Madeline's Reviews > On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

On Writing by Stephen King
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Dec 16, 2015

it was amazing
bookshelves: memoir
Read in January, 2006

Let's be honest: Stephen King is not one of the greatest writers of all time. He will never win a Pulitzer or a Nobel (he might win a Newberry though, if he ever decides to tap into the Kids/Young Adult market), and on the few times his books are featured in the New York Times Book Review, the reviewer will treat the book with a sort of haughty disdain, knowing their time could be better spent trashing Joyce Carol Oates.

None of this should suggest, however, that King is not qualified to write a book about how to write. Sure, he churns out pulpy horror stories that are proudly displayed in airport bookstores, but the man knows how to write a good story, and he's probably one of the most well-known, non-dead American authors in the world. So he must be doing something right.

I'm not the biggest fan of King's books, but I really enjoyed On Writing. He talks about writing frankly and practically, mixing tried-and-true pieces of advice (fear the adverb, never write "replied/remarked/muttered/yelled etc" when you can write "said", and don't be afraid to kill off your favorite character) with anecdotes about how some of his books came about. I especially liked the story behind Carrie: King was working as a janitor at a high school, and one night he was cleaning the girls' locker room. He asked the other janitor what that little metal dispenser box on the wall was, and the other man replied that it was for "pussy pluggers." At the same time, King had been reading about how psychic abilities often manifest in girls just beginning to go through puberty. He combined the two ideas and wrote out a couple pages that would turn into the opening of Carrie. (if you haven't read it you should.) Many thanks to King's wife, who rescued the pages from the wastebasket after King first decided that the idea was stupid and threw them away.

So, in conclusion: even if you aren't a fan of Stephen King's work, he has some very good advice about writing and storytelling, plus some good stories of his own. Sure, you can call him a sellout. But I like him.

Also, he once said in an interview that Stephenie Meyer "can't write worth a darn." You stay classy, Mr. King.
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Comments (showing 2-51)





message 51: by El (new)

El You stay classy, Mr. King.

I think it's his classiness that keeps me coming back for more. You know, like when he publishes 1,000+ page books after he "retires".


Madeline He's like the Cher of the writing world. Just when you think this is the last concert ever, six months later he's in Vegas working on another tour. He will never retire.


message 49: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Barbee "He's like the Cher of the writing world."

Perfect analogy, and very astute review. Whether King is a "great" writer or not, he most definitely has a talent for finding the vein when it comes to the lowest common denominators of fear. Sometimes, he does this really well ("Carrie") and other times, not so much ("Pet Sematary," etc. etc. etc.).


message 48: by Paul (new)

Paul Let us not forget that he is also the author of such works as "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile".

Sure, pulpy horror... but then shit that gets turned into classic American cinema (as in Shawshank)?

He's doing something right, whatever it is.


message 47: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Yeah, that book was quite good -- might have been surprising, but he did show a talent for informal nonfiction narrative (esp with personal digressions) in Danse Macabre. I thought the book really picked up after his (horrific) accident.


message 46: by Ken (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ken Yes, Madeline, let's be totally honest: Pulitzers are a joke, as are most awards. Good luck trying to justify Dave Eggers' Nobel recognition for "A Heartbreaking Work..." King's refusal to "tap into" (see: pander to) "the Kids/YA market" is a testament to his greatness, rather than some kind of demerit.


Madeline Actually, I think Stephen King would be a fantastic YA author. He's one of the few authors who's able to actually understand how kids think, and his ability to write from a child's perspective without being cloying would be a huge help if he ever decided to write books aimed specifically at kids.


message 44: by (new) - added it

★ Agreed.


message 43: by Ken (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ken Madeline wrote: "Actually, I think Stephen King would be a fantastic YA author. He's one of the few authors who's able to actually understand how kids think, and his ability to write from a child's perspective with..."

Fair enough.


Ravven I think that Stephen King is sometimes (not always) a superb writer. When not astonishing, he is usually always entertaining and readable. And don't forget that he did win the O. Henry Award for his short story "The Man in the Black Suit", and isn't something to turn your nose up at.


message 41: by Ana (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ana Ruiz I don't want to read your review to spoil anything (even if this is not a novel), as my reason to land on this page was to add this to my "currently reading" shelf, when I saw that you had reviewed this, and thought "cool, this will be worth my time."


