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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

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Review: On Writing

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft - Stephen King

Stephen King's On Writing is a mess of insight and nonsense. It's part memoir, part textbook, part inspirational battle cry, part philosophical rambling. It's not quite clear what On Writing is.


If you read the book in its entirety, you'll learn that King was in the middle of writing On Writing when his near-fatal accident—the details of which are much worse than I imagined—occurred. This may explain the disjointed nature of this book. While picking up the pen again after such an accident was probably the natural course for King, writing a how-to book was probably not the most pressing.


What I liked most about King's "memoir of the craft" were the stories of his childhood and of his early writing career. Particularly memorable was the tale of how Carrie came into being and became a success. Some of King's writing advice was good, especially in regards to routine and dedication. Despite how one may feel about King as a writer, there is no doubt that the man is dedicated.


Some of King's advice showed how far he was from the aspiring writer, however. He recommends cutting ten percent of your manuscript, but ten percent isn't going to cut it for your average debut novelist. Ironically, if King is guilty of anything in his stories, it is a lack of cutting. He's a gifted storyteller—no doubt—but his editors are far too soft on him, likely because of his stature. Also, his Agent Letter is the most boring, uninspired, ineffectual piece of advice on securing an agent I have ever read. Did this really work for someone? This letter contains nearly every line I've always heard must be avoided. I'd love to know more about the author of this letter and the agents who bit.


I moved through the first half of this book rather quickly, but it just lost its steam and I had to push my way through the rest. Much of the writing advice is regurgitated from Strunk and White, so if you've read or skimmed The Elements of Style, you won't learn much new here. It's an entertaining read at times, but if you've been "in the business" for a while, don't expect revolutionary ideas. Certainly I'd recommend this one for individuals who are in the first couple years of the pursuit of writerly things. Also, it's great for King fans. Although some of the advice in the middle actually on writing may bore fans of King, there's enough wit and storytelling throughout to keep them sustained.