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On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2011
Most of this book is autobiography which is fine if you are a big Stephen King fan. Personally, I just wanted the advice on writing which is a small portion of the book. I'm glad that Stephen King shared his thoughts on writing, but I didn't find that portion of the book very helpful.

First of all, King worships Strunk & White's Manual of Style. In college, I usually got A grades on my papers. Still, I wanted to improve my writing, so I decided to write in the terse Strunk & White style. That paper got a B. I went back to my regular style of writing and got A grades again. My experience of using the Strunk & White advice was that it limited my flow of ideas and stilted my writing in an unpleasant way. Therefore, I'm not keen to follow any more Strunk & White advice despite King's enthusiasm for it. Strike one.

Strike two: King says a "good" writer can never become "great". A "bad" writer can never become "competent", but a "competent" writer CAN become "good". Who is King to say what people's potentials are? That advice was a joke. Who even defines "great" and "good" etc?

Strike three: Most of King's writing is instinct! He plots organically while letting the characters do and say what they will. That is seriously not helpful advice. It may be 100% accurate as to how he works, but just sitting there and letting the characters do the plotting isn't helpful to me in my own writing.

I'm grateful that King let me peek into his mind for how he writes, but as to anything helpful..... sorry, not much at all.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 12, 2012
One piece of advice Stephen King offers in this, his 2000 rumination about the fiction writer's craft as he experienced it, is that a writer can't be afraid to chuck a draft after a couple hundred pages and start again if it's not working. "[E]ven when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler's heart, kill your darlings."

I can't help but think he should have followed his own advice here.

During the summer of 1999, in the middle of writing this book, King was run over by a Dodge van. For the next few months, he lived in constant pain, his right leg below the knee described as being like "marbles in a sock." With his wife Tabitha's help, he found the will to return to his writing desk, to write this very book in fact. With the experience of writing came the kind of joy and renewed sense of purpose that drove him to endure and prevail.

All this would have made a great starting point for a memoir/rumination on the nature of writing, except for the fact King was already well into this book when the accident happened, a book that starts with a lengthy-enough memoir about his discovery and pursuit of fiction-writing in his youth. To chuck all that would mean losing a lot of work, at a time when just sitting down was painful. What is billed on the cover and title as a kind of "how-to" book becomes instead a short peek behind the wizard's curtain sandwiched by two large pieces of autobiography that use writing more as a lens for King viewing his life before and after he was hit.

King makes the point more than once that he likes to write without an outline, with no idea where the plot will go. This obviously works for him but is probably bad advice to the layman. I offer this book as Exhibit A in that regard.

When he gets around to talking about writing itself, he offers some good notes ("I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs") but it doesn't really get to the heart of anything. Most writers won't be able to take their writing to the next level anyway, he grudgingly admits, as what God gives you to work with only can only be raised so high. Since most geniuses are crazy and miserable company, you are probably better off, he offers as consolation, but I don't think buyers of the book were hungry for insights like this.

Another signature moment: King says his ideas come to him like fossils buried in the ground, that when a reporter expressed skepticism King told him it didn't matter if he didn't believe him, as long as King believed it. As a reader, I find that a fascinating insight as to how the man works. As a writer, I have no idea what he's talking about.

For King's legion of fans, his "constant readers," there will no doubt be much to enjoy in King's tales of youthful story rejection (he posted the letters on a nail in his bedroom and treasured the ones which came with a brief personal note of encouragement) and how he experienced the writing of some of his best-known books. "The Shining," for example, turned out to have a hidden message directed at the author himself, which he talks about with refreshing candor.

"On Writing" is a pleasant time-passer with some bits of real interest scattered about, but King never seems to find his focus. With many if not most of King's other books, you don't have to be a fan of his going in to enjoy them. Not so here.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 23, 2012
I was hoping the book would be a guide on how to be a good writer. While I'm encouraged by the biographical portions of the book (even he has a stack of rejection letters), I found his advice on writing to be somewhat stilted.

