Mile 11: Stephen King

Stephen King’s book on writing is called, you guessed it, “On Writing.” Some consider it a classic of the “writers helping other writers” genre. I don’t actually know if that’s a genre, but it should be, and King’s book is a good one. While he’s best known for his horror, fantasy and supernatural books, none of which I’ve read, his advice here is invaluable and universal, crossing genre lines. It is as valuable to Western writers as it is to those who plan to write horror books.

His book is part autobiographical, part novel and part a writer’s roadmap.

It is broken into five sections.

  • C.V. – the autobiographical part of his journey.
  • What Writing Is – the title of this section could have been expanded to add “and Why It’s Important.”
  • Toolbox – the nuts and bolts of grammar, style, vocabulary, structure, etc. Not necessarily fun, except for the quirky among us, but necessary.
  • On Writing – cautionary and inspirational thoughts for those new to the craft.
  • On Living: A Postscript – details on the horrific accident King was in and how it impacted his life and his writing.

It is hard to pull a few things out of “On Writing” and highlight them, because so many of the pieces of advice, passages and candid insights deserve to be highlighted, I could simply yellow out the entire book and post it. But there are laws that forbid me to do so, so I’ve picked out a few of my favorites…

On criticism: In many ways, Eula-Bealah prepared me for literary criticism. After having a two-hundred-pound babysitter fart on your face and yell Pow!, The Village Voice holds few terrors. (If you like this line, you’ll love the book.)

On story ideas: …good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky…

On adverbs: I insist that you use the adverb in dialog attribution only in the rarest and most special of occasions.

More adverbs: All I ask is that you do as well as you can, and remember that, while to write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is divine.

On improving: …it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.

On “The Great Commandment”: Read a lot, write a lot. (This might be the most obvious, most important and most overlooked piece of advice in the entire book.)

On descriptions: …if you have a feeling you can’t describe, you just might be, I don’t know, kind of like, my sense of it is, maybe in the wrong fucking class. (This is pulled from my favorite story in the book, and at least for me, it was laugh out loud, blow milk through your nose, lose a little bladder control funny.)

On the “Magic Secrets of Writing”: …there aren’t any—bummer, huh?

If you decide to never write another word, this book is still very much worth your time to read. If you do plan on writing, or better yet, are in the middle of a project, this book is borderline indispensable.

I wish you good writing, and if you have a question or something you’d like to share, send me an email at [email protected].

Thank you, enjoy and keep writing!


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