TOP TEN HIGHLIGHTS of Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft


On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
By Stephen King
Scribner, 2000.
291 pages, $17.99


The world’s best-known writer of horror fiction —Stephen King— wrote a memoir praised by novice and expert writers for its candour and wealth of writing tips. Do you have an itch to start writing or want to improve your skills? Read On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. You will learn almost everything you need to know. King shares stories about his childhood, his addiction, and his near-fatal accident in 1999, all of which helped shape him into the best-selling author (and compassionate man) he is today. He’s encouraging while maintaining a no-bullshit attitude towards writing —you need skills and you must work hard. His book will make you chuckle out loud, hold back tears, and avoid adverbs like the plague.

Here are the top ten highlights of this book:

10)          You will learn why having a writing desk in a quiet location (out-of-bounds for family members or housemates) isn’t a quaint fantasy —it’s a necessity.

9)            It seems obvious, but King states, if “you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” You practice your skills by writing often, you hone them by reading. You learn about language, dialogue, and characterisation not only when reading a well-crafted book, but also when reading one that is, well, the pits. For instance, I love Carol Shields’s Swann, a marvelous study of characterisation, since each character has a strong voice and distinct personality. I cringe at the mention of Nickolas Butler, in contrast, who missed the mark by creating a slew of flat characters with indistinct voices in Shotgun Lovesongs.

8)            This quote: “If [symbolism] is there and you notice it, I think you should bring it out as well as you can, polish it until it shines and then cutting it the way a jeweler would cut a piece of precious or semi-precious stone.” Yes! It’s not necessary for symbolism to be abstract or far-reaching, just good.

7)            King doesn’t write for the love of money. Never has. He writes for “the buzz” he experiences and “for the pure joy of the thing.” You will realize this even before reaching his revelation on page 248. Why? Well, the guy needs to write as much as he needs to eat or sleep. He loved it as a young boy and still loves it today. He thinks that all writers should feel this way about their craft. Heck, why bother if it doesn’t make you feel good?

6)            He doesn’t plot out his stories because “our lives are largely plotless” and doing so would kill the “spontaneity of real creation.” His analogy: creating a story is like discovering a fossil. You use your tools to unearth it, little by little. Got ya, Mr. King. I have my chisel and hammer in hand.

5)            The account of his serious accident in June of 1999 is horrific. The story of how he jumped right back into writing, regardless of the pain he felt in a sitting position, is inspiring. That was fifteen years ago, and Stephen King is still going strong. In fact, his latest  book, Mr. Mercedes, hit the stores on June 3, 2014.

4)            Stephen King doesn’t exclusively read horror books. He has enjoyed many of the same books as me, including Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, Micheal Cunningham’s The Hours, and Joyce Carol Oates’s We Were the Mulvaneys. The reading list he includes is rather comprehensive, and I look forward to getting my hands on some of his suggestions.

3)            At the end of the book, King includes a step-by-step example of how he edits his works. First, you get to read the raw, first-draft of a short story. Then, you get to reread the same story with proofreading marks, edits, and side notes.

2)            He loves his wife Tabitha. So. Much. He writes with her in mind as an “Ideal Reader”. She is always his first person to read a new, completed story. Her feedback, more than anyone else’s, influences King when polishing his stories. Everyone should have an Ideal Reader they trust.

1)            Stephen King gives you his blessing to write, or rather “a permission slip: you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up. ”



12 thoughts on “TOP TEN HIGHLIGHTS of Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

  1. I haven’t read this book, but I’m well versed in King’s disdain for the adverb and hear (what I imagine to be) his voice in my head every time I get lazy and use one.

  2. Carole Besharah says:

    Yeah, I feel the same when writing. Surely, some adverbs can be used sparingly to vividly colour your pages. (Tee hee). On a serious note… I don’t mind the occasional adverb. Like King though, I cringe when it is used in dialogue attribution. So distracting. It kills the flow of the conversation.

  3. I’m so grateful you visited me so I discover you. I like a good book review (who doesn’t?), but better is your writing. A light, but firm touch. 🙂 Really, it makes me happy.

    • Carole Besharah says:

      Thank you! So. Much. Such a compliment makes my day! I look forward to seeing your amazing creations. I keep returning to your blog to read your posts and swoon over your lovely illustrations. I want to draw like you, when I grow up ;). Cheers.

      P.S. I am unable to view your animated videos, and I am dying to see them. Any tips on how I can fix this problem?

      • 🙂 (<That is an abbreviation for a whole lot that I wouldn't mind saying about women and skills and talents and gifts and the work and practice we do and how giddy we feel when someone notices and how it will be SOOOO excellent when one … WAIT!! I'm going to let the abbreviation do its talking. Ha!)

        1. Do you draw? Paint? Sketch.
        2. Re: animations. That seems odd. Hm. Can you see other videos from youtube? (If you can't, then it's odd AND frustrating. For you. I pretend I don't watch much youtube, but all that pretend is a lie. (It's true that SOME of my videos are locked from public because I think … well, you probably need a little context). Hm, again.

        You could try accessing through (and then there's a link to my reel and other thingies). But still …

        Bye!! Hope you have a best Tuesday!!

      • Carole Besharah says:

        1. Yes, yes, and yes… but rarely. I’m learning how to draw with vectors right now (the illustrations of books on my home page was my first attempt). I need to spend much more time drawing if I want to improve.

        2. Yep. No problems on youtube, usually. Locked from the public? Hmmm. Now you got me wondering. Will check out right now!

      • Sigh. It is one of those unavoidable truths. Drawing, drawing and drawing more has just about everything to do with getting better. Which isn’t a bad thing, is it, since the reward IS the getting better. Still. Sometimes it feels like we’ve got better things to do than practice – ha! 🙂

        Nice first attempt with vector drawing! You’re using a tablet and pen?

      • Carole Besharah says:

        I am using a mouse, and it is rather difficult. Do you think it’s worth investing in a tablet and pen? I want to bring characters of mine to life in Illustrator.

      • I suspected. A tablet and pen? Absolutely. AbsoLUUUUUUUTEly! Your life will change! (And frankly, you can probably find one on ebay that will work wonderfully. I still use a Wacom Intuos 3, even though they’re up to … oh hell. I don’t even know where they’re at. I didn’t need any of the small ‘new features’).

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