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Stein on Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  4,187 ratings  ·  465 reviews
Stein on Writing provides immediately useful advice for all writers of fiction and nonfiction, whether they are newcomers or old hands, students or instructors, amateurs or professionals. As the always clear and direct Stein explains here, This is not a book of theory. It is a book of usable solutions--how to fix writing that is flawed, how to improve writing that is good, ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published January 25th 2000 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published 1995)
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Popular Answered Questions
Kine Late answer, but well hey.

It's about "how to write stories". He is trying to teach the craft of writing.
He gives good advice on how to write dialogu…more
Late answer, but well hey.

It's about "how to write stories". He is trying to teach the craft of writing.
He gives good advice on how to write dialogue, how to set up a story, etc. Also, his content is not very similar to other people's content, so if you have read a lot of "how to write books" books, you can still find gems here.

On writing, this is one of my favourite books. (less)

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Chris Blocker
Feb 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Sol Stein is pompous. If I judge correctly from his writing, he is a curmudgeon with a serious personality defect. His view is very narrow and it is the only right view. I wouldn't want to be his friend, his client, or even his trashman. I was not impressed with Stein.

That being said, Stein does know something (not everything) when it comes to writing. Though there were times during my read of Stein on Writing when I wanted to fling the book across the room, there were more instances where I jot
Glenn Russell

There you are, all set to do your writing. The question is: What does it take to be a writer dedicated to writing book reviews? To explore this question, here's a video where I'm interviewed and the topic is book reviewing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kaQtO...
Dec 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
I have not found many books about the craft that I want to read. Most of what I have seen of the "how to write" genre is focused on overcoming personal and emotional insecurities and the variety of techniques writers use for staying with the "pen and page", or sticking to the work (wow, get obsessed, drink more coffee and abandon having a real social life, and boom, no more writer's block.) Stein goes much deeper and so I have yet to put him down. For one, he focuses more on the reader's experie ...more
Jane Stewart
Excellent advice and many examples for better writing.

Stein is an author, editor, and publisher. His advice is geared toward fiction, with some thoughts for nonfiction. I am a reader and reviewer of books, not a writer. I have strong likes and dislikes about books I’ve read. I’m reading some “how to write books” to see if I agree with the experts. I’m delighted to say that writers who follow Stein’s advice will very likely make me happy when reading their books. I am more liberal than Stein in t
Jenny Baker
Dec 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I listened to this for free via the Audible Plus Catalog. Stein on Writing first published in 2000, but the information is still relevant. Every chapter has useful tips. Many chapters are for both fiction and nonfiction writers. I especially liked the chapters on characterization, plotting, suspense, tension, dialogue, and pacing. There’s even designated chapters on how to show instead of tell, similes and metaphors, and revising. There are lots of great examples in each chapter, mostly from cla ...more
Spencer Orey
May 20, 2021 rated it really liked it
It gave me writerly whiplash to read this book right after Annie Dillard's Writing Life book. The two could hardly be any more different. Dillard's book is this meditation into the life of a writer and this almost mystical engagement with the minutiae of the world itself, a harrowing soulful journey. The chapters have a loose focus but don't necessarily cohere around any tangible teachable topic.

Stein on Writing felt strange and soulless in comparison. It's no-nonense beat by beat instruction ma
Definitely one of my top 10 writing guides. Comprehensive and detailed with a plethora of examples. Two techniques, which I haven't seen described in this useful and epiphanic way in any other book, stand out:

We hear about avoiding clichés and generalities, but here Stein puts forward a positive admonition.
"To characterize, particularity is used to show how an individual looks dresses, or speaks without resort to cliches or generalizations."
Triage revising
Instead of going through a
Jun 02, 2009 rated it it was ok
If you can slog through the Stein ego and attitude, there are some useful things here. But it's hard not to question a self-titled "master editor" on his editorial skills when he sees no problem with quoting his own fiction as masterfully written and obvious models for all of us. And his students' fiction, too. At best, these examples are uninspiring; at worst, they are actively horrible. So my main question is--why would you do that, when you have thousands of years of perfectly marvelous liter ...more
jv poore
Sep 10, 2014 marked it as to-read
Shelves: non-fiction
Although I am merely a writer of book reviews, I do have high hopes that my recapitulations will be instrumental both for readers (reluctant to ardent)as well as authors. I was thrilled to receive this gift.

