On Writing – Stephen King

There are some books that get massive accolades, and the assumption one is bound to make is that those views translate to the quality of the object. I tend to be skeptical of those claims, and my skepticism frequently pays off. It did so in this case.

I had two pretty big problems with this book. The first problem was that it is not a single book. It’s two very distinct books that were put together a little haphazardly. You could easily cut this book right down the middle and sell both halves independently. The first half of it is the memoir mentioned in the subtitle, and it is interesting enough from that point of view. Certainly, the anecdotes about how he got his start and how his drug abuse affected his life are interesting enough.

In the second half of the book we get the actual writing portion of it, and it might be the worse of the two parts.

I don’t know if this is an opinion I have because I have worked for some years as an educator (and have had to teach writing specifically), but I am always weary of when people give hard and fast rules for things like writing. I don’t think that is an effective way to teach. I don’t really care for it here, and there is certainly an abundance of it here in King’s book. As a case in point, King writes that we should avoid the passive voice at all cost, as if it were a type of poison which you could accidentally release into your writing that would ruin the whole pot. And yet, just a few sentences later King uses the passive voice himself. There is nothing wrong with that sentence – in fact, I would say that an active sentence there would have made the writing worse. The passive voice has a place, and it is sometimes exactly what your writing needs. King has internalized this and knows when to use it and when not. But by not playing with these forms, someone learning to write may not ever get the kind of mastery.

You can apply this to pretty much all of the advice King gives in this book. He talks about not using adverbs, and also uses them pretty liberally.

But ultimately, the book had no need to be cleft in half. The narrative of the first part was pretty frequently good, and when I got to the second part of the book, a lot of which was nested in brief personal anecdotes, I couldn’t help but wonder why all of the second part wasbn’t merely all nested into the first part. It really did feel like two very different books crammed together haphazardly.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

2 thoughts on “On Writing – Stephen King

  1. Nice review! I’ve always avoided this book because it seemed so heavy handed (and King’s not my favorite writer in general). But knowing it reads as two books, I might check out the first half someday.


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