book review, nonfiction, writing

On Writing by Stephen King

The king of horror’s famous memoir on the craft.

Split into four sections, the first part of the book details King’s life from early childhood until his sale of the paperback rights for his first book, Carrie.

The second section explains what a toolbox is and what a writer should keep in theirs (spoilers – vocabulary and grammar).

The third second is supposedly the writing advice, and boils down to read and write a lot.

Finally, there is a section on his horrific accident and recovery, which delayed him finishing the book.

There are a couple of appendices concerning editing and recommended reading.

I found this book very disappointing. Despite being told how incredible it was by the cashier in the bookshop where I bought it (I’d gone in looking for Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook, but this was the only book on writing in the store. I went to Amazon for Wonderbook afterwards), I didn’t hold high hopes for this tome. I am not a fan of King’s work. I find his depiction of characters cruel and unpleasant, and his stories lack the complexity I crave.

On Writing does a good job of explaining how King sees the world, and reinforces the fundamental differences between him and me that makes me dislike his books. However, it also shows the elements that helped shaped him to be the man that he is, and I feel I have a better understanding of him for having read it.

His writing advice is simple, arrogant and remarkably unexamined. He claims instinct when I would argue that he works things out in his head the way other people plot on paper.

His abhorrence for plot and theme strike me as reverse elitism, but perhaps he generally isn’t interested in looking beyond the surface, which would certainly tie in with my dissatisfaction with his characters and plots.

I do agree with him about honesty. I think emotional truth is very important in fiction, even if I disagree that the use of profanity is the only way to reach it. We come from very different worlds.

My favorite part of the memoir is his account of his accident and recovery. Perhaps it was because he was vulnerable, a glimpse of the true man came through and for the first time I felt he was being honest. The rest of the book uses smoke and mirrors to effectively build the picture that he wants to show to the world. His account of his suffering rang true to me, without the manipulation of the early passages.

I think this is a book that is a must read for a fan of King, but I don’t think it provides any insights to the writer, and provides only marginal curiosity as a memoir.

I award On Writing

On Writing is available for $9 ebook and $17 print book on Amazon.


The last of my be the expert/ask the expert/become the expert posts for week three of Nonfiction November, here are links to the other writing books I reviewed:

Click here to read my review of 5000 Words Per Hour.

Click here to read my review of Being Indie.

Click here to read my review of Writers on Writing Volume 1.

14 thoughts on “On Writing by Stephen King”

  1. You’re the only other person I can think of that didn’t love On Writing! I found it okaaaaay, but not suited to what I wanted to learn. For memoires on the writing life, I clicked much better with The Art of Slow Writing (DeSalvo) and The Writing Life (Dillard). Neither are craft books but still have some writing advice sprinkled here and there.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I didn’t like it either, but mainly because it was sold to me as a great book about writing and I couldn’t believe how completely different it was from my expectations. I didn’t get past the first section. I probably would only read the writing memoir of a writer whose work I admired or at least liked. It doesn’t sound like I missed anything.

      Liked by 1 person

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