Spider the Doof Warrior Sometimes he's REALLY good like with Firestarter or Green Mile and sometimes he drives me up a tree like with the long version of the Stand.


Terry who cares Madeline- which of us here wouldn't want to be in his shoes? Successful, not a pompous old ass either


Gitta Have you read his recent comments on Twilight, The Hunger Games and Fifty Shades? Priceless.


Spider the Doof Warrior Man, I'd love a sequel to Firestarter. It's such a karmic-ally satisfying book. Man I want to be a writer.


Peter McQueeny I used to think King was a hack, but then I read "The Shining" and I discovered that he is a mad genius. He's written some crap, but hell, almost all authors on this Earth write exclusively crap. Most art is bad. Truth is, King is a damn prolific author. When you've written as many books as Stephen King, some of them are bound to suck. Hell, he's earned the right to suck once in a while. What makes me respect him most though, is that he doesn't apologize for this fact. So what? Write! Write like the wind! Even if you're breaking wind! Better than not writing at all!


Shala I agree. The Shining was a revelation for me in regards to how he told the story, not just the imagination and scope of the story itself.


message 34: by Dave (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dave YA sucks and king better not enter that shit genre


Madeline Wow, okay, I guess we're doing this.

I can think of two possible explanations for why you're able to dismiss an entire genre of literature as "shit." The first is that you've read each of the millions of YA books that make up the genre and are therefore able to give an informed opinion. The second explanation is that you're a judgemental douche who thinks that because a book is marketed specifically at teenagers, it is automatically not good.

Go sit in the corner with the 18th century dudes who dismissed the novel as "women's books" and be quiet.


hannah lynn swisher I love your book series so does my dad,we read it together,and at barns and noble your series is also on tape.


message 31: by Amaya scott (new)

Amaya scott love


message 30: by Reagan Wesson (new)

Reagan Wesson I really enjoy your reviews, and especially appreciate your honesty and sense of humor.


message 29: by Jeff (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jeff Messick I would disagree with your assertion that King's not a great writer. He has a huge audience, tells a great story and writes because he loves to write. A "great" novelist back in the day versus a "great" novelist now is access to their work. King is a great writer, even though some of his work seems formulaic. His book about the Kennedy assassination is one of my top five books ever.


message 28: by Dave (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dave I Agree with Jeff. King doesn't need to write YA novels or jargon like David Mitchell to be considered a great writer. He sells Millions because he knows how to tell stories.

I don't like horror but I'll read his other stuff anytime.


Madeline Nice backpedaling. You're still a pretentious ass.


message 26: by Leo (new)

Leo Say what you want about him but, everyone I know and I mean everyone, has read something by him. I've read The Stand, Desperation, Bag of Bones, and I'm about certain there's another one in the bin. I feel like this thread is derailing.. So I bid you all adieu.


Madeline Perhaps a better way to phrase it would have been to say that Stephen King will never be recognized as a great writer.


message 24: by Trinity (new) - added it

Trinity wow since we all bein honsest k why do people 50·/· chance u like the author or not???…


message 23: by Adeba (new)

Adeba Nice review :) I really liked the phrase 'one of the most well-known, non-dead American authors'. Don't know why but it made me laugh.


message 22: by Dave (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dave Who's being a pretentious ass


message 21: by Dave (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dave Who's being a pretentious ass


message 20: by Bill (new) - added it

Bill Great review. And I think Stephen King would also have endorsed your review.


message 19: by B. (new) - rated it 5 stars

B. Reese Great review. i agree, even if you hate king, this book is gold.


message 18: by Mia (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mia Bouska Hi clare


message 17: by Mia (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mia Bouska Hi hayley


message 16: by Mia (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mia Bouska Hi hayley


message 15: by Carly (new)

Carly Obviously, not a lot of people responding here know how King feels on the subject of YA. King does not believe in the YA genre and encourages readers of all ages to enjoy his books when they are ready to do so. He believes that that his books can be well suited for the YA readers as well as adult. Just quoting his Rolling Stone Interview.


message 14: by Ramón (new)

Ramón Fernández Ayarzagoitia You have no concept of what any of these words mean: "pulp", "horror", "good". Maybe you should first try to understand what you're saying first, so let me educate you: pulp refers to when stories were printed in reconstituted paper. Sure, it started being referred to as a synonym for "crap" because it had a lot of repetitive serials, but people like HP Lovecraft, ER Burroughs and Ray Bradbury published their first great books this way. As for horror, I'm pretty sure you're not a fan of the genre, and you like to justify that behind it being "leve b" literature. This all makes me realize you must certainly haven't read king, specially not his good works. King is a fiction writer, not a horror writer, and you are a pretentious little girl


message 13: by Carly (new)

Carly Well stated Ramon!!!!


