Review: On Writing

THE PLOT: It’s hard to define this book because it’s half-memoir and half-writing guide. Part One takes you through Stephen King’s life in a series of (mostly chronological) scenes that explain why and how he became a writer. Then, Part Two morphs into tips from King’s Writer’s Toolbox, which takes you through different levels from spelling and grammar to pace and plot. Part Three is a bit of an unexpected ending, which King titles ‘On Living’.

RATING: The memoir portion of the book was an enjoyable, easy read but the writing tips notched it over into four-star worthy territory. Although it’s not a comprehensive guide on how to become a novelist (Stephen King doesn’t believe such a thing can exist), there’s quite a few good pieces of advice for the aspiring writer.

GOOD BITS: The most important advice I’ll take on board from this book is about editing your work. There’s an example extract ‘before’ and ‘after’, which is particularly useful. Since reading this book, I am going to limit any future WIP to strictly three edits (each roughly six months long). I’ve been stuck editing the same manuscript for more years than I’d care to share and I think I’d benefit from this structure.

NOT SO GOOD BITS: On Writing could be split into two successful books – a comprehensive memoir and a writing guide. The last section, ‘On Living’, explains why it’s all built into one book but it feels unsettling… The last section is very interesting but I think it confuses the books structure and its intention. I’m surprised that the publisher didn’t want to split the final product into two shorter, very distinct works.

OVERALL: If you want to have a career as a writer (in any format) you should definitely read this book. Warning – the writing advice in this book isn’t set out like a textbook. It’s very conversational and anecdotal, which makes it easy to read but it’s not going to give you any magic secrets. In fact, King says read every day, write every day, and don’t give up. That’s the only secret to being a professional writer.