On Writing by Stephen King

Posted July 14, 2020 by Amber in Reviews / 2 Comments

On Writing

On Writing

by Stephen King

Publisher: Scribner on October 3, 2000
Genre: Autobiography, Memoir, Non-Fiction
Target Age Group: Adult
Rating: ★★★★½

Check out this book on Goodreads

Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer's craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King's advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999 -- and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it -- fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.


I first read On Writing in college.  It was assigned reading for a writing course, the same one that first urged me to track the books I’ve read.  I remember very little about the work I did in that class, or the lectures themselves, but I remember the impression it left with me and despite foggy recollections, I know it was formative for me as a writer.

And I know On Writing is the most formative writing-related book I’ve ever read.

I’m not sure why I got rid of the tattered paperback.  I guess I thought I’d never read it again.  But I’ve been thinking about it for about a year, and I’ve been waiting patiently.  I’m glad it came in, and I definitely need to buy another copy.

King breaks up the book into three basic sections.  The first, the beginning, feels most like a memoir.  King talks a little about his life, his early career, meeting his wife Tabitha.  It all ties together with writing, in such a way that it feels like writing and life for King have always been entwined.  There are tidbits that send out – the stake in the wall with rejection slips is my personal favorite.  Part one is his origin story, if you will, and the most interesting by far.

The middle section is conversations about writing and writing advice.  This book is a little older now, so it won’t include some of his newer titles.  When he discuss the writing journey, he leans heavily on Misery, although other books make an appearance as well.  It’s interesting to hear about bits and pieces of how he writes, and his personal writing rules.  If you write yourself, I’m sure you’ve heard the “The road to hell is paved with adverbs” quote… here’s where it comes from.  King gives advice about style and technique here, as well as good habits to maintain.  Because it’s been a decade since I last read this book, I didn’t realize how much of this advice I’d taken to heart and implemented critiques of my own work.

The last section is about his accident.  Any Stephen King fan knows about this – King is open about the experience and it pops up in The Dark Tower as well as On Writing… I wouldn’t be surprised if it shows up in other places as well.  I have mixed feelings about it in both the above books – it sort of feels out of place to me.  Then again, this piece is both a book about writing, and a sort of memoir, so of course it can be here.  King includes it to detail his journey back to writing after the life-changing incident, and makes the story about picking yourself back up.  It’s clear in this book that Stephen King loves two things:  writing, and his wife.  Not even the accident could break him of it.

With the exception of the section on getting published (which is now outdated in the electronic world, especially with the rise of social media), On Writing remains a book filled with good advice from a man who knows his craft well.  King has written everything from horror and thrillers to romance and science fiction and fantasy and… well… I think really the only thing he hasn’t written is a YA contemporary?  He knows how to capture peoples’ attention and if you don’t like one of his books, you’ll probably like another.

If you’re a writer – aspiring or practicing – it’s worth picking up On Writing.  Not only is it an interesting read, the suggestion she makes are sound and the advice is good.  It’s definitely a volume I need back on my shelf.

Ratings Breakdown

Writing: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★★
Sources: ★★★★★
Detail: ★★★
Delivery: ★★★★★
Subject: ★★★★★
Narrator: ★★★★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★★


Code Orange Problematic Author History


Do you have a favorite book of writing techniques?  I’ve heard of a few that tend to make the rounds in the community, but if you have a personal favorite, I’d love to hear about it!  Let me know in the comments. <3

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2 responses to “On Writing by Stephen King

    • Amber

      So glad you enjoyed it, Serena! Some of it’s a little outdated now, but overall still a good read. What drove you to picking this one up? As you interested in the craft, or a fan of King’s, or both? 🙂