Stephen King’s ON WRITING – or The Best Writing Book Ever Written


Can a book teach you how to write?  No, although you could argue that reading a lot of books can teach you how to write, as you absorb all those good words by osmosis.  Sometimes, though, it is helpful to have a guide and some words of advice and encouragement – especially if you are at the beginning of your writing journey or struggling with where to go next.

I am writing a series of reviews of writing books and hope you find them helpful.  Let’s start with one of the best.

ON WRITING by Stephen King


I am not the only editor or agent who regularly recommends this book.  I am often met with confusion – he’s a horror writer after all, so what does he have to teach authors who write in different genres?  I think he should be required reading for all authors, let me explain.

ON WRITING is part memoir, part instruction manual.  Stephen King starts by telling the story of his writing life, from the first time he thought of an original story, to his current status as multi-million selling author.  It may surprise you to read about the number of times he was rejected, but he explains what he learnt at each stage.  In some ways the world King describes has gone – there aren’t a huge number of magazines that take short stories any more, and not as many editors who are willing to scrawl advice on the rejection slips.  What is still relevant is his attitude of intelligent persistence.  He kept going.  Despite all the rejections.  He didn’t just blindly crash on, he learnt from every rejection, so each new approach took him further forward.


The central part of the book is where King elaborates on a writer’s toolbox, what does he or she need to have as a writer.  He covers some useful basic rules, including how and why to avoid speech modifiers.

The last portion of the book describes King’s accident.  He was hit by a car and very nearly died, enduring months of painful rehabilitation.  Turning to writing again was an important part of his recovery – as he says – he writes because he has to – a sentiment echoed by authors the world over.

There is also a postscript with a story pre and post-edit – together with marked up comments and suggestions and explanations for the changes.

Even if you’ve been writing a long time, this is a useful reminder of the basics of your trade, and it’s written with passion and flare.  If you’re just getting into writing, this is the best book to start with.

Stephen King’s novels tend to be somewhat on the lengthy side, but he made an effort to keep this book short and sweet, so there’s another element to recommend it.

Have you read it?  What do you think?king_horror_selfie

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May 10, 2015