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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft [Hardcover]

Stephen King
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (574 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 3 2000

"If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write."

In 1999, Stephen King began to write about his craft -- and his life. By midyear, a widely reported accident jeopardized the survival of both. And in his months of recovery, the link between writing and living became more crucial than ever.

Rarely has a book on writing been so clear, so useful, and so revealing. On Writing begins with a mesmerizing account of King's childhood and his uncannily early focus on writing to tell a story. A series of vivid memories from adolescence, college, and the struggling years that led up to his first novel, Carrie, will afford readers a fresh and often very funny perspective on the formation of a writer. King next turns to the basic tools of his trade -- how to sharpen and multiply them through use, and how the writer must always have them close at hand. He takes the reader through crucial aspects of the writer's art and life, offering practical and inspiring advice on everything from plot and character development to work habits and rejection.

Serialized in the New Yorker to vivid acclaim, On Writing culminates with a profoundly moving account of how King's overwhelming need to write spurred him toward recovery, and brought him back to his life.

Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower -- and entertain -- everyone who reads it.

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From Amazon

Short and snappy as it is, Stephen King's On Writing really contains two books: a fondly sardonic autobiography and a tough-love lesson for aspiring novelists. The memoir is terrific stuff, a vivid description of how a writer grew out of a misbehaving kid. You're right there with the young author as he's tormented by poison ivy, gas-passing babysitters, uptight schoolmarms, and a laundry job nastier than Jack London's. It's a ripping yarn that casts a sharp light on his fiction. This was a child who dug Yvette Vickers from Attack of the Giant Leeches, not Sandra Dee. "I wanted monsters that ate whole cities, radioactive corpses that came out of the ocean and ate surfers, and girls in black bras who looked like trailer trash." But massive reading on all literary levels was a craving just as crucial, and soon King was the published author of "I Was a Teen-Age Graverobber." As a young adult raising a family in a trailer, King started a story inspired by his stint as a janitor cleaning a high-school girls locker room. He crumpled it up, but his writer wife retrieved it from the trash, and using her advice about the girl milieu and his own memories of two reviled teenage classmates who died young, he came up with Carrie. King gives us lots of revelations about his life and work. The kidnapper character in Misery, the mind-possessing monsters in The Tommyknockers, and the haunting of the blocked writer in The Shining symbolized his cocaine and booze addiction (overcome thanks to his wife's intervention, which he describes). "There's one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember writing."

King also evokes his college days and his recovery from the van crash that nearly killed him, but the focus is always on what it all means to the craft. He gives you a whole writer's "tool kit": a reading list, writing assignments, a corrected story, and nuts-and-bolts advice on dollars and cents, plot and character, the basic building block of the paragraph, and literary models. He shows what you can learn from H.P. Lovecraft's arcane vocabulary, Hemingway's leanness, Grisham's authenticity, Richard Dooling's artful obscenity, Jonathan Kellerman's sentence fragments. He explains why Hart's War is a great story marred by a tin ear for dialogue, and how Elmore Leonard's Be Cool could be the antidote.

King isn't just a writer, he's a true teacher. --Tim Appelo

From Publishers 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 scribesDalthough 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 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Reading April 19 2011
Format:Mass Market Paperback
To start, I'm an author. I need to preface this review with that fact, as I don't know how engaging this may have been, had I not had such an investment in the topic myself.

That being said, anyone with absolutely any interest in the craft of writing can surely benefit from the wisdom between these pages. Much less a 'how to write' book and so much more, as it says, 'a memoir of the craft,' King comes off as nuturing rather than preachy, and entertaining rather than dry.

His advice is sound. Think of the last book you read that left you feeling a little less than satisfied. After reading On Writing, I promise you can pick out exactly what made that book lackluster, as King is a master of analyzing not only the faults of others, but his own as well.

A window into King's otherwise fairly unobserved writing life, I highly reccomend this to any writers, King fans, or anyone just looking for a good non-fiction read.

Overall, 5/5.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Geat book, but no need to buy this new one. Feb. 2 2012
There's no point in explaining how terrific this book is. Other reviews have already covered it. Still... don't waste extra money on the newest edition. Nothing of consequence has been added. Thus 4 stars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Welcome to On Writing. Now Start Writing. Sept. 6 2012
By Scoopriches TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The second greatest book I have ever read on the greatness of writing is actually the more practical of the two. While Zen in the Art of Writing provides the motivational jumpstart you require to get the creative juices flowing, this volume, also a collection of previously published essays, is the more nitty gritty one.

For On Writing by Stephen King paints a vivid picture of the how's and why's of his creative process. And when he explores all the facets he has gone through, you will walk away with a very profound feeling inside.

