On Writing by Stephen King

onwriting.jpgI’ve never read a Stephen King story, having little interest in the genre that he typically caters to. But I must say that this book has some excellent tips and inspiration for anyone interested in writing. And why just that? It’s a good read in itself – part memoir and part instructional, it manages to draw attention and hold it throughout its moderate length through a direct, hard hitting, no nonsense stance.

King classifies writers into four categories: bad, competent, good, great. He tends to believe that it’s possible to transform a good writer into a competent one, and that is the only jump possible among the various strata. I do agree that writing requires some propensity towards the skill, something one is born with. But I also think it is possible, for someone who is terrible, to improve, with sufficient training and determination, to levels close to competency. Greatness again, is a different matter, but Thomas Edison said: Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. So apparently, there could be some perceived misconception in King’s thesis.


King focuses on fundamentals probably most good writing teachers would emphasize: characters over plot, story over theme, active voice over passive, and so on. He doesn’t mention anything on conflict: the basic premise of any story. But he does strongly prescribe sticking to the truth, on verisimilitude.

King is pissed off with literary snobs who distinguish between high and low brow writers, and that’s understandable. But it’s also understandable why someone writing horror stories and bizarre tales would be hard pressed to find admirers among seekers of truth in reality. No matter how deep the characters and their apparent conflict, there’s the supernatural element which is hard to imagine and dismissed as bogus by many, including myself. He also has a strange notion that a writer, regardless of the quality of the work, needs to be prolific, and is somewhat bemused by the fact that the likes of Joyce merely produced a handful. I find this idea rather naive. What has volume got to do with quality? Some are prolific and yet produce brilliant stuff, some continuously pour out rubbish like a leaking faucet, while still others create well crafted fiction but in large gaps (maybe they need the time or they may simply be disinclined to write in such profusion). Where’s the issue?



But regardless of Kings biases and limitations as a writer, the book is a worthy addition to an apprentice’s shelf, simply because most of what is told is worthwhile and comes straight from his heart. No BS there.

“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 shortcuts.”


King heavily emphasizes reading, calling it “the creative center of a writer’s life.” I agree. It does help one grow as a writer, put ones work in perspective, discover unexplored means of expression. And this happens automatically – no conscious effort is needed besides the process of enjoying the book.


There are two appendix sort of sections at the end of the book. The first is an example of revising a story (leading to the second draft), which is very useful to analyze and understand. The second is a suggested reading list, but I’d make my own list based on my interests.


Above all, King believes it is most important to enjoy reading and writing, not let it feel like work, the element of play being vital to the mysterious creative process which every successful writer must invoke.

“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”

Well put Mr. King, well put indeed.

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Alter ego of @thecallofwords Wandering in the flow of words

8 thoughts on “On Writing by Stephen King

  1. Hi

    I have read King’s book and I find it a useful one for writers who are just starting out. Your comments, especially about being prolific is right.

    I am a writer-poet-blogger rolled into one. Do take a look at my literary blog: http://johnpmathew.blogspot.com. It has links to my short stories, poems, and book reviews.

    happay writing!



  2. Just want to second the idea in the main post that “On Writing” may appeal to many people who don’t like King’s novels. I never had the passion for his fiction that so many people do.

    But “On Writing” has good advice for writers. Many writers’ guides, for example, tell you to limit adjectives and adverbs. (Some books suggest that you get rid of both groups altogether.) That’s tough for a lot of us.

    King tells you to focus on killing the adverbs. The adverb, he says, is not your friend. He’s right. And for me, it’s much easier to get rid of just the adverbs than to try to purge all the adjectives, too (though I try to limit them). Thanks so much for the link.
    Jan Harayda
    One-Minute Book Reviews


  3. Thank you Janice for bringing up that valuable point on adverbs and adjectives.
    Personally, I find it hard to pen prose without adjectives as well.
    BTW, I admire your site, and am a frequent visitor.


  4. My friend, leave aside your perception of Stephen King as a horror genre writer, and read some of his stuff. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is an example of a truly gifted writer who keeps his Constant Reader riveted to the page, even if the book has nothing to do with anything remotely ghoulish. King is a magical writer who just happens to have a mix of horror and the supernatural in his books, but that doesn’t detract from the sheer genius in his writings.


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