Published on Sep 25, 2017

Book Review: On Writing by Stephen King

On Writing is part-autobiography and part-styleguide, and much less tactical writing guide than one might expect from a book about writing.

King’s recounting of how he became a writer is scattered with side-stitching stories about poison ivy and heartwarming affirmations of his wife Tabby’s role in his success. You might think an autobiographical undercurrent would be gratuitous or boring, but it’s important groundwork for when King later tells you how to become a good writer: read a lot, write a lot, cut out the excess (it’s there), and tell the truth.

The second part of the book is a quick and dirty guide about how to write well. It doesn’t contain much in the way of grammar rules, other than his suggestion that adverbs are rarely necessary and more often a vessel for sloppy communicating, or his cautioning about adverbs disguised as juiced-up verbs like “pontificate”.

Most importantly, King offers the slightly vague premise that being a good writer requires telling the truth. He means that you can only write well about what you know, whether that’s botany, being a high school girl whose classmates throw tampons at her, or just being human. He’s not suggesting then that all fiction writers are bad writers (he writes fiction himself), but that all masterful writers have tapped into some magic that allows them to weave a believable fabric of untruths about what it’s like to exist in their fictional universe.

On Writing is one of the best books I’ve ever read, and I smiled more throughout it than any other book I can recall. If you enjoy reading, writing, or laughing, I can’t recommend it enough.