A Brighter and More Pleasant Place: Stephen King's ON WRITING

Today is Friday, April 6th, and you are invited to take part in the Blog-O-Rama Book Club celebrating Stephen King's ON WRITING.

If you've read along with me and have posted a response to the book on your own blog or website, please put your link in the comments below.  Need some inspiration?  Discussion questions can be found here. If you missed out on this round but have read the book in the past (or even if you haven't) and would like to comment with your thoughts, please do so! 

I am once again kicking myself for not having read this book ten, eleven years ago when EVERYONE in my creative writing program did so.  I can't begin to imagine why I didn't, except that it was challenge enough working 50-70 hours a week on top of being a full-time grad student and getting three to four hours of sleep a night.  Reading was, therefore, mainly of the required nature.

Fortunately, one of my mentors (and nearly all of my classmates) had read it, so I was able to benefit that way.  But I was truly missing out.

ON WRITING is a quick read and is filled with fascinating passages -- about Stephen King's childhood and life in general; about his writing journey; about, of course, the writing process.  It reads like a writerly conversion in a coffee shop with someone you trust with your work.  It's laugh out loud funny.  It didn't make me nervous or apprehensive or doubtful about my writing or my talent, as some books on writing might.  It's not in any way pretentious.  My copy of the book is dog-eared and loved and quite battered after just one read, and my son GASPED when he saw me underline and star passages.  Someday he'll understand.

I don't even know where to begin, really, about all the merits of this book and all the many ways I agree with Stephen King. I found it useful and validating and a good reminder of why I write.  He sums it up perfectly in the postscript:

"I feel that buzz of happiness, that sense of having found the right words and put them in a line.... That makes me happy, because it's what I was made to do....Writing did not save my life... but it has continued to do what it always has done: it makes my life a brighter and more pleasant place." (page 269)

Yes, that's how I feel exactly.  Writing makes me happy.  Of course I look forward to the day that my novels make their way to the bookstore shelves, but if I never publish another word, writing would still make me happy.  (Happy Friday, right, Elodie? :)  Writing -- it's what I was made to do. 

There is a section of the book that made me want to stand up and shout, "Stephen King is my favorite person on the planet!  Stephen King is my new best friend!"  It is his discussion on the p-word.  Plot:

"In my view, stories and novels consist of three parts: narration, which moves the story from point A to point B and finally to point Z; description, which creates a sensory reality for the reader; and dialogue, which brings characters to life through their speech.

You may wonder where plot is in all this.  The answer -- my answer, anyway -- is nowhere.  I won't try to convince you that I've never plotted any more than I'd try to convince you that I've never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible.  I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning;  and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren't compatible.... my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves.  The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow...."  (page 163)

He then goes into his discussion of fossils, "writing as excavation."  I've often said that my writing is organic and intuitive -- I have some characters and a basic idea of what is going to happen, and the rest takes care of itself.  Sometimes I don't excavate the real story, the story I'm meant to tell, the story it's meant to be, until the third or fourth or even fifth draft.  The story reveals itself as I write.

I'm not a plotter.  It just isn't in my nature; it's not how I write.  I've tried to read the books on plotting and I've struggled with them.  I am relieved and grateful -- Stephen King has validated my experience.

Here are a couple of discussion questions I'd like to answer briefly:

Do you agree with Stephen King that the desire to write always starts with a love of reading?  Yes, absolutely.  I loved the Betsy-Tacy books so much as kid, I wanted to live the books, I wanted to be Betsy Ray, I wanted to write like that.  My first stories were stories about little girls much like Betsy, Tacy, and Tib.

King doesn't read in order to "study the craft" but believes that there is "a learning process going on" when he reads. Do you read books differently as a writer? Are you conscious of "the craft" as you read?  I do read books differently, yes.  At book club, I'm always bringing up craft and narrative devices and the like, and not always in a good way.  I may not always be conscious of it as I'm reading -- and some books have less to teach than others -- but it's always