Book review: On Writing, by Stephen King

Having just finished Stephen King’s part-memoir, part-writers’ bible – On Writing – I wanted to offer a brief review of the book. In short, if you are an aspiring writer, or simply feel the need to share in a fellow writer’s journey, I would highly recommend picking up a copy of On Writing. 

The book is a wonderful companion for the aspiring writer. I found it equally inspiring and depressing, both facets resulting from his no-bullshit approach to gifting us a practical guide to the fiction writing process.

The depressing part? If the great Stephen King had to fight through a crucible to get where he is, what hope is there for us lesser-talented writers? Fortunately, inspiration is abound, since it is apparent that King is determined to give earnest beginning writers the best possible advice for succeeding in the craft.

The book is separated into three parts. The first is a memoir of sorts, which allows us to get to know the man behind the writing. As King himself says, it establishes the author’s credentials. There are little nuggets of invaluable advice dotted throughout this first part, like chocolate chips in a muffin.

When the reader is comfortable, the hard lessons roll in. The second part, the titular section, consists of honest advice, details the tools of the trade, and covers the various aspects of what makes a good story. All is delivered with unflinching honesty and backed up with clear literary examples. The second part is the meat of On Writing, and full of invaluable guidelines that any writer should keep coming back to. It’s far more than airy commentary on theoretical principles: it’s a grounded, practical guide to success, offered by a writer in a position to give such advice.

The final part tells the story of Stephen King’s near-fatal accident in 1999. For me, the message of this moving final section was clear. Being a writer is tough. It can be all-engrossing at times, and takes real dedication. But whatever you do, try not to lose perspective of the bigger picture. Try not to forget to live life. Find at least one person who you can confide in absolutely, and who you can trust to be both an honest supporter and unflinching critic of your work.

The reality is that, at any moment, a light blue Dodge van may come over the hill and threaten to take it all away.