Book Write-Up: On Writing, by Stephen King

Stephen King. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Pocket Books, 2000. See here to buy the book.

Stephen King is a renowned author of fiction, particularly in the horror and paranormal genres. This is a book about the craft of writing, specifically how he goes about the task.

Here are some items:

A. In terms of his process, King devotes a certain number of hours each day to reading and writing; he is consistent about this but is not absolutely rigid, since he may take a day off after finishing a project. Ideas come to him, particularly from his life, and he brings his own attitudes, ideas, and interests into his stories and their characters. King usually does not go into a project with an organized plot, but he lets the plot unfold on its own; he is as surprised at what happens as the readers! It is like the story and the characters are real and King is learning about them rather than creating them. King writes down the first draft in seclusion, without showing it to others. As he does so, he keeps in mind his ideal reader, the one he is addressing, his wife Tabitha. After he completes the first draft, he shows it to his wife and select friends and receives their critique. King then puts the manuscript away for six weeks and does not look at it. During those six weeks, he may work on another writing project. After six weeks, he looks at the first draft again with fresh eyes.

B. In terms of his comments on style, some of what he suggests is what you will find in other writing manuals: avoid adverbs, do not get bogged down in boring or unnecessary details, and try showing rather than telling. King offers advice about the length of paragraphs in a novel: they can be short, but writers should take care not to tire their readers with too rapid of a pace. King also discusses characterization, particularly the importance of getting into the minds of characters and uncovering their motivations. King recommends Strunk’s Elements of Style, which is about removing uncertain verbiage and tepid banality in favor of concise, impactful prose. I recently read Strunk and found myself in some of the “do not do this” examples. Some of Strunk’s advice is easy to follow, but other parts may require creativity in coming up with effective words and phrases.

C. King also offers advice about how to navigate one’s way through the writing profession. Where should one submit stories? Does one need an agent? How serious are publishers about not accepting unsolicited manuscripts? King recommends publications such as Writer’s Digest, Writer’s Market, and Literary Market Place for guidance in these areas.

D. The book is also autobiographic. King tells stories about his upbringing, his family, the development of his interest in writing, his ups and downs in the profession, his struggle with addiction, and his nearly fatal accident in 1999. King writes with humor and wit, and he makes his stories come alive, as if the reader is there. What is especially attractive about King is that he does not take himself too seriously. He knows that he has achieved success and thus is qualified to offer advice on writing. At the same time, he realizes that his success has been hard-fought and that he stands on the shoulders of literary greats, and he is candid about the projects he has written that he does not particularly like. (You would expect “Children of the Corn,” but he listed Insomnia, which is one of my favorites!) King also shares that he does not absolutely, always follow the guidelines that he is laying out, and neither do many successful authors; still, he finds them to be generally reliable.

I checked this book out from the library. My review is honest.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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