On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

by Stephen King

Scribner | October 3, 2000 | Hardcover

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is rated 4.8333 out of 5 by 18.
"If you don''t have the time to read, you don''t have the time or the tools to write."

In 1999, Stephen King began to write about his craft -- and his life. By midyear, a widely reported accident jeopardized the survival of both. And in his months of recovery, the link between writing and living became more crucial than ever.

Rarely has a book on writing been so clear, so useful, and so revealing. On Writing begins with a mesmerizing account of King''s childhood and his uncannily early focus on writing to tell a story. A series of vivid memories from adolescence, college, and the struggling years that led up to his first novel, Carrie, will afford readers a fresh and often very funny perspective on the formation of a writer. King next turns to the basic tools of his trade -- how to sharpen and multiply them through use, and how the writer must always have them close at hand. He takes the reader through crucial aspects of the writer''s art and life, offering practical and inspiring advice on everything from plot and character development to work habits and rejection.

Serialized in the New Yorker to vivid acclaim, On Writing culminates with a profoundly moving account of how King''s overwhelming need to write spurred him toward recovery, and brought him back to his life.

Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower -- and entertain -- everyone who reads it.

Format: Hardcover

Dimensions: 288 pages

Published: October 3, 2000

Publisher: Scribner

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0684853523

ISBN - 13: 9780684853529

Found in: Literary, Reference and Language

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Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Welcome to On Writing. Now Start Writing. The second greatest book I have ever read on the greatness of writing is actually the more practical of the two. While Zen in the Art of Writing provides the motivational jumpstart you require to get the creative juices flowing, this volume, also a collection of previously published essays, is the more nitty gritty one. For On Writing by Stephen King paints a vivid picture of the how's and why's of his creative process. And when he explores all the facets he has gone through, you will walk away with a very profound feeling inside. In the beginning, King gives you his autobiography, a cleansing of his soul, so we can understand the man he was, the man he became, and the man he is now. The earliest childhood recollections do possess a certain Stand By Me vibe, with some memorable traumas evoking sympathy for the man who scares us so much. After all these decades, it always felt like nothing could terrorize the horror master. But now we learn different. On Writing churns through the rest of King's life. His first foray into alcohol, starting when he was a teen, with brutal effects. The massive love and admiration for his wife Tabitha, right from the moment he locked eyes on her. His first rocky years of adulthood and marriage and having children and low wage soul-sapping menial jobs. Poverty and misery was his existence. Pounding out story after story was his future. At this point, the tangential connection of two very disparate ideas collide in Stephen King's mind. This spark of a random comment combined with an obscure article he remembered brings forth a few typed pages, which he then promptly tossed into the trash. Tabitha fished them out. Told him to finish it. To get it out of his system. Upon completion, he submitted the manuscript, and waited. The mounting bills and disconnected phone plague them as time rolls on. Then one day King receives a telegram. His first book has been bought by a major publisher. For $2,500. And this was 1973. The book was Carrie. At this point, after Carrie finally saw publication, King's career skyrockets and the legend is born. But while the sales and his life radically improve, his alcoholism grows exponentially as well. By the late eighties, after numerous interventions, he finally swears off booze and drugs forever. What ruins this renaissance is when King almost dies after being hit by a van in 1999. A long painful recovery culminates in his finally taking back the keyboard, and storming up the bestseller lists as if he never left. When you hit the second part of his testament, King dwells into all his sundry ideas and thoughts on the actual craft of writing. Working religiously all mourning, pounding out page after page till he meets a certain goal. It it takes three hours, fine, if it takes six hours, okay. It takes what it takes. The rest of the day is spent consuming hours of various reading materials of all types and styles. King goes everywhere with something tucked away to read. You must feed the engine. And along the way, he embarks on a walk in order to clear his head and let ideas simmer and ruminate. The ending for The Stand came about from one of these wanderings. King also mentions repeatably early advice he trusted. Make your second draft ten percent shorter. And the next draft even shorter. And so on. And so on. Get the idea? How this is done is up to you, but one of King's favourite methods is by changing characters names, making them shorter. Details are included with one short story being dissected quite mercilessly. Learning how to be cold-blooded with your pet, your wonderful story, is not easy, but King shows you how with startling results. One of his final steps is to show his finished offering to a few trusted confidantes. As he puts it, if they find a logic hole, then everyone else will find the same hole. Many more great concepts of how to get your idea out are included, and all creative folks should pick and choose and try out what suits them. But this volume is filled with a metric ton of thoughts to keep you moving, so their should be no shortage of tricks to try. On Writing is the second best book I have ever read on the art and craft of writing. And it was incredibly well worth the read. King plums his own past, showcases his career, admits to his foibles and failures, and lets us peek into his personal comebacks. And how ideas, large and small, can be found anywhere and anytime. While it sounds all so simple, it took lots of hard work of the actual doing for King to succeed. So now we switch from the earthly to the practical. So get writing. Start right now. And keep going. Stephen says so. Scoopriches Rated R for language and subject matter.
Date published: 2012-03-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from intriguing novel good book. i read this for a project in high school one year. i didnt think it would be all that interesting, yes its stephen king but its not a typical stephen king it lets you look more into who he actually is and how hes able to come up with all his crazy novels.
