Some thoughts on Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’

Some thoughts on Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’

The King

I remember buying Stephen King’s On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft in 2002 when my son was two and a bit. Having a child is a crazy busy time with little sleep but there is also a lot of sitting around thinking time (while the child does kiddie stuff which, let me whisper, is sometimes less than inspiring). I spent a lot of time developing, in my head, story lines about the misdeeds of arsonists and wayward plumbers – but was frustrated with the absence of large blocks of time to put words to paper in any substantial way.

I did spend time reading non-fiction books about how to look after babies and small children (my child seemed to have a lot of difficulties and I was looking for some answers – I didn’t know he had autism at this stage). The Stephen King book on writing was left on the shelf with nary a page turned.

Sorry Stephen.

Well now it is 2014 and I had some spare time to read On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft (bit slow I know). It was worth the wait.

Best Book Eva (as they say) 😍

I am definitely late to the party because this book created quite the stir when it was released – spectacular reviews and best selling status, as is to be expected from the king of writing.

I must admit I am more familiar with the movie versions of King’s books than most of his written works (this will be rectified). Think Carrie, The Shining, Misery, The Green Mile and more. I knew the man was brilliant but after reading this book (half biography, half writing master class) I realise he is so much more.

Wow, he is such a grounded and likeable human being who has overcome many painful hurdles including a slightly strange childhood, alcohol and drug addiction, and a life changing accident where he was almost killed by a misfit driver of a runaway vehicle (during the writing of this book). He continues to publish book after book.

Stephen King is such a wonderful story teller that I couldn’t put this book down, especially the laugh out loud descriptions of some of the awful things that happened to him in his childhood. That is one of Stephen King’s specialties – inserting the humour into horror (read Misery for examples of what Mr King calls the ‘laff riot’).

The sections that deal with the craft of writing are quite short but they get to the essence of the thing. He is not a great believer in learning how to be a great writer – rather that some people already have the tools for the job and that they need to get their act together, work their asses off and produce the goods.

What did stand out was some awesome advice on adverbs:

Get rid of the adverbs (delete, delete, delete).

and from the king himself:

‘Some writers try to evade the no-adverb rule by shooting the attribution verb full of steroids. The result is familiar to any readers of pulp fiction or paperback originals:

“Put down the gun, Utterson!” Jekyll grated.
“Never stop kissing me!” Shana gasped.
“You damned tease!” Bill jerked out.

Don’t do these things. Please oh please.”

Too funny 😂

He reckons the best form of dialogue attribution is said (eg., ‘he said’ and ‘she said’). Simple.

I’ve been checking my adverbs ever since I put down the book and yes, I’ve spotted a few (my apologies) and in the future they will be exterminated like a Dalek enemy.

I’m 99 percent sure this book will motivate you if you are a writer. If I’m wrong than you must be in the 1 percent #nevermind



 “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot” Stephen King



11 thoughts on “Some thoughts on Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’

  1. I detest with a passion this laziness in reading and writing which drops adverbs . There are as many ways to describe how things are done as there are descriptions of actual things. Use them!
    Similarly, the fad about having endless repetitions of ‘said’ leads to colourless writing.
    His cover suggests that the craft offers its memoir? 🙂

    1. hahahaha never know whether to take you seriously colonialist 😉 but I’ll take it that you are this time. No harm in trying the advice and it should be obvious if the writing is improved with the removal or the keeping of the adverbs – apparently Harry Potter books are full of adverbs (someone advised me on twitter) but what we have there is a ripper story. I think there is room for a handful of adverbs otherwise why were they invented. I like the idea of using just ‘he said’ and ‘she said’ as it means the attribution fades into the background where it should be imo – King argues that the preceding text should make it obvious if the speaker is talking with exasperation or whatever the emotion is.

  2. I am not a fan of horror but have read some of SK’s books, and have seen a few of his movies, including The Shining (which had us- a bunch of schoolgirls at the time-in hysterics of the laughing kind because of JN :-D) I have toyed with buying ‘On Writing ‘ over the years, but haven’t because, as you’ve said, no-one can really teach you how to write – ya just gotta do it, or not. But, I am a huge fan of good biographies, so, based on your most enjoyable review, I’m finally going to read it. Thanks!

    PS – Read Dolores Claiborne – I think you will enjoy it.

    1. thanks bb – I will track it down 😀 King’s book is mostly memoir so I think you will enjoy it – I can’t stop thinking about his childhood stories after reading it. I’m a big fan of the movie Carrie (and I don’t really like horror at all) – just love the revenge aspect to it, with a touch of the supernatural. I would never watch The Shining – too scary for me (or it seems that way).

      1. I started reading it last night, and woke my husband up laughing at the poison ivy bit, haha. Eula-beulah was a psycho, wasn’t she? Wish I didn’t have to work today as I just want to carry on reading it. Thanks, Gabe – great recommendation. 😀

        1. I read the Eula-beulah bit to the kids and they laughed so hard. ps. I was going to say that I don’t like horror, but for some reason I don’t think of Misery and Carrie as horror – I suppose they are – Misery is more like a psychological thriller (and I love those) and Carrie is something else altogether 🙂

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