"On Writing" by Stephen King

Summary:

On Writing” by Stephen King is part memoir and part master class. For those unfamiliar with King, he is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers.

This book details King’s writing career and covers everything from his childhood to selling Carrie. The book is also filled with writing lessons and teaches the importance of narration, dialogue, and description. King even writes about finding an agent and ways to get work published. It’s an immensely helpful and illuminating book to any aspiring writer.

 

 Author Stephen King working on his craft.

Author Stephen King working on his craft.

Lessons:

 

1) Good Writers Are Avid Reader

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut. I’m a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year.
— Page 145

Reading a lot will make you a better writer, this is a common theme among successful writers (see Hemingway’s list of recommended books here). King writes that he reads 70-80 books a year, that a bit more than one book a week–and that is the speed of a “slow reader.” I read 35 books last year, so I guess I read at a half-King pace.

 

Anyhow, King writes that every book has its own lessons, and quite often, bad books have more to teach than the good ones. By reading bad prose, one learns more clearly what not to write. King goes as so far to say that “Reading bad prose...is worth a semester at a good writing school, even with the superstar guest lecturers thrown in” (pg 146).

 

Good writing, on the other hand, teaches style, narration, plot development, the creation of believable characters, and more. And for writers that don’t have time to read, King writes “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time to write” (pg 147).


 

2) Practice, Practice, Practice

It was all going to be rehearsal. That’s no good. If there’s no joy in it, it’s just no good. It’s best to go on to some other area, where the deposits of talent may be richer and the fun quotient higher.
— Page 150

In this paragraph, King is talking about his son Owen who wanted to learn how to play the saxophone. King bought Owen a saxophone for Christmas and hired a local musician to teach Owen the basics. It turns out, Owen only practiced when the instructor came around and didn’t play the saxophone during his own free time. King noticed this and asked Owen if he wanted to stop taking lessons and Owen agreed. 

King applies the same attitude towards writing. Those who want to become writers should view writing not as a chore, but rather as a joyful activity that they don’t want to stop doing. 

King advocates for a strong reading and writing program of “four to six hours a day, every day” (pg 150). Personally, King considers the morning to be his prime writing time and writes every day including Christmas, the Fourth of July, and his birthday.  

King advises writers to find a humble space free of distractions such as telephones, TV, or video games. For young writers, it’s best to eliminate every possible distraction. As writers become more advanced, they can alter the way they work, King, for instance, listens to hard-rock music like Guns N Roses and Metallica while writing. And once you find your writing space, it’s time to close the door and get to work.
 

 

3) Symbolism Is Like Digging Up A Fossil 

If you can go along with the concept of the story as a pre-existing thing, a fossil in the ground, then symbolism must also be pre-existing, right? Just another bone in your new discovery That’s if it’s there. If it isn’t, so what? You’ve still got the story itself, don’t you?
— Page 162

When King first wrote Carrie, he noticed there was plenty of blood in the story, but never once stopped to think that the blood was created with an intentional symbolic meaning. 

However, while working on the second draft of the story, King started to play around with the idea, image, and emotional connotations of blood. Blood played a role in all three crucial points in Carrie and used the symbolic meaning of blood to enhance the story.

But as with all things in this world, writers should be careful not to use it too much. Rather, symbolism is like digging for a fossil. If you dig around but don’t find anything, move on. If you dig around and do find part of a fossil, it’s best to keep digging until the fossil has been uncovered. 

Conclusion:

If you’re looking to learn about Stephen King’s writing career and a few writing lessons along the way, “On Writing” is a fantastic book. However, if you’re looking for just a book about sharpening your craft, you may want to pass on this book if you’re an intermediate or advanced writer.

The book is a little less than 300 pages long, but if you take out the memoir section, it’s roughly 100 pages that focus on writing skills. It would also been great to have clear-cut lessons and tips for readers and the end of each chapter.

 

With that said, respect must be paid to the king, he is a spectacular writer. The book flows unbelievably well and is easy to read and understand. If you’re an aspiring writer or just starting out, definitely read this book.

 

Rating: 4/5 stars

If you’re interested in reading the book, click here or on the image below!

  • Book: “On Writing” by Stephen King
  • Pages: 288
  • For: Aspiring writers who want to learn about King’s career and improve their own writing
  • Lesson: Learn writing secrets from legendary writer Stephen King