Date published: 2012-01-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Wonderful This was my first taste of Stephen King, and it was wonderful. This is an amazing book for anyone interested in literature or writing. This memoir is hilarious but moving all at the same time. The reader cannot help but be fascinated by one of the most prolific writers of a generation. Thank you Uncle Stevie.
Date published: 2010-05-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Stephen King, for the uninitiated In the memior, On Writing, Stephen speaks about his childhood in such detail, demontrating an amazing degree of self-awareness (me, I remember almost nothing from my childhood). On Writing shows us who Stephen King is, and how he came to be one of the most successful writers of our generation, in colorful terms. Stephen King describes the interior landscape of his mind (a truly wondiferous place indeed), in vivid detail, and we call them novels and movies.
Date published: 2010-03-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An entertaining autobiography with some writing advice On Writing by Stephen King is an interesting autobiography that showed how the famous author got started writing. I feel like I know so much more about Stephen King and that writing takes a lot of practice to get it right. This book certainly gave me the motivation I needed to get started and practice writing. It was a passion from his childhood, which was when he started writing stories. Like all beginning writers, he first copied his ideas from works he enjoyed, then later on formed his own stories. The writing section in this book was extremely helpful as well, giving bits of advice that other writing books may not include. Some advice includes: - Writing a lot and reading a lot are a must for writers. - Find a place that you will be able to concentrate on your writing, preferably a place with few distractions. - Try to get the same number of pages or words competed per day and you may need a set time. Start off with a fewer number of pages so you do not become discouraged. - Don’t open your room door until you have completed your work. - Don’t tell people what you are working on and try to complete the novel as soon as possible or work on it daily so it stays fresh in your mind. - Try to read everywhere you can, for example long line ups, the park, the waiting room. - Novels consist of three parts: narration (situation comes before the characters prior to narrating), description, and dialogue. Plots are not important since life is plotless, and because spontaneity cannot be created with the use of plots. - Whole novels can start from what if questions. - Don’t over-describe or under-describe. Try to think of the few things that you remember about a particular place, and don’t include unnecessary things unless they relate to the story. - The dialogue should be realistic. Do not try to censor what you are saying because of what you think another person might think. - Try to pay attention to the way real people behave and talk to help with your characters. - Don’t use unnecessary adverbs. A reader should be able to tell how the character is feeling without having to write it. The use of “he/she said” is the best of all. - Not every novel has a theme. - Try to cut down about 10% for your second draft. - Not every best-seller is fast-paced. - Research is a sort of back story; readers don’t want to know too much information about it. - Writing classes are not recommended, because they make you wonder if what you are writing is trying to symbolize something and slow down the speed of completing your novel. - When searching for publishers, getting a copy of Writer’s Market or Literary Market Place is a good idea. I aware of false agents trying to get your money. 4.5/5
Date published: 2009-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Read a lot and write a lot: A review of Stephen King's On Writing Stephen King’s ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT is an inspiring reflection on the craft. The first half is memoir, the second half deals with scribbling. I was more interested in the second half. The “short” 297 page book closes with a horrific account of the near-fatal accident in 1999 and how writing assisted in his recovery. I’ve made an incomplete list of some of handy things that King recommends writers may want to think about. . . in addition to narration, character, and description. 1. Omit needless words (a tribute to Elements of Style) 2. Draw on the vocabulary you have. “He came to the river. The river was there.” Ernest Hemingway, “Big Two-hearted River.” 3. Grammar. Without grammar the words don’t make sense. A sentence is, by definition, a group of words containing a subject (noun) and predicate (verb). Remember: Rocks explode, Jane transmits, mountains float and plums deify. 4. Avoid cliché expressions: “The fact that…” “Along these lines…” “So much so that…” 5. Verbs come in two types: active and passive. Write in the active. Passive verbs are for the timid and unsure and are ineffective. “The meeting will be held at seven o’clock.” “The meeting is at seven.” “My first kiss will always be recalled by me as how my romance with Shayna was begun.” “My romance with Shayna began with our first kiss. I will never forget it.” 6. The adverb is not your friend; the road to hell is paved with adverbs (words that end with –ly). “He closed the door firmly.” “He closed the door” or “He slammed the door.” “Put it down!” she shouted menacingly. “Put it down!” she shouted. Adverbs are often used because the writer is worried the reader won’t understand what is written. King, Stephen. “Toolbox.” On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, 101-131. 2000. Toronto: Pocket Books, 2002. For those interested in writing I think you’ll enjoy this. I did.
Date published: 2008-02-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful This book is great for anyone who wants to learn more about the craft of writing. He gets into all the details, from finding your own personal "space" to write in, to publishing tips for the first-time authors. It is written very well and helpful for people who want to be published, but because it is easy to read, it's good for people who just want to improve their writing for personal reason.
Date published: 2006-07-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A valuable resource for any writer For Stephen King fans (and there are many) you will enjoy this book. For writers who don't particularly like Stephen King, you will enjoy this book. If you are neither, you will STILL enjoy this book. The first half is a wonderful autobiography summarizing some events in his life that applied, or some that didn't, to his becoming a writer. The middle section deals with some rudiments and some terrific teaching tools, no matter what kind of writing you do. In the end, King shares a little about his near fatal brush with death when he was hit by a van while walking down a backroad in Maine. Read it, read, it read it.
