on May 21, 2001
Stephen King has provided me with immense reading pleasure for more than twenty-five years. I remember first reading him while I was a graduate student in Ireland. I always loved horror, the macabre, and other ghoulish tales, so when I saw a paperback copy of "Salem's Lot" in a department store bookstand on O'Connell Street, I quickly bought it and spent a day in my room reading it beginning to end. I read "Carrie" shortly after that and even saw the heavily edited version of the movie in Dublin, where censors savagely brought scissors to celluloid. I became, in short, a Stephen King fan.
After returning to the States, I continued as an avid King reader. The timing was usually convenient, since paperback editions of his novels appeared in the bookstores just around the time I was finishing my graduate school exams, or embarking on a summer vacation when I began working for a living, and provided a convenient escape from reality. I vividly remember, for example, lying in bed, the covers up to my chin, reading "The Shining" alone in the dark New York City night in my studio apartment. I still regard "The Shining" as King's finest novel.
Over the years, I've continued to read and enjoy Stephen King, avoiding only his fantasy works (such as "The Dark Tower"). King knows how to tell a story and his ability to weave contemporary culture into his fiction is unsurpassed. He is, in short, one of the best of this generation's popular writers even though his work has often been relegated to the horror genre.
Having read most of King's published fiction, I looked forward to reading "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft", hoping to gain insight into King's approach to writing and an understanding of how some of his novels have been written. I was, unfortunately, disappointed.
"On Writing" is generally broken into four parts. The first part, covering approximately the first half of the book, is a loosely organized autobiographical sketch of King's life. For someone who has followed King's career, there is little new here and it's only value is as another short riff on King's life. The second part of the book, covering most of the second half of the book, provides King's insights on writing. King has little new to offer and, frankly, his suggestions are of little value to anyone who has actually engaged in the writing trade. It is helpful, if at all, only to the neophyte who has little or no knowledge of writing or useful writers' references (such as Strunk and White). The remaining two short sections contain a narrative of King's near-fatal 1999 accident (which has been published elsewhere) and a short section illustrating the rewrite of one of King's stories.
If you're a Stephen King fan, then "On Writing" is probably worth the short investment of time it takes to read this somewhat disjointed book. If you're not, don't judge King by this book and don't expect to learn much about the craft of writing. It's an interesting insight into the author, but not an interesting insight into the author's craft.
on May 5, 2001
I'll make use of Mr. King's own advice at the beginning of On Writing. I'll be brief. I bought this book as I buy all of King's books nowadays - blindly. I have confidence that even in his worst endeavours I'll glean a nugget or two of wisdom, or quite simply be entertained for a good week or so, lost in the world King himself created for me. On Writing's first half help me rapt. It mainly consists of auto-biographical info, which I loved. Then we get to the nuts and bolts. What's a gerund? What's a participle? Yawn. I read Warriners in high school. I read Strunk and White in high school and again in college. If I wanted to learn grammar, I'd pull both of those books out of the attic. I thought what I was purchasing was some insight into King's writings - The Stand, The Dark Tower series. What I got was King telling me not to use adverbs as descriptors for how people said something ie. "I hate this book", he said increduously. So for the hell of it I grabbed a King book at random off of my shelf(Wizard and Glass) and low and behold, King breaks his own rule on the first damned page! Until he writes an auto-biography, I'll stick to his fiction. This one left me cold.
on March 28, 2001
For fans of Stephen King, the purchase of this book is a foregone conclusion. For aspiring writers, it does give some helpful insights into this elusive and unusual lifestyle, but it provides nothing that hasn't been done to death by other authors -- perhaps not as popular, but far more gifted than Mr. King, on the art of fiction -- and becomes, as King himself decries in the opening chapter, full of "BS." The first half of the book is King's memoir of his early life and formative years as a writer. Many of us have heard it all before in numerous interviews, yet a few new gems emerge. The second half of the book is entitled "On Writing," and yet it is largely a first semester course in what not to do when composing fiction.
If I may make the distinction here: Writing is a verb and literature is a noun. What King discusses here is essentially his understanding of literary structure and principle. He basically teaches what he knows about the difference between hack fiction and competent fiction. Fair enough. But none of it is anything the reader didn't get in his or her college introductory courses in creative writing, and by no means is it a substitute for that education. The reader can get the same advice (and it truly is worthwhile for those who did not receive a college education in creative prose) from a one year subscription to the magazine Writers Digest. Furthermore, if the reader wants to read about what elevates a sentence of fiction writing to something of genius, I would refer him or her to the writing books of the late John Gardner (like On Becoming a Novelist, and The Art of Fiction). Anyone interested in what it takes to become a writer need look no further than Becoming A Writer by Dorothea Brande. This small book has more to say about jumping into this craft than any other written since its publication in the 1930s.
