Book Review: Stephen King’s On Writing

“By the time I was 14…the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”

book cover - On WritingEvery writer who has suffered the sting of rejection — that would be all of us, right? — can take comfort in these words from Stephen King. And with over 50 bestsellers under his belt, few writers find themselves so qualified to author a book on the craft.

On Writing tells the story of King’s writing journey — and offers plenty of tips for yours — in 250 pages of candid, conversational prose. This book certainly doesn’t read like a textbook, but every writer should treat it like one.

Depending on her current station in life, On Writing will serve each reader (and writer) differently. Greener writers can expect simple, blunt, invaluable advice on process and perseverance. For seasoned pros, it will offer validation, an opportunity to nod along, and plenty of helpful nudges.

Despite King’s staggering commercial success, there are no gimmicks here. Readers will learn early on that King’s success was born of little more than hard work. Indeed, he tells his audience in no uncertain terms, “if you don’t want to work your ass off, you have no business trying to write well.”

While On Writing may not offer a comprehensive technical handbook among its pages, it offers something arguably more valuable: a window into a successful writer’s process.  King delivers a heavy dose of common sense and an indispensable list of must-haves, must-reads, and must-dos.

Perhaps most intriguing and useful, especially for us editing addicts, are several samples of King’s own first drafts. The benefit of these is twofold: we see firsthand that no one writes stellar fiction in the first draft. Hence King’s insistence that “to write is human. To edit is divine.” We also get to see the nitty-gritty of how King prunes and refines his work. Rarely do we have the benefit of seeing — even in a short excerpt like King has provided — a successful author’s raw, first-pass writing.

The wisdom is simple. Heeding it is not. But King provides a wonderful example in himself of just how far you can get with the right approach and a lot determination. Determination must come from within, but if you’re looking for the right approach, give this book a thorough read.