Date published: 2006-07-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Reader/Writer If you buy just one writing book (besides Writer's Market, obviously) buy this one. Using a collection of anecdotes interspersed with truly relevent writing advice, Stephen King empowers writers to be true to themselves and to what they write. Not just for fans of his fiction...
Date published: 2003-03-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Now we know! Stephen King's familiar style reassures us again that he is "just folks". He chats about his craft and he strips away the mystery. He talks common sense. King affirms what we thought might be true....we all have stories, we just have to recognize them. Anyone who has hesitated to write seriously should read this book.
Date published: 2001-03-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Read, read, read. I enjoy Stephen King’s fiction but I enjoyed this non-fiction work even more. Mr. King explores not only the writing craft as he practices it, but also some of the events in his life that moulded him into the writer that he has become. I found “On Writing” very inspiring and easy to read. Not a step-by-step guide but a well-rounded look at how he practices his craft, becomes inspired, struggles with and overcomes problems, and ultimately produces (what I feel is) high quality fiction. The only other book about the craft of writing that I have enjoyed as much was Dean Koontz’s “How To Write Best Selling Fiction” (Out of Print). Even if you are not an aspiring writer, I think this book can be enjoyed for Mr. King’s anti dotes and honest look into himself.
Date published: 2001-01-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Creating a hunger to write This is the first book I've read about writing that isn't dry or boring. It actually reads like a good story. It pulls you in and makes you want to keep going just to see what he's going to say next. The best part is, it creates a hunger to start writing and gives one the heady feeling of: "Hey! I could do that!" An entertaining as well as educational read.
Date published: 2001-01-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Keep On Writing When I purchased King's latest book, I hesitated to start it, as I thought that King still has many more years of writing a head of him, so why should he write about his writing techniques half way through his career? Why not wait until near the end? I was pleasantly surprised by a lot of pieces of his advice on writing. I even made some notes on his "toolbox" that he believes every writer should literally and figuratively carry around. The tone of this memoir is also pleasantly surprising. He is very irreverant towards many authorities. Even if a reader is not interested in becoming a professional writer, this is worth a read just to pick up some classic Stephen King humour.
Date published: 2000-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thank You! Mr. King. This is a great book. Mr. King shares not only details of his life, spots and all, but he then goes on to tell us what he does and how, exactly, he does it. He tells us the place of his writing, the time of it, the vocabulary, the grammar, the phrase, the sentence, and the paragraph, all presented with the love of a craftsman and the care of a parent. Speaking of parents, my daughter grappled this book away from me. She is aged nine, and is a writer and wants to be a writer. I just advised her to avoid the rough beginning, for now, and she began to read in the Toolbox, and then, On Writing. One could do much worse. What and why does one write? Mr. King suggests that the writer has no choice in the matter. One just has to write about what one wants to know, and there is a personal and public duty to do so as well as possible. Our writing is a testament to our humanity, as is this book, and bad writing is a testament to our lack of it. I would urge this book on every school board, and pray to see well-thumbed paperback copies in large print in every knapsack.
Date published: 2000-11-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from On Life - A Memoir of the Craft Stephen King is a horror writer, right? Wrong. His latest book ‘On Writing - A Memoir of the Craft’ is a whimsical and intriguing portrait of the writer, the written word, and the effect of real life horrors. As I read it, I laughed out loud, cried, and polished-up on the skills of good writing and editing. Started in 1997, On Writing was finished in 1999 after Stephen King was hit by a van. He suffered multiple injuries that left him in pain, unable to sit for any length of time, but five weeks after the accident King returned to work on On Writing. Combining memoir, how-to and personal narrative Stephen King gives us an engaging and compelling picture of the life that shaped him as a writer, the indispensable lessons of the craft he has learned and employed, and how the process of writing parallels the process of life - sometimes it is not easy to do, but you just have to do it anyway. Filled with hilarious early childhood stories, vignettes of the adolescent horror writer, and concrete examples of writing and editing techniques ‘On Writing’ is a must read for writers of any genre, and a delightful insight into the ‘King’ of horror.
Date published: 2000-11-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Inspiring Mr. King provides a humourous, enlightening, and honest account of the fundamentals of his craft. The book is designed to be as informative as possible while still being brief. "On Writing" is sure to inspire the new writer or the struggling author. I feel that anyone who has a desire to write will benefit from this book and thus be that tiny step closer to getting published.
Date published: 2000-10-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Listen to King For anyone who loves the written word and loves the process, this is a great read. King offers a different perspective on the whole process and shows how deeply he loves what he does. Definitely an inspiring read for anyone who wants to put words on paper. With this book, you can sit down and let King talk with you about his world.
Date published: 2000-10-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from On Writing is Right On Stephen has provided his fans with an entertaining insight into his life, and his writing. In the second half, he cuts to the basics of what it takes to write well. It's sure to inspire those who struggle with some of the rudimentaries of the craft. Written in his straightforward, folksy manner, I felt like I'd spent a day with one of the most successful novelist on the planet reviewing and discovering the fundamentals of writing stories. I can only imagine how exciting it would have been to have had him for a high school teacher. This man LOVES what he does!
Date published: 2000-10-05

