On Writing Summary
by Stephen King

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On Writing Summary

On Writing, as its title suggests, is Stephen King’s book on how to write.

  • King has split the book into two parts; in the first, he narrates the story of his life in a series of vignettes to describe how he became the author he is today.
  • As the narrative progresses, King shifts discusses his fascination with horror films, his nascent writing attempts, and his moving account of selling his first novel, Carrie.
  • The second part of the book is devoted to the actual mechanics of good writing, and King offers advice about various topics, including voice, grammar, and strong storytelling.


(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

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Stephen King is among the world’s best-selling authors. He turned out one or two novels a year for over twenty-five years, bringing his grand total of novels, short stories, screenplays, and even comic books to over forty. His previous books include Bag of Bones (1998), Hearts in Atlantis(1999), and Storm of the Century (1999).

Ever since he published his first book, Carrie (1974), King has been asked how he writes on a regular basis. He hints around in interviews and in the forewords to his books, but only now does he finally tell the reader the truth in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. King has dividedOn Writing into three main parts: autobiography, how to write, and an account of the 1999 automobile accident with Bryan Smith that almost ended his life. Unlike other writing books, King writes On Writing as he would write anything else, with the honesty and middle-class crudeness that his fans would expect of him. Instead of being a turn-off, this “middle-of-the-road” style is to King’s advantage. Everybody knows he is like McDonald’s rather than the Brown Derby, so he tries to write that way, as well.

In the first part, “C.V.,” King tells the reader his life story. Unlike other biographies where the author tells everything from beginning to end, King honestly says that he cannot remember everything. Instead, he offers the reader little vignettes from his life, skipping years here and there as need be. By the end of it, though, King has told his readers how he became a writer and what inspired him (his horror influences, though, are more clearly presented in 1981’s Danse Macabre). Here King is perhaps more “honest” than in the section about writing itself. The reader sees over and over again how King escaped poverty by writing. He and his brother David started their own newspaper, Dave’s Rag, and he was submitting fiction to magazines before he was sixteen years old.

The fact that King was writing about the films he saw or anything else that crossed his mind did not really matter. He was writing, and just that by itself was an accomplishment. Writing was hard work, but King loved it. His best example of this is when he was a sports writer for the LisbonWeekly Enterprise, his local newspaper. John Gould, the editor, showed him what to leave in and what to take out. It was simple, and King says Gould showed him in ten minutes the things that he still uses today. The rest of the autobiography tells how King met his wife, Tabitha, started a family, and how Carrie almost did not happen.

King also deals with, for the first time in print, his battles with alcohol and drugs in great detail. He started drinking during a high school senior trip to Washington, D.C., and by 1974 King was an alcoholic who gave his dead mother’s eulogy while drunk. By 1985, he had added cocaine to his problems. He says that many books he wrote during this time he cannot remember very well, and his novel Cujo (1981) he barely remembers writing at all. He finally gave up his addictions after his wife took his wastebasket full of cigarettes, cocaine, beer cans, and other paraphernalia out of his office and told him to choose between them and their marriage. King was writing Misery  (1987) at this time, a tale about a writer held hostage and forced to take drugs, and he was wondering if the fictional writer and King himself were one...

(The entire section is 1,755 words.)