Taking one of the first tips, I'm trying something different. Rather than read the book in its entirety, then review it; I'm going to attempt to record thoughts along the way.

1. I was surprised when, on page 10, I noticed what I believe to be a grammatical error. I hope I'm wrong. The last se
Kym McNabney
Feb 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
STEIN ON WRITING by SOL STEIN is clearly to date the most impactful book on writing I’ve read. If you were to glance inside my copy you’d find dog-eared pages, highlights galore, asterisks, and notes written throughout.

STEIN ON WRITING is precise information, right to the point with useful examples. The language isn’t over the top. A must read for writers at any stage of their journey, but especially for those new to the craft and unpublished.

Here are a few notes I took pertaining to specific
Oct 25, 2007 rated it really liked it
The risk in recommending a book on writing is that too much weight will be placed on how well-written the review is. I doubt Stein would want these sentences to serve as testimony to his expert tutelage. Be that as it may, I will still raise my voice in praise like the gospel choir at the Triple Rock Church. (In one section he said metaphors could be effective, though I'm not sure references to James Brown and The Blues Brothers were what he had in mind.)

Anyway, the book is full of useful tips.
Dannii Elle
I am honestly never not going to buy anything that claims to improve my writing. But this one, more than any other, came with a renown and reputation that especially piqued my interest.

This book does exactly as the title suggests: acts as an aid to those wishing to improve their own penmanship. It comes with explanations of what to do and examples of how to do it. And the author, himself, is living proof of the acumen on his words.

It may seem odd that I could give the elusive five stars to a boo
Oct 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Impossible to disagree with the advice on there. I did not warm up immediately to the writer's persona in the book though. I think sometimes the 'manipulator' in the writer needs to leave place to the 'believer'. All the advice is great nonetheless. Points taken. ...more
Lewis Weinstein
Jul 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
I have read parts of this book. It is a terrific stimulant to improved writing. I will take it with me this summer as I edit my new novel.
Bob Nichols
Mar 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
Stein’s book is about how to write good fiction and, ostensibly, how to apply good fiction techniques to non-fiction. Really, though, Stein is about one type of writing only – good literary technique (tension and conflict; character definition and evoking emotion, etc.). He acknowledges popular-commercial fiction but does this with a not-so-subtle air of distain. Literary writing is for “permanence,” writing for the ages and that sort of thing. It is, Stein says, “a calling, not an occupation.” ...more
Robin Spano
Jan 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing-craft
Incredible book that helped me learn how to deepen characters and plot and enrich my writing.

Gripe: Stein refers to his own fiction too much for my taste - especially when he uses passages from his own work as examples of good writing. It felt a bit narcissistic, and also, how can he have the professional distance to truly know if he's nailed something? I'd have loved this book more if he'd used other works exclusively to illustrate his teaching points.

But it still gets five stars, because closi
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Nov 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
This is the perfect book for anyone who wants to write a bestseller. Stein is a master of the bestseller. He doesn’t overlook sharing any small help to get you on your way toward the bestseller, any small strategy that will move you even a wee bit closer to the bestseller.

(I’m not personally interested in writing a bestseller. It’s the only reason I didn’t give this book five stars. Just me.)
Robert Evert
Feb 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Stein on Writing and Stephen King's On Writing are probably the best books on the craft of writing that I've read. Using his own work and the work of others, Stein shows the biggest problems most writers have and proposes solutions. ...more
Sep 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I rarely gush over writing books and this off the top of my head.....

I recommend many writing books to my students and writer friends, depending on what my friend/student needs (of course I always recommend my own, Pen on Fire). Stein on Writing is the best book on the craft of writing fiction, and nonfiction. Stein was a publisher He published MY LEFT FOOT (and talks about this in a short section on writers who make excuses for why they're not writing).