But King does give us some advice that warrants the cost of the book. Of note is the back jacket copy: "...put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room. Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around." This is an important point, and well illustrated. Too many young writers assume that one's life should revolve around one's desire, for example, to become a novelist. So their lives and creative energy get sucked dry by a notion as silly as the efforts that fledgling actors spend on appearing to take their art seriously (and who spend all their money on clove cigarettes, berets and subscriptions to artsy film magazines that they never read). Additionally, King makes his feelings about criticism plain throughout the book, and his opinions are both important and valuable. I will resist the temptation to paraphrase what King wrote, but you can well imagine what he felt about bad reviews. When Ernest Hemingway called critics "the lice that crawl upon literature," he was being kind compared to King's views.
Stephen King published a very short article in The Writer about six years ago called something like "Everything You Need to Know About Writing." It was about three pages long. I read it and loved it! It is, in fact, everything you needed to know about writing. If you want King's advice, seek out an old copy and read it, for it is truly excellent. What he goes on about here is redundant and excessive.
I am not a fan of Stephen King's novels, but I do admire the man for his success. Considering his troubled background, I am delighted that he made it to the top. As far as his book on the craft of writing is concerned, let his fans buy it to add to their collection of King's work. But for young writers who aspire to join King in his ranks as a happily published author, well, this book won't hurt their chances, but it is sadly just another primer on the nuts and bolts of the construction of fiction. And in that regard its value has been surpassed time and again by other, and considerably more capable, writers.
on December 18, 2000
I never thought I'd hear myself say that a Stephen King book should be longer, but the writing parts of this book should have been. There were some great nuggets of writing advice here, but not nearly enough to justify this as a writer's text. And King only hints at the way a select few of his novels were written, when more behind-the-scenes looks at his work would have been invaluable.
Instead, "On Writing" is overly long with anecdotes like the results of young Stevie's unfortunate bowel movement in a poison ivy patch. To illustrate the fact that alcohol is bad for the writer's psyche, King gives us an extended history of his drinking habits. And while the last section of the book tries hard to express the importance of writing to the writer, it comes across more as a detailed account of The Accident, written for voyeuristic fans.
Anyone truly wishing to learn about the process of writing should skip this one and check out one of Lawrence Block's three excellent books on the subject.
on October 22, 2000
I call myself a big fan of Stephen King. I've read all his books, watched all the filmes, wrote essays in school about him, etc. When you read a lot of books by him, you get the feeling to know this man. This comes from his personal forewords and books like 'Danse Macabre'. He's a funny guy you think and an interesting one. So, what could be more interesting than a book he has written about himself and his writing? Well, a lot.
I was very excited to hear about this book and, exactly like all the other times, I ran to the bookstore and bought it, just when it was published. It's quite thin and I wondered again if this is really worth this much money. I've read it in nearly one day and was left with a feeling of confusion.
Alright, the stories about his life were pretty interesting and funny, although I really can't hear the 'Carrie'-legend anymore. But the part about writing is strange and boring. I write myself, you know, and was also happy to get some tips. But I really can't say he helped me. What astonishes me the most, is the fact that he neverever says: "Well, that's how I do it, look for your own way." He seems to be convinced that his way is the right way. I don't think so. A notebook was always helpful to me, no matter what he says. And eight pages a day is impossible for me. And his talks about grammars, adverbs, etc. are somehow ridiculous. I mean, you should know grammar if you write, and if you don't it won't matter, I think. If you really want to be an author and want to tell a story, it will work somehow. I don't know, it's as if King wants to say there is this style and this way to do it - finito.
The story about his accident was interesting, but somehow unecessary. It got the book more pages, but in fact. And I wouldn't have mind to read the whole story, he starts to write. Isn't it enough, that he seems to want more and more money the older he becomes. I think so, and it makes me really sad. I liked him really and I still love most of his books. But if he won't start to write something really good soon, I can't keep my sympathy up.
I don't think this book is necessary for authors or King-fans. Since I'm both, I think I can say this. It's nice to read but not very helpful in any way.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2001
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.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 29, 2004
On Writing by Stephen King starts out as a slight autobiography but then slowly leads up to all the details about writing and becoming a writer. He goes into detail about childhood instances, plagiarizing as a kid, going to high school, getting in trouble with the school newspaper, working terrible jobs while trying to make it as a writer, marrying his wife, having children, and finally becoming a successful fiction writer. All the while, he shows how certain things in his lifetime have helped him to become the writer he is today. On Writing can be seen as two books in one. He, at first, writes about himself, and then writes on the basics of writing. He slowly, but surely eases from one to the other with grace. He sets the reader up for a quick, fast-paced lesson on the basics of writing and how to become a writer, not a great writer, or a good writer, but just a writer. If a person wanted to know strictly how to write and what Stephen King had to say about writing they could pretty much skip the entire first half of the book without missing much. The first half is for those who have the extra time and want to read about things that went on in Stephen King's life that influenced his writing and wanting to be a writer. The second half is written in a clever manner that makes it easier to actually learn about writing rather than get bored with it and throw the book out the window (which is something I felt like doing many a time because I don't find books on writing interesting, but that's just me) King's use of crude language and funny stories helps to keep the reader involved and awake. The language kept the book real and made it believable that it was from him, about his actual life and wasn't written by another person, in a nice, nobody will be offended way.