– More About This Product –

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

by Stephen King

Format: Hardcover

Dimensions: 288 pages

Published: October 3, 2000

Publisher: Scribner

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0684853523

ISBN - 13: 9780684853529

Read from the Book

I actually began On Writing in November or December of 1997, and although it usually takes me only three months to finish the first draft of a book, this one was still only half-completed eighteen months later. That was because I''d put it aside in February or March of 1998, not sure how to continue, or if I should continue at all. Writing fiction was almost as much fun as it had ever been, but every word of the nonfiction book was a kind of torture. It was the first book I had put aside uncompleted since The Stand , and On Writing spent a lot longer in the desk drawer. In June of 1999, I decided to spend the summer finishing the damn writing book -- let Susan Moldow and Nan Graham at Scribner decide if it was good or bad, I thought. I read the manuscript over, prepared for the worst, and discovered I actually sort of liked what I had. The road to finishing it seemed clear-cut, too. I had finished the memoir ("C.V."), which attempted to show some of the incidents and life-situations which made me into the sort of writer I turned out to be, and I had covered the mechanics -- those that seemed most important to me, at least. What remained to be done was the key section, "On Writing," where I''d try to answer some of the questions I''d been asked in seminars and at speaking engagements, plus all those I wish I''d been asked...those questions about the language. On the night of June seventeenth, blissfully unaware that I was now less than forty-eight hours from my little
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From the Publisher

"If you don''t have the time to read, you don''t have the time or the tools to write."

In 1999, Stephen King began to write about his craft -- and his life. By midyear, a widely reported accident jeopardized the survival of both. And in his months of recovery, the link between writing and living became more crucial than ever.

Rarely has a book on writing been so clear, so useful, and so revealing. On Writing begins with a mesmerizing account of King''s childhood and his uncannily early focus on writing to tell a story. A series of vivid memories from adolescence, college, and the struggling years that led up to his first novel, Carrie, will afford readers a fresh and often very funny perspective on the formation of a writer. King next turns to the basic tools of his trade -- how to sharpen and multiply them through use, and how the writer must always have them close at hand. He takes the reader through crucial aspects of the writer''s art and life, offering practical and inspiring advice on everything from plot and character development to work habits and rejection.