Stein knew James Baldwin (they met in hi
May 13, 2019 rated it did not like it
DNF - I realize the author is older and from a completely different generation... but he begins the book by asking women to "understand" when he uses "he" instead of "he or she," alternating between the two for balance, or just "they." Ah, the mansplaining away of sexism. And then he lists 20 examples of male authors having great openers and the moment we get to a woman... he says "this is not how to do it."

Also, I just didn't enjoy the examples he chose. They weren't authors I admire (exceptin
Louise Silk
Sep 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Once again, Sol Stein, gives me the information I need to continue with my writing.

Here are some of the best tidbits:
Show rather than tell.
Create tension and suspense.
Dialogue deals with character and plot simultaneously.
Use all six senses: smell, taste, touch, hear, see and it.
Less is more.
The purpose of a title is to sound exciting and exude resonance(prolonged response).
If figures of speech are overdone, they backfire.
Mar 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is what a writing class should be- but almost never is. Stein taught me more about writing than anything since...reading! For fiction writers of all genres I cannot recommend the book highly enough. (Nonfiction help is included as well, but as I'm not a nonfiction writer, I cannot comment on that.) ...more
Jessica Donohoe
Oct 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: aspiring writers
In a more perfect world, J.K. Rowling would have slowed down a second and read this wonderful 300pg tome on "Why 'said' is the only verb one should ever ever ever use to convey that any type of speech has occurred, and why good writing uses that one but sparingly." ...more
Akemi G
Nov 24, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-nonfiction
If we remove the cocky (and often distasteful) remarks and name-dropping, this book has nothing more than any reasonably-good creative writing books/courses has to offer, but then, it does cover the basics, so I guess it is inappropriate to give it less than 3 stars.
Patrick Sherriff
Oct 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: on-writing
Some gems of advice on craft for fiction and non-fiction writers alike, but showing its age. My proper review is here: https://patricksherriff.com/2020/10/1... ...more
Paula Cappa
Mar 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“The pleasures of writer and reader are interwoven.” This is the essential thought that is threaded throughout this book for both fiction and nonfiction. Many writers often fail to focus on the reader while they are in the process of writing. Stein instructs the writer how to make “the reader,” as he puts it, “King.” I probably have 30 writing books on my shelf and this one will go front and center for easy reach because it’s a perfect reference book on how to fix your writing problems, flaws, a ...more
Sep 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Sol Stein is in a unique position to enlighten would-be writers on the craft. He is the rare combination of successful author who is also an accomplished book editor. He wrote several novels and nonfiction titles that grazed the bestseller lists, worked as head editor at Beacon Press and then served as Publisher and Editor-In-Chief at his own publishing house for 27 years.

There is a certain approach to writing fiction in which character comes before plot, where stories are developed by taking a
Gary Lawrence
Editorially Intensified Reading Experience
Seventy plus reviews already should be enough, especially when most have them have been written by aspiring writers, given a free kick at the head of an editor.

This one is written from the viewpoint of a reader. I will never read a book again without the experience being enhanced by the practical editorial knowledge passed on by Sol Stein in this book. My reading of Stein's how to manual is adding savour to my reading. Absorbing any book now, whether f
Good tips--

The book is literally a gold mine of useful tips and solutions to writing problems until about halfway through. After that it becomes vague, platitudinous, and unhelpful.

I learned a lot from his chapters on the first sentence & first paragraph, suspense, tension, and characterization. The rest of the book didn't really resonate with me, though.

Although from about page 150 the tips get blah (to use the Author's own word),I think the first half of the book is worth buying the entire thi
Oct 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was possibly the strongest book on writing that I've read. I listened to the audio to give it a go. It was so good, that I bought the book to accompany the audio (sadly for those of us who use this feature, this audio and the book are not whispersync'ed). In any case, I kept hearing his point, one after the other and in many cases, I found myself understanding far better than when I got the points from other sources. I'm going to read this again right away. I'm super impressed. If you are a ...more
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Sol Stein was a best-selling novelist and the publisher of works by James Baldwin and Che Guevara. He also worked with David Frost, Jack Higgins, Elia Kazan, Dylan Thomas, and W.H. Auden.

Stein and Baldwin met as students at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, where they worked on the literary magazine.

Stein served in the Army during World War II. In 1949 he received a master’s degree in Engli

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