On Writing – Book Review

Stephen King's book On Writing
Yes, that’s a real wildcat. It’s actually stuffed roadkill.  

I am not a fan of horror books or films, so I admit that I have never read one of Stephen King’s novels. In fact, I would probably fit into the group of prudes that he affectionately terms “The Legion of Decency.” Guilty.

Although I am not a fan of King, I am a fan of writing, and he is a successful writer. A wise man once said “every man is my teacher,” so in spite of my disdain for horror, I wanted to read what King had to say about the craft of writing.

On Writing is divided into two major sections: the first is a brief but colorful autobiography, and the second is a helpful discussion on the art and science of writing. The King fandom will certainly enjoy the autobiographical section, but others (like me) might be more interested in the section that gets to the point of the book: how to write well.

To be honest, writing a review about King’s book makes me feel like a Lego amateur who is critiquing a NASA engineer on the build of his rocket. Though Mr. King and I come from very different worldviews (albeit he does confess a belief in God) and share very different values, I admit that I could never hold a candle to his talents as an author, and for that I can appreciate what he has to say. So I’ll spare you my furthermores and share with you my favorite takeaways:

On the writer’s work habits and the bane of television:
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” (p 145)
“I’m a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year.” (p 145)
“Reading takes time, and the glass teat [TV] takes too much of it.” (p 148)
“I’d like to suggest that turning off that endlessly quacking box is apt to improve the quality of your life as well as your writing.” (p 148)
“The sort of strenuous reading and writing program I advocate – four to six hours a day, every day – will not seem strenuous if you really enjoy doing these things and have an aptitude for them;” (p 150)
On the writer’s productivity and work environment :
“I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words.” (p 154)
“The biggest aid to regular…production is working in a serene atmosphere. It’s difficult for even the most naturally productive writer to work in an environment where alarms and excursions are the rule rather than the exception.” (p 154)
“If possible, there should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with.” (p 156).
I recommend On Writing to anyone wanting to learn more about writing from one who has mastered the craft.
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