Learning to Write: Stephen King On Writing

Every book on writing with a little bit of kudos mentions Stephen King’s “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” as a must-read. It is. It’s a must-read for anyone who writes fiction; it’s interesting for those who write non-fiction; it’s a book that all those writing memoirs should read.

I can summarise his advice in two lines. To become a writer you must:


and you must


(ok, three lines…)

The only way of learning how to write is to do it, and do it, and do it… Pretty much like any other art or craft. Books should be your learning tools by excellence. You can absorb so much talent and skill by reading good books. If you don’t want to spoil a good read by analysing a masterpiece, then read average or bad books and work out how they could be improved. Then apply over and over again to your own writing.

If you want to include any element of suspense within your writing, read Stephen King’s book. Enjoy it, savour it and then go back to see “how he did it”. I’ve never read any of his novels, though when I start to write my trilogy, he will be the first author I begin to read. (You see what I did there, I’ve never mentioned the trilogy before, have I aroused your curiosity a little, tiny bit?)

If you’re a Stephen King fan, you will love the first third of the book, where he tells us about his life and you get to see where his love of the macabre comes from. If you’re like me and are mainly interested in the “on writing” bit, it will be worth the wait.

As a non-fiction writer, this book shows how you can weave in your experience and unique point of view of the world with sound advice. As someone writing her first bit of memoirs, this is a good lead to follow as he weaves in and out of the stories of his life.

I agree with so much of what he has to say that I am happy to already be doing some of the stuff he suggests. And everything that is new to me makes sense. Refreshingly, he believes in the character taking over your writing, in the pen accessing stuff you never knew was in you. Of course, like all writers, he knows that you can’t wait for inspiration with a capital I before you sit down to write. You must, in a way, evoke Inspiration by sitting down at your desk and starting to write. If it never comes, tough, we all have bad days at work.

The epilogue of the book is an absolutely wonderful read in itself. I’m not going to spoil it too much but just mention that it involves him being in an accident where he breaks his leg. I’ve never met or read about anyone else who had an external fixator fitted when they broke a limb. I did see people in the hospital when I was going to re-hab after breaking my leg, but never out of this setting. So, after spending two days quoting Stephen King to my family (“King says do this, King says do that and I’m already doing it”), I was very tempted to shake my father out of his Parkinson’s off-period by saying “Stephen King also wore an external fixator! Like me, like me!”

I don’t know if I’m particularly susceptible at the moment to be moved but the book brought tears to my eyes. The absolute love/trust/adoration for his wife was more than touching. And it was so real. So honest, just like the rest of the book.

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