On Writing by Stephen King
11 March 2002

 

This is less dull than other writing manuals I've read, but less interesting than other non-fictions. It offers a collection of tips for writers wishing to get published, but on the writing itself is fairly uninformative, and thus unrestrictive. King advocates a minimum of 2000 words a day, states that to write is human but to edit is divine and says that the second draft of any story or novel should be a maximum of 90% of the length of the first draft. Apart from that, his message is basically that what you write is up to you - which of course it is. Writing manuals reiterate constantly the point that there is no magic formula, and that they can do very little to aid the actual creation.

The one thing On Writing does to this end is advise the aspiring writer to read a lot and write a lot. This I do already... kind of. I suppose it could be said that I read a lot. As an ambitious academic, however, I tend to write for pleasure very little. There is no time, no energy and no inclination. I am beginning to sound like James Joyce.

Stephen King should definitely get over his obsession with adverbs. Or rather, his paranoia of adverbs. He continually interrupts the flow of writing to say useless things like "observe the pesky adverb which I am forced to leave in there". This is counter-productive. Language is certainly a large part of writing (to state the obvious), but all words must be used with care. An excess of adjectives looks just as bad as adverbial diarrhoea.

The book is amusing in places ("Plums deify!", "th m'n, yeah, dig it, sister") but not enough places. The instructions are in long, unbroken chunks, alternated with meaningless frippery. It makes for rather heavy going.

Conclusion: On Writing is a non-fiction by a fiction author who thinks that one can approach the genres in the same way. Being rich, he probably doesn't care either.

 

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