Friday, June 3, 2011

Thursday Review—ON WRITING

A Review on Stephen King's ON WRITING
by Lynn Huggins Blackburn

I don’t like horror. I don’t read it. I don’t watch it. I try very hard not to think about it.

So it will come as no surprise that I have never read a Stephen King novel.

What may come as a surprise, especially if you also avoid Stephen King’s novels—preferring to sleep without nightmares or a baseball bat in your hand—is that Stephen King is a respected author. His writing—according to people who are much braver than I and who have read his work—is excellent, his storytelling skills exemplary and his technique worthy of emulation.

This poses a problem for me. Because while I’m interested in reading and learning from masters of the craft, I’m not going to read his horror novels.

Fortunately for me—and you, should you happen to share my belief that it is actually possible to be scared to death—I don’t have to. Several years ago, King compiled his thoughts On Writing. No horror. No gore. Just practical writing tips from an author who knows what he’s talking about.

The book is divided into three sections—C.V., On Writing, and On Living: A Postscript. 

In the C.V., King gives a brief autobiography and it's an engaging read. I enjoyed his style and voice so much, I flirted with the idea of reading one of his novels. (I came to my senses when a popping sound made me jump and I realized it was just the A/C kicking on).

The middle section, On Writing, is a tight package of writing tips. After establishing the “Great Commandment”—read a lot, write a lot—King details what should be in your writer’s toolbox, gives suggestions for setting up your writing space and then dispenses advice on dialogue, theme, symbolism, description, characterization and the revision process.

The final section, On Living: A Postscript, is a brief account of the accident that almost claimed his life in the summer of 1999, as he was writing this book.

He concludes by providing a brief sample from a short story. We see the first draft, followed by his revisions and a note explaining why he chose to make the changes he did.

Thankfully, while this passage hints that there is some creepy stuff going on, it’s tame enough for a wimp like me to be able to see the flaws in the first draft and appreciate the revision process without hyperventilating or slamming the book closed, too afraid to read to the end.
In fact, this is a book I will open again and again. My guess is that you will, too.

Disclaimer: This book, while an excellent treatise on the craft of writing, is written in a conversational style, including very raw language.

Lynn Huggins Blackburn has been telling herself stories since she was five and finally started writing them down. On her blog Out of the Boat she writes about faith and family while her blog Perpetual Motion documents the joys and challenges of loving and rearing a child with special needs. A graduate of Clemson University, Lynn lives in South Carolina where she writes, reads, knits, takes care of three amazing children, one fabulous man and one spoiled rotten Boston Terrier.
Follow Lynn on Twitter @lynnhblackburn


  1. From one scadie cat to another . . . I trust your judgment and will have to get this book to help learn the craft of writing . . . not to learn to scare people to death :)

    Thanks Lynn,


  2. Thanks for your description of "On Writing." Your warning at the end--Beware: raw language ahead!--can describe King's writing in general. But his experience and wisdom come through in this book.

    Someone suggested I read Dean Koontz and Stephen King because of the type of story I tell. Koontz, believe it or not, I'd never heard of. King I had always avoided.

    The advice was heeded, the authors read. Both exceptional storytellers--Koontz much cleaner than King, but every bit as "spooky."

    King's books though aren't all terror stories. If I'd recommend one book of his, it would be "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon." It doesn't bombard you with foul language (and some of his do) nor does it frighten you to a blubbering mess.

    Again I appreciate strolling back through an insightful book on bettering your writing skills. You did so well that I'll have to pull "On Writing" off the shelf and reread parts of it.

  3. Until reading this blog post, I would not have looked twice at one of King's books, for the same reason as you - popping noises and fright. When I saw in Writer's Digest the interview with King and Jerry B. Jenkins, I wondered what in the world they could possibly have in common ... it was great writing. Thanks for this review. I plan to check out "On Writing."

  4. I, too, haven't been able to read more than one of King's books. Too scary for me. However, I did buy and read "On Writing" and highly recommend it to anyone studying the craft. Very informative, and despite his raw language, I enjoyed his stories and his instruction.

  5. So glad I'm not the only one who would need to sleep with the light on - forever - after reading one of King's horror novels. And thanks for the suggestion of "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon" - I'll check it out!