Review: On Writing

The other day I finished reading On Writing by Stephen King. In truth, I enjoyed it. If anything though, I learned one thing: it wasn’t what I was hoping for.

After reading review after review and hearing person after person say that On Writing was the best book on writing for a fiction writer, I decided to give it a shot. I can always improve on what I am doing and am willing to take advice from wherever I can get it. I’ve never read a Stephen King book before this one. I’ve seen a handful of movie adaptations. Stand By Me (based on The Body), Misery, and The Green Mile to name a few, but they barely count. Because of that it is difficult to hold a legitimate opinion. Some love his writing; others hate it. So what? What I found was that there was a few good bits of information for me, but overall the book wasn’t for me. It didn’t hold a candle to Consider This by Chuck Palahniuk, not because one is genuinely better than the other, but because Consider This was better for me.

Admittedly, there are a few things in On Writing that I absolutely agree with. As far as the “activity” of writing, Stephen is more closely aligned with how I operate (or would like to). We’re both pantsers with a distaste for writing a whole lot of notes down or outlining. (I believe I need to do some outlining though, particularly when writing sweeping, multi-book, multi-arc science fiction or fantasy epics — that’s another topic though, not for here.) He also insists that writers should write, should write with the “door closed” — without others giving input — for the first draft, and should write often (I do not recall him saying “every day” but if he didn’t say it outright, it was definitely implied). He also insisted that a writer should read a lot. Can’t say I agree any more than I already do there. Those points are all solid.

But I am not after tips on the activity; I am after the art. And Stephen doesn’t speak to me as effectively on that level.
There are a few good tips on how to approach characters and story structure. He insists on writing truth and in so let’s his characters effectively run the show. His relaying advice from others on not being too precious about anything and to try to be concise are all good, but none of it is new to me. Much of what he says are things that I’ve heard before from others to a degree — even the cutting X% from one’s first draft. Plus the call for a moratorium on adverbs has been relayed often before being read in these pages. I’ll listen to some of it. And maybe on a second reading sometime in the future it’ll mean more.

He says it himself though: every writer is different. And what works for Stephen King won’t necessarily work for anyone else. That is probably my biggest takeaway from the whole of it: I need to find my own path. Through writing a ton and reading even more, I will develop my own way of doing things. It won’t look like the way Stephen King does it, nor will it look like how Chuck Palahniuk does it. It’ll be how Jeremy does it.

While On Writing wasn’t exactly what I was after, I cannot say that it was bad or not worth reading at all. Whether I get something out of it or not (I did — so there’s that), I would never tell anyone not to pick it up and find out for themselves if it is helpful. Stephen is a massive success as far as writers go, thus following his advice is a valid way to approach things. The book may not have been for me, but what do I know?

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