Stephen King - On Writing

My Desert-Island Books – Fiction

Although much of Stephen King’s advice in On Writing: a memoir of the craft is aimed at novelists, non-fiction authors will also benefit.

Stephen King wrote On Writing in 2000, while recuperating from a near-fatal road accident.

Stephen King, as in the bestselling writer of books such as Misery, Carrie and The Green Mile. And The Shawshank Redemption.

How does this guide differ from the many worthy-but-unmemorable guides to writing on the market?

First, it’s not just a guide to writing but includes an autobiographical section as well.  It’s honest and funny.

Authors frustrated by publishers’ and agents’ gatekeepers will be motivated by King’s accounts of overcoming rejection: ‘By the time I was fourteen… the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it’.

On Writing is prescriptive, but in an amusing and memorable way.  For example, adverbs are in the line of King’s firing squad.  When you read his description of ‘Swifties’ you’ll always remember why.

Finally, there’s an Emperor’s New Clothes element, in that he challenges received wisdom.

It’s fair to say that Stephen King is not a fan of writers' retreats or creative writing classes.

On Writing is a book you’ll either love or loathe.  If the former, you’ll read it at least twice, once out of duty and the second time, just for fun.

  • ‘Read a lot, and write a lot.’
  • ‘Adverbs are not your friend.’
  • ‘Write with the door closed; rewrite with the door open.’
  • ‘Description begins in the writer's imagination, but should finish in the reader's.’
  • ‘If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered.’
  • ‘One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes.’
  • ‘There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.’