I overall didn't enjoy the book. The first half of it was quite entertaining I will admit. Reading about experiences of a person's childhood is always entertaining. But once King got into the fundamentals of writing, it started to dull out. I never found books on writing to be that particularly interesting, so this was no exception. The basics of writing don't throw me into frenzy. So I wouldn't recommend this book to a person who wants to read a random book by Stephen King. I would recommend this book to a person who is trying to learn the basics of writing though. This book is definitely a must for a person wanting to become a writer or at least add to their writing. Stephen King hasn't written just a step-by-step handout for people to become bored with. He goes into detail about parts of writing: narration, description, and dialogue. He sights what makes a writer. He makes it clear that it is impossible for a bad writer to become a good one, and that it is also impossible for a good writer to become a great writer. But he states that a mediocre writer can become a good one with the right discipline and the will power. If you want to become a writer, and want to do what it takes to become a writer, than you will succeed. In order to be a writer, King states that you must read a lot, and write a lot. Whenever you get the chance, read. Whether it is at home in your free time, or in a line at the grocery store, or at the gym while you're on the treadmill, you should read. Reading, he believes, is one of the best things a person can do. The more you read, the more you know; and you know what they say, knowledge is power! Stephen King gives it to the reader straight; he gives his opinion and fact, which is the best combination for a book. The second half on writing is split up into sections that makes it even easier to follow and continue with. The book really works as a learning tool for the reader and isn't tedious and boring. For any aspiring writer, this is a must for their collection. The greatness in Stephen King's horror and mystery books has crossed over into an articulate and humorous book on helping the average man or woman to become the best writer they can.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 5, 2001
This book by Stephen King is part autobiography (good) and part writing masterclass (bad). If he had written his autobiography in more detail we would have had an engrossing read. As it is, King glosses over the horrors of alcoholism and hit and runs, giving us the very barest of bones about issues and incidents that shaped his interesting life. He seems in a rush to get to the "masterclass" section of the book which is a great pity, as the bits of his life we do hear about are written in such a way that only King can. Even when only briefly touching upon some incidents, he still manages to illicit revulsion and disgust from the smallest detail. What did come across as really interesting, however, were the accounts of his early writing and the way in which he got his big break. I felt there was far more information for the budding writer in these early parts than in the second half of the book, which was actually "On Writing"
King makes an attempt to explain to any budding writer what to write, what not to write and when to do it. His advice on adverbs and tenses and how to plot (or not) in his case came across as unhelpful. I accept that Stephen King may have told us what worked for him, but I do not believe many people can simply begin with an incident to write an entire book without plotting. I feel that if he had to write a masterclass on the writing craft, he should have made it more textbook like and less personal. I do not feel that too many people (of which surely all of them will never be as a good a writer as King himself) will have gained much help from this book.
It is my thought there there was two books to be written here and the autobiography in particular should have been a really good read. As it is, King has rushed out a book that comes across as ill thought out and clumsy.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2003
Stephen King,the reclusive master novelist,was the rare subject of the banner headlines in the summer of 1999 when he was nearly killed after being hit by a truck in his hometown of Maine.The backleaf to this book would have you believe that this book was entirely the result of his post traumatic event.But in actual fact you find this to be a bit of a dupe when you learn he actually started writing this in 1997,he merely completed it after the accident.This minor quibble aside,however,the book is still rather naucious.Bestowed with the title of the greatest writer of horror fiction ever,it would appear Mr King has let the commonly held accolade go to his head a little.He's served us a book that is well intentioned,fairly interesting and even fairly touching in certain parts (certain events in his life,as well,of course,as the recent accident).But all the same,it's also an ultimately rather self righteous and somewhat sanctimonious literary fest,that seems to make unfair demands on it's budding writer audience.I mean,in one segment,he asks us to give up on TV.Huh?Not likely.This coming from a guy who made a guest appearance on The Simpsons recently?!?Are we not something of a hypocrite,Mr King?I'm sure you wouldn't have wanted us to miss your big TV appearance and all.
This one particularly stands out,but there are a fair few other outrageous demands that could be mentioned.This book,by rights,should have an insurance slip attached to it.Does Mr King not owe some kind of recompense to his writing disciples should his apparently surefire recipe to success in being a writer prove unreliable?One would have suggested Mr King have invested his energies in something like an auto biography,which would have been just as interesting and most likely half less overly demanding of it's reader.