My interpretation of "On Writing"

Having heard Stephen King's On Writing is a useful "writing book", I decided to buy it. Now, I've never read any of SK's work (probably because I was traumatised watching the TV version of IT when I was about 6), so I figured this book would be a good starting point in my SK journey (I have Carrie, Salem's Lot, The Shining and Firestarter in my To Read pile - any more King books I *should* read if there's any of his fans out there reading this?)

Whilst the book didn't really offer me any insight into "how to write" (which wasn't why I bought it anyway), it's always interesting to see how other people operate, and how you relate to other writers. I chose King's book especially because I liked the idea of him sticking his rejection letters onto a spike, but also how he gives "insight" into "how a writer is created" - i.e. - he reinforces it is an individual experience; rightly so. King has an easy style - it's not a preachy, or a book that screams superiority - it's an enlightening insight of a very popular writer.

As always with my "Book Reviews" (I use the term lightly), I like to personalise and explain my connection with the book because that's what reading is all about - what *you* gain from the book. Here are some points I had to share because they immediately struck a cord with me:

I think I was forty before I realised that almost every writer of fiction has been accused of someone of wasting his or her God-given talent.

Thank you! As someone who has been accused of this - told chick lit writing isn't stretching enough - I appreciate knowing there will always be someone out there who will accuse you of not meeting their idealised view of what your writing should be like.

Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference.

I agree with this one wholeheartedly. I think us writers like our secrecy, plus we're afraid people will laugh at our dream, but having a support network who genuinely believes can inspire you more than keeping these aspirations to yourself. I see it as a self-fulfilling prophecy - if you tell people, then you have to *make* it happen, especially if you think everyone is secretly willing you to fail. After all, if a tree falls and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? ;p One thing I will add though, is whereas it is fantastic having people believe in you, fundamentally you must believe in yourself.

If there's no joy in it, it's just not good... when you find something which you are talented, you do it until your fingers bleeds or your eyes are ready to fall out of you head.

Definitely agree with this one. Yes, you may suffer writer's block, but if you are *forcing* yourself to write, and I mean forcing, then perhaps writing is not for you. If you want to create your own world, then you have to put the time and dedication in because that's the only way it will resonate with its readers. If you can't be bothered putting the effort into making it credible, why should people waste their time and effort reading your work?

What would be very wrong, I think, is to turn away from what you know and like in favour of things you believe your friends, relatives, and writing-circle colleagues.

I firmly agree writing should be for you, not for what you deem to be prestigious. You're writing for yourself, and I believe writing is much stronger if you write this way because it's harder to trip up and stumble. If you're pretending to be something you're not, you will be exposed as a phony. Keep your credibility by sticking with what you love and know best.

This is the part which allowed me to be a psychotic nurse for a little while... And being Annie was not, by and large, hard at all. In fact, it was sort of fun.

Exactly! One of my favourite parts of writing is writing characters that are not me - having the freedom to be and do whatever you want through them - it's exhilarating!

You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.

If you don't make the time to read and respect other's work, how can you realistically expect to *know* about writing when you sit down to do it? How will you know what you want to write? If you don't enjoy reading, can you be a writer? If you don't write and make those mistakes, how will you learn not to make them again? How will not trying make your writing stronger? It won't. Read and write a lot, and be brave - no one is perfect, and even those who are amazing writers, became amazing through some error and experimentation.

King raises some excellent points throughout for the aspiring writer to ponder, more than I've touched upon above; I would recommend the book to any writer looking for a light-hearted read on the craft.

Has anyone else read On Writing? Or bought similar books? Do you think they are worth it, or is teaching yourself the best way to go?


  1. I've not read this, but I was also traumatised by Stephen King when I was younger by reading the last couple of pages of my dad's copy of "Misery". Argh!!!

  2. Do you know the "Why I write" series? Lots of very well-known authors (I've only seen George Orwell's but I know there are a few) wrote short treatises on why and how they write. I also read that Ezra Pound wrote a series of letters on how to teach yourself to write to his daughter and those have been published somewhere. Great review- Bon weekend!

  3. SK is clearly traumatic, Paula! :s

    @ Daisy - I've not read any of those, but I'll look out for them! :0)

  4. I just got this book for my birthday. And am also curious to read it to see how he goes about his business.

  5. Let me know what you think once you've read it, Peter! :0)

  6. I've been meaning to read this since I'm kind of actually very obsessed with Stephen King. One book that you should definitely read other than The Shining is IT. You'll never look at a clown the same way again :P Oh and a book that you should stay away from is Cell, just utter crap to be honest.

  7. But I'm already terrified of clowns having seen the TV version of IT at a silly age - I think the book would freak me out, even as an adult! :s

    I may brave it though ... eventually!

    Thanks for stopping by! :0)

  8. I LOVED "On Writing", absolutely adored it. The story that touched me was his having written a check to pay for his child's medicine that he knew full well would not clear the bank, then coming home to find a check from a magazine from a story they had accepted.

    I have read a lot of King, but by no means all of it. And some of it does give me the willies.

    The story he published in Esquire last year was quite good. "Misery" absolutely blew my mind. I failed a chemistry test because of it-could not put it down before finishing it. "The Stand", I think, is quite good. Some of the most memorable shorter works are in "Different Seasons"-I think all four have been made into movies. The single favorite work of his is the story from "DS" that became the Morgan Freeman movie "Shawshank Redemption". I read it at least two decades ago, long before the movie, and it has stayed with me ever since.