In the beginning, King gives you his autobiography, a cleansing of his soul, so we can understand the man he was, the man he became, and the man he is now. The earliest childhood recollections do possess a certain Stand By Me vibe, with some memorable traumas evoking sympathy for the man who scares us so much. After all these decades, it always felt like nothing could terrorize the horror master. But now we learn different.

On Writing churns through the rest of King's life. His first foray into alcohol, starting when he was a teen, with brutal effects. The massive love and admiration for his wife Tabitha, right from the moment he locked eyes on her. His first rocky years of adulthood and marriage and having children and low wage soul-sapping menial jobs. Poverty and misery was his existence. Pounding out story after story was his future.

At this point, the tangential connection of two very disparate ideas collide in Stephen King's mind. This spark of a random comment combined with an obscure article he remembered brings forth a few typed pages, which he then promptly tossed into the trash. Tabitha fished them out. Told him to finish it. To get it out of his system.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
It was a pleasure to read this book. It gave me some inspiration and more will to write. If this book was prose, I'd definately give it full 5 stars, but the fact is that this book doens't teach you almost anything about writing. Yes, it tells you to write each and every day, preferably at the same time and at least some specified amount of words, but who wouldn't figure it all out himself? Besides, the book tells in fact mostly about Stephen King himself; his past and stuff like that. What does it have to do with writing? If you're a fan of King and interested in writing, this book is for you. Otherwise, it's not worth the money. There are better books out there, just go and find them.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I Wanna Be a Writer June 29 2014
By Bambi
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have been a closet writer for years. I have only read a few chapters, but I am inspired by the simplicity with which Stephen King writes about how he got his start as a writer. Basically experience life and write about it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars On Writing is On the Money May 20 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Part autobiography and part writing guide, On Writing is one of those books you keep seeing from the corner of your eye for some time before you realize everything you read seems to be leading you to it so you may as well give it a go. I haven't read any of Mr. King's works simply because I'm not one of those brave souls who enjoy jumping at shadows for weeks after the fact. And since his genre is very much a part of him I went into this book doubting I would enjoy it. I'm pleased to say I was wrong; it's one of the best books now on my bookshelf.

The first half gives a quick but interesting look at his life up to the publication of his first novel, Carrie, and a summary of his life thereafter, which leads into the second half of the book: all the things he's learned in his career that might help writers looking to get their own Carrie's off the ground.

I've read a great deal of writing guides before (too many) and I was thrilled that On Writing was entirely different from all those others. While I was expecting the usual bits on dialogue, story arcs, and the like, I got chapters on grammar, how to edit, how to pace yourself but stay focused and keep up until it's done. But my favorite and most enlightening chapter by far was the one on agents. I've never read a guide that explained agents, and the only one that mentioned them just said that I needed to get one, then continued the chapter as though one had appeared in the room upon reading those words. On Writing explains where to find agents, how to pick the right ones, how to introduce yourself, what they're looking for, and how to <i>get </i>what they're looking for. Basically it answered every question I've had since reading that one guide back in the 90s.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books for writers
I don't tend to read books about writing: I'd rather write. But I had heard such good things about this book that I really needed to see it for myself. And it was a fantastic read. Read more
Published 2 months ago by 8thCyn
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Writing Book
I was asked to read this book for a class and I'm really glad that I did. Of course Stephen King is an excellent writer, great writing tips and real honestly about his life... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in...
The master storyteller packs a punch in this work of non-fiction; part autobiography, part resource, On Writing is both captivating and loaded with useful information for writers... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Nick F
5.0 out of 5 stars Must have for writers!
Great book! The first half comes across as a bio of The Master himself. The second half is what serious writers need to follow. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Derek Finnik
5.0 out of 5 stars Exactly what you expect
King is FANTASTIC! It's a non-fiction book that keeps you reading. Who else could accomplish this like King? No one, that's who.
Published 5 months ago by Jason Mercier
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Cujos
Back in the days when we ate dinosaurs for dinner, I read Stephen King paperbacks. Then the digital age dawned. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Kathy Steinemann
5.0 out of 5 stars On Writing: Anniversary Ed.
This book is filled with wit and humour. It is inspiring and as an aspiring writer, game changing. Simple and straightforward, Stephen King's memoir-instruction gives a... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Boris the Blade
4.0 out of 5 stars Getting real about writing
Stephen King's book provides advice and guidance on writing that is inspiring and helpful while being honest about the limited prospects for fame and fortune. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Glen
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome Book
This is a must read for any writer. By avoiding the subject at first, it actually teaches the principles of writing but only if you're paying attention. Thank you Mr. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Mathieu Lariviere
5.0 out of 5 stars Helpful for beginners
I found this book to be engaging and informative. I am not a reader of Stephen King's books as I don't like being frightened when I read for some odd reason. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Mary Sawyer author ;Beyond Me
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