By Stephen King


A book about how to write is unlikely to mean much to you unless you know the author well and respect their work. Stephen King is a popular writer, which sometimes causes people to dismiss his work as mainstream or lowbrow, but this is a mistake.

King is a fantastic storyteller. His style is so distinctive that many of his readers could recognise it when he published under a pseudonym and his writing is so immersive that I still have vivid mental images of places he describes in books that I haven't read for years.

If you haven't read King, I recommend getting to know his writing before you read On Writing. My favourites are 11.22.63, Sleeping Beauties, Under the Dome, The Institute, and The Green Mile. I don't enjoy horror so if the idea of reading IT doesn't appeal, you're safe with these. I thoroughly recommend them to anybody, writer or otherwise.

On Writing is part autobiography and part instruction manual. True to King's style it isn't upbeat but is incredibly inspiring nonetheless. Everybody who writes would benefit from reading this book.

Some of my favourite insights include:

...stopping a piece of work just because it's hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don't feel like it, and sometimes you're doing good work when it feels like all you're managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.

It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room. Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around.

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.

Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.

The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one's papers and identification pretty much in order. Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness.

Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want. Anything at all...as long as you tell the truth.


You should avoid the passive tense


The adverb is not your friend

and, last but most importantly of all: use fewer words. Your second draft should be at least 10% shorter than your first.

King touches on other subjects related to his writing, like drug misuse and learning, and the book is a fascinating insight into his writing process over the years.

On Writing is a book I come back to time and time again. King's ability to pull the reader into a story is unparalleled; it's something we can all learn from, whether we write fiction or non-fiction.

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