Serialized in the New Yorker to vivid acclaim, On Writing culminates with a profoundly moving account of how King''s overwhelming need to write spurred him toward recovery, and brought him back to his life.

Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower -- and entertain -- everyone who reads it.

About the Author

Stephen King is the author of more than thirty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. Among his most recent are Hearts in Atlantis, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Bag of Bones, and The Green Mile. On Writing is his first book of nonfiction since Danse Macabre, published in 1981. He served as a judge for Prize Stories: The Best of 1999, The O. Henry Awards. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.

From Our Editors

Stephen King offers aspiring writers a clear, insightful and practical guide to the craft. Entertaining, illuminating and empowering, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft chronicles King’s writing experience, beginning with his childhood, through adolescence, college and the struggling years that led to his first novel, Carrie. King then covers the basic tools of a writer’s craft, explaining how to hone and develop them through use and make them readily available. Discover the many facets of a writer’s life and art, with invaluable advice on everything from creating plot and character to forming solid work habits and handling rejection.

Editorial Reviews

“The best book on writing. Ever.”--The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

Bookclub Guide

A Reading Group Guide for On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Points of Discussion

  1. Do you agree with Stephen King that the desire to write always starts with a love of reading?
  2. What role did Stephen King''s childhood play in his evolution as a writer? Did your childhood experiences influence your desire to write?
  3. King was encouraged from a young age by his mother, who told him one of his boyhood stories was "good enough to be in a book." Was there someone in your life who encouraged your earliest efforts?
  4. At what age do you remember thinking you wanted to write? What do you remember writing when you were young?
  5. King''s wife Tabitha is his "Ideal Reader," the one-person audience he has in mind when writing a first draft. When you write, do you envision a particular Ideal Reader? Who is that person and why?
  6. While King delights in the nuts-and-bolts mechanics of the writing process, he concedes that good writing involves magic as well. Do you agree with King''s assertion that "while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one?" To what degree can a writer be made? To what extent can writing be taught? What writerly skills do you come by naturally, and which have you had to work to acquire or improve?
  7. Discuss King''s "toolbox" analogy. What "tools" do you find most indispensable when you write? Are there any you would add to King''s toolbox?
  8. King believes that stories are "found things, like fossils in the ground." Discuss King''s extended metaphor of "writing as excavation." Do you agree with this theory?
  9. According to King, good story ideas "seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky," and often don''t ignite until they collide with another idea that also comes unbidden. Do you find that ideas for stories or writing projects come to you out of the blue, or do you have to search for them? What serves as the basis for most of your stories? A situation? A character? A moral dilemma? King recalls a dream that led him to the writing of his book Misery. Have you ever gotten a story idea from a dream? Discuss how you discovered your best ideas and how they evolved into finished stories.
  10. King describes the dangers of seeking reader response -- or "opening the door" -- too early or too frequently. At what stage in a writing project do you solicit critical feedback from others? When you do "open the door," who are the first readers you ask for advice? Why do you trust those readers and what are you looking to hear from them?
  11. King doesn''t read in order to "study the craft" but believes that there is "a learning process going on" when he reads. Do you read books differently as a writer? Are you conscious of "the craft" as you read?
  12. In the first foreword to On Writing, King talks about the fact that no one ever asks popular writers about the language. Yet he cares passionately about language and about the art and craft of telling stories on paper. Do you think there is a false distinction between writers who write extraordinary sentences and writers who tell stories?
  13. Often, King says, "bad books have more to teach than the good ones." He believes that most writers remember the first book they put down thinking "I can do better than this." Can you remember a book that gave you that feeling? Why?
  14. King''s self-imposed "production schedule" is 2,000 words a day and he suggests that all writers set a daily writing goal. What kind of discipline, if any, do you impose upon your own writing efforts? Do you always write at the same time of day? If so, when and why? Do you try to maintain a steady pace? Does adherence to a strict routine help your writing efforts?
  15. King tells a story about getting his fantasy desk, a massive oak slab that he placed in the middle of his spacious study. For six years, he sat "behind that desk either drunk or wrecked out of [his] mind." After sobering up, he replaced the desk with a smaller one that he put in a corner. "Life isn''t a support system for art," he figured out. "It''s the other way around." Discuss King''s "revelation" and the symbolism of the placement of the desk.
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