On Writing by Stephen King

Does Stephen King have advice a book blogger might find useful?

Stephen King’s fans will be interested in how he became a writer, and anyone who wants to become a writer ought to listen to his advice. But does On Writing anything useful to say to those of us who write for fun?

Mr. King divides On Writing into two sections. The first is a memoir of his early attempts at writing, the newspaper his older brother put out as a way to make pocket money. This part of On Writing is interesting and entertaining but not particularly useful. No one can duplicate the childhood that made Mr. King the writer he is, but his account of his early career is enlightening. In the second half of On Writing, Mr. King gets serious and gives frank, useful advice for aspiring story tellers. Though story tellers are his only real concern, his advice is still useful for non-fiction writers such as book bloggers.

I’m keeping three things he suggests in mind:

  1. Favor the active voice.
  2. Avoid adverbs.
  3. Follow this formula: 2nd draft equals 1st draft minus 10 percent.

Numbers one and two are not new–Mr. King gives credit where credit is due and faithfully discusses Strunk and White’s book The Elements of Style which every writer of any sort should own. He makes his own case for the active voice and against adverbs in On Writing and it’s a good one. Though after he’s made it, it’s difficult not to read the rest of the book looking for examples of adverbs and the passive voice. Number three came to Mr. King in a note written at the bottom of a rejection slip for a story that was too “puffy.” It’s excellent advice. There is much more in On Writing that a book blogger should find useful. I’m sure any writer looking to improve their own work, whatever it is, will find at least three useful things of their own in On Writing.

In fact, if you know someone who wants to become a writer, maybe your own high schooler or college student, give them this book. If they haven’t read it by the end of the following week, and if they can’t tell you three things they should do, then go out and buy them a guitar because they’re just going through a phase and music will probably be next. If they read it and they can tell you how they intend to use the suggestions in it, then start saving tuition money and hope for the best. Who knows, they may turn out to be the next Stephen King.

In the years since I first published this review on my old blog, Ready When You Are, C.B. I have often referred to it.  It’s been very useful to me as something of a writer and as an English teacher.  I really wish he would write a version more suited to middle school students.  I’d love to be able to use the entire book with my classes.  But for a handful of passages, it’s appropriate and I think it’s a book they would enjoy.  

4 thoughts on “On Writing by Stephen King

  1. Huh, I don’t remember reading about the 10% cut, but it’s something I’ve done for a while now which really tightens up prose. It’s probably about time I start rereading the writing books I own. I could use a refresher.

  2. I loved this when I read it. I went through a phase where I read every writing book I could get my hands on (instead of actually writing), but I haven’t read one in quite a while. This might be due a re-read.

Comments are closed.