Madeline I'm amazed at the people who read this review and find it necessary to leap to King's defense. I'll try to explain my opening paragraph better, so dial back your condescension for minute: I like King's writing, as I state in the reviews (saying that someone is not your favorite writer is hardly an insult), and the point I was trying to make was that his books are frequently (and unfairly) shut out from the Serious Literature category, as horror and sci-fi stories often are. (So yes, Ramon, I am very aware of the origins of the word "pulpy." Margaret Atwood has a very good collection of essays called In Other Worlds: Sci-Fi and the Human Imagination where she examines these origins in great detail, and with far more eloquence than you did.) Stephen King is not someone I would have expected to write a serious-minded guide to writing, but I'm very glad that he did. You'll recall that I gave his book five stars, and again, as I said, I enjoy his books.

It was never my intention to imply that Stephen King is not a good writer, or that he shouldn't be publishing a writing guide. In fact, I was saying the opposite. So put away the torches and pitchforks and go bother someone else.

Also..."King is a fiction writer, not a horror writer"...what? Horror is a subgenre of fiction, so one can be both. Yes, King has written nonfiction, as well as some non-horror fiction works, but if you stopped anyone on the street and asked what kind of books Stephen King writes, they'd say "horror" so I don't know what you're trying to prove. I might be a pretentious little girl, but you're a condescending dick (who is a year younger than me, so kindly fuck off).


message 11: by Ramón (new)

Ramón Fernández Ayarzagoitia You said the book was good. You discredited him as "pulpy". Maybe you were doing it ironically, if you did I didn't get that (re-reading this, I still don't). You are, of course, entitled to your own opinion as to wether or not you like an author. What I find annoying, specially in good reads, is that people often confuse personal preferences with actual arguments. If that wasn't your intention, then I'm sorry. I'm also sorry about the name calling (although, you DID call King "pulpy" and seemed to imply that as a bad thing).love what you love, I guess, just try loving it for the sake of loving it.


Madeline I don't think "pulpy" is necessarily a bad thing. For me, pulpy means lowbrow and fun - something that might be sort of dumb, but is also insanely entertaining. Even the biggest King fanboys can't deny that some of his concepts seem super simplistic and silly on paper - the man wrote a book about a killer car, for Christ's sake. But go ahead and continue assigning meaning to my words if it makes you feel superior.

In conclusion: you write your reviews the way you want, I'll write mine the way I want, and let's agree to never speak again.


message 9: by Ramón (new)

Ramón Fernández Ayarzagoitia Meh, you've changed your mind about this too many times, but that is also your right.
On second thought, though: I'm sorry I called you a pretentious little girl. It was uncalled for and frankly I'm ashamed of how misogynistic it made me sound. Your gender has absolutely nothing to do with how pretentious and pedantic you are.
Love what you love!
(You totally did mean pulpy as a bad thing, but I'm glad you changed your mind)


Madeline What part of "let's agree to never speak again" was unclear?

On the other hand, this review has gotten three more votes since you left your first comment, so thanks! Keep the thinly-veiled insults and superiority coming!


message 7: by Sue (new)

Sue Thinly veiled? Not even veiled. Good book, good review.


message 6: by sophia (new)

sophia I like Stephen king he might win


message 5: by sophia (new)

sophia He is one of my best athurs


Mobi D'Ark I totally agree with you on every count.


Wporter i agree. I am not a reader of his books, but I admire the productivity and his ability to tell a story. this book is good


message 2: by Colleen (new)

Colleen Arcury I have read many books in my life and I am over 60 years old. Stephen King is a very good writer. So what if he writes horror! He can write ANYTHING! Mr King knows how to shake things up, how to probe the mind of adolescents, how to write about friendship, loneliness, love and loss. This book about the craft of being a writer is one of the best on the market. I Do think that he will be remembered as one of the most prolific writers of this time. He is simply terrific!


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