tinted waters. Why not just say blue?” he said. Basically, simple words work just as well, especially if you’re more familiar with them. Your vocabulary will naturally  improve the more you read.

2. Grammar

* Avoid using passive tense. For example: Instead of “The meeting will be held at 7:00,” say “The meeting’s at 7:00.”

*  According to King, “the road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

* Place the most important part of the sentence in the beginning

* Fragment sentences can work

* It’s okay to break the rules, as long as you understand the rules.

In the The Second Level:  

1. Elements of Style

* Let your paragraphs form organically – there is no ideal length. I tend to read my writing out loud b/c it’s easier to feel the rhythm.

* Description- sensory reality, balance between too much/too little description. Utilize the five senses. Don’t over describe the characters. “Her hair was as long, straight, and golden as a Barbie doll…blah, blah, blah” It’s much cooler to use a few descriptions that stand out. For example, in one of my short stories my main character has a birth mark on her forehead and her twin sister (who she despises) encourages her to cover it with make up so that she’ll be a tad prettier. (King mentions that Chandler, Hammett, Rose Mac Donald, T.S. Elliot, and William Carlos Williams are must reads for help with description).

* Dialogue- brings characters alive through speech.  (King mentions reading Georeg V. Higgins, Peter Straub, Graham Greene, and Frank Norris for help with dialogue). Allow your characters to speak honestly- if they have to cuss once in awhile, let them.

* Theme- the story is the most important piece- the theme, or recurring message, will come with time.


* King describes the following novels as having bad prose: Valley of the Dolls (which is actually on my TBR list), Flowers in the Attic (which is one of my favorite novels. In fact, I adore the late V.C. Andrews), and The Bridges of Madison County (which I haven’t read).

* King has written approximately 50 or so novels, he strives for 10 pages per day (2,000 words) and 180,000 words in 3 months(length of time he suggests to finish a novel)

* Beginning writers should take 1 day off per week and shoot for 1,000 words a day.

* King suggests writing at least 2 drafts. Write the first draft as fast as you can (in order to run from the self-doubt that inevitable nips at your heels). This draft shouldn’t be shown to anyone else.

* After your first draft, take a break and work on something else. Perhaps a short story or something different than your novel. Let your draft rest for six weeks.

* After your second draft, he suggests that you send it to 6-8 people to read

* “You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”

*“Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”





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  1. Do you feel obsessed with that book now that you’ve read it? Because I do, on occasion. He is a master with words, he really is. It’s actually the only book of his I’ve read, and I’m still convinced he’s a master with words.
    Katie Cross recently posted…Help! Desperation!My Profile

  2. You know, I love Stephen King. I didn’t realise he wrote this and now it’s been brought to my attention I’ll grab it. Kristy you are a star, awesome post!
    Can’t get over how wise King is!

  3. This book has been on my “Currently Reading” list for an embarrassingly long time. But every time I pick it up, I realize just how brilliant Stephen King really is. My editor recommended this book to me, promising me I’d find a ton of useful information in it to help me with the craft. And she wasn’t lying. Anyone who loves writing should read this book.
    Crissi recently posted…What I learned during my week-long digital detoxMy Profile

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