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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft [Hardcover]

Stephen King
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (577 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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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Autobiography, Poor Book on the Craft Aug. 29 2001
By A Customer
Format:Audio CD
I was very excited to get this book and learn the techniques and wisdoms of the craft from such an experienced master. I laughed and cried at his personal life stories. Few books have made be do that. But a master-class on writing this book is not, as it is ill defined in the description on the back cover. His advise to the writer was limited to write every day, don't create an outline, and read, read, read. There were some editing examples included, but not enough to understand the editing techniques a writer of fiction must have to be successful. Described as part autobiography and part master-class on writing, the fact is, 90% is autobiography, 2% useful master-class, and 8% other.
As in autobiography, I'd give it 10 stars!!! As a book on writing, sadly, only one star. There are much better and more detail manuscripts out there that serve this purpose much, much better. The marketing strategy is misleading and does little service to such a profound, prolific, and important writer of modern fiction. I still love King, and I loved reading about his life story -- the price of the book is well worth that! But if you are an aspiring writer, read it to understand the man, not to learn about writing.
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6 of 7 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars If Stephen King Could Teach... June 21 2001
This is the first book by Stephen King I have read and I have to admit I am disappointed.
On Writing is written as two books: an autobiography and a writing primer. The autobiographical information was interesting and helped explain the latter. On the writing side, I came away felling I might have been better off if I had read The Elements of Style, King's favorite Style book.
His sections on description, dialogue, narration and editing earned the book my three star rating. The examples cited and King's commentaries were great.
I guess I expected more from such a prolific writer. The book's fault probably lies more in my expectations, than King's ability to communicate.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
King was at his funniest in the beginning when he mentioned yarking as he put it when he ate too many fried eggs as a kid I did feel extremely angry that he was one of those kids that tormented kids like Sandra and others that resembled Carrie White I can understand her and pity her,but I don't find her unlikable. Shame on you Steve. As for his addictions to alchol and drugs,I don't see how his wife put up with him for so long. I would have kicked this lazy,overbearing control freak out on his butt the first thing. Woman must be a saint to put up with that crap.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Book Review: Stephen King � On Writing July 3 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Book Review: Stephen King - On Writing
I enjoyed the first half of the book for the humorous lighthearted approaches Steve takes to his life. One inspiring moment would not leave my mind. I wish that I had one in my own life as significant. As a young boy Steve copied the works of his favorite comic and showed the result to his mother. "Write one of your own, Stevie," she said. WOW! Obviously the seed of a writer was already planted but what fertilizer was that moment in Stephen King's life. Permission to write came at a very significant age. So many writers struggle to give themselves permission to write. A comment like this reminds me how influential a parent is to their child. Imagine what may have become of Steve had his mother been a different woman.
Other enjoyable moments involved poison ivy, a rather naughty school distribution and Steve's bleak telling of his drug and alcohol abuse. With the latter I sat wondering at Stephen's courage. Not just to relate these facts openly and honestly to his readers, but also to step beyond his dependency and hope, perhaps pray, that his writing did not come from the altered state. Some of his readers would see Steve in a darker light when realizing he is a former addict. I know that my image of Stephen changed. I saw in him honor, courage and a great strength to overcome. I admire him for stepping through the fear I can only imagine he must have felt and coming past it into real living. May we all learn from his experience.
When I reached the middle of Stephen King's "On Writing: A Memoir", I could not help but notice the very distinct change of voice between the first section and the second.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
One of the most amazing books on writing I have ever read...
Published 17 days ago by manchita99
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read for anyone interested in the writing process
Read it when it was new and read it again now and I would still recommend it to anyone with even a mild interest in writing or the writing process or simply interested in the man... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Chris Thomas
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect
Published 2 months ago by Eric Sweet
5.0 out of 5 stars I Wanna Be a Writer
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. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Bambi
5.0 out of 5 stars On Writing is On the Money
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... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Jas Robinson
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 4 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 7 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 7 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 7 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 7 months ago by Jason Mercier
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