For instance, he discourages people from making notes on their ideas - well, what if someone has ADD or is really, really busy? I tend to be forgetful of some pretty important things and keep a frantic schedule, so I rely heavily on notes, not just on writing ideas, but to keep the day organized. Plenty of other writers have plotted their ideas with good results (J.K. Rowling, for instance, whose writing Mr. King respects).

I'm not going to go into a huge, detailed rant on every little thing I found wrong, especially since another person may find this to be a valuable resource. Maybe his advice works for him and a lot of other people, but it wouldn't work for everyone. I'd say enjoy the book, but don't make it your bible.
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13 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on December 18, 2000
I never thought I'd hear myself say that a Stephen King book should be longer, but the writing parts of this book should have been. There were some great nuggets of writing advice here, but not nearly enough to justify this as a writer's text. And King only hints at the way a select few of his novels were written, when more behind-the-scenes looks at his work would have been invaluable.
Instead, "On Writing" is overly long with anecdotes like the results of young Stevie's unfortunate bowel movement in a poison ivy patch. To illustrate the fact that alcohol is bad for the writer's psyche, King gives us an extended history of his drinking habits. And while the last section of the book tries hard to express the importance of writing to the writer, it comes across more as a detailed account of The Accident, written for voyeuristic fans.
Anyone truly wishing to learn about the process of writing should skip this one and check out one of Lawrence Block's three excellent books on the subject.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2011
With the hype surrounding this book, I decided to pick it up to see what that was all about. I was told it was a 'must' read.

I skimmed through the life sections about King. I don't think he had led a overly exciting life like he sees to think. So that left me with the writing sections.

First off, King's advice is his own. It is what works for him. I am a fan but I was saddened to see how he named a couple of books throughout the memoir, mostly by dead authors and bashed them because they didn't write in his style. And when be mentioned backstory I couldn't help but snicker how this man often(very often), writes pages of it throughout his novels.

Again, I am a fan but after reading this I cannot help but see him in another light and it isn't good.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2011
This should have been called the "cheap edition" rather than the 10th anniversary edition. The binding is extremely poor; the pages are detaching from the bottom part of the spine after just a couple of days' reading, and I don't usually damage books.

As for the book itself, well, King's style tends to the vulgar and brusque. He says some good things, but they are mixed up with a whole lot of rambling and self-aggrandization. I'm happy to have read what many consider a classic text on writing, but I can't say I'm any more of a fan of King now than when I started.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 11, 2013
I expected the book to be about writing (since it is titled On Writing), but it turned out to be mostly about Stephen King, his pet peeves, his triumphs, his disappointments, etc. Also, there was much too much reliance on Strunk and White's book, The Elements of Style. I read that book many years ago, and I found it good, but I was looking for something else. Also, all the advice King offers is the same as you would receive in any undergraduate writing course. I was certainly hoping for something more sophisticated.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2015
don't waste your money, rehash of 7th grade creative writing class.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 8, 2001
Mr. King knows his parts of speech very well, and he is able to articulate his feelings about his personality and prior problems with alcohol abuse and the demons that haunted him with great flair. However, King's work since 1990 has been a different story, so much so that I have quit reading him altogether. King's dialogue is just plain boring, and not much of it contributes to the backstory or keeps the plot moving. Often, I just give up after reading five chapters of say, "Insomnia" or "Dreamcatcher" or "Bag of Bones" that was banal at best. I need action, I need real suspense, I need to be engaged with what I read--not put to sleep.

"On Writing" is more of a "do as I say, not as I do" kind of essay, and for that it has merit. Some parts were also amusing, and King tells his own story much better than his fictional characters. It's too bad, though, as the one lesson he did not teach would benefit would-be writers: length of itself is not a plus. Too many pages is a turn off. Say more with less, not less with more.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 29, 2014
The memoir is pretty interesting; the part about his injuries and recovery is more interesting, As for the writing manual, he should have paid more attention to Strunk & White's admonition to omit unnecessary words. It's a self-congratulatory waste of space.
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