You Should Read This: On Writing by Stephen King

Cover for Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

"Words create sentences; sentences create paragraphs; sometimes paragraphs quicken and begin to breathe." - Stephen King

When I taught at Hopkins, the students used to defiantly bring up King as an example of what they liked to read. It always surprised them when I said I liked him too. It feels like I’ve been reading Stephen King all my life. At least, for a very long time. He’s produced a lot of wonderful books, including one of my favorites, The Stand. In this book you get to see beneath the covers on a lot of those books.

What: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King is divided into two parts. The first is an autobiographical look at his writing over the years. It is unflinching and honest and well worth the read. The second is stuff about writing. It is also unflinching and honest and well worth the read.

Who: If you are a writer who buys writing books, it maybe impossible for you not to know about this book already. If you’re a writer who doesn’t read books about writing — this one’s worth picking up.

Why: Read this to become a better writer, or just to understand the craft better. King uses the metaphor of the writer’s toolbox, which is a very useful one.

I want to suggest that to write to your best abilities, it behooves you to construct your own toolbox and then build up enough muscle so you can carry it with you. Then, instead of looking at a hard job and getting discouraged, you will perhaps seize the correct tool and get immediately to work.

What goes in your toolbox? Vocabulary and punctuation. Point of view. Literary Devices. Foreshadowing. You get the picture.

When: Read this when you’re feeling a bit starved for the muse and want to be reminded that writing is a matter of work, not divine inspiration.

Where and how: Read it with pen in hand, ready to underline and make notes that apply to your own writing. Read it with King’s books close by, so you can reach for them and see his principles played out in their pages.

Enjoy this writing advice and want more content like it? Check out the classes Cat gives via the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, which offers both on-demand and live online writing classes for fantasy and science fiction writers from Cat and other authors, including Ann Leckie, Seanan McGuire, Fran Wilde and other talents! All classes include three free slots.

Prefer to opt for weekly interaction, advice, opportunities to ask questions, and access to the Chez Rambo Discord community and critique group? Check out Cat’s Patreon. Or sample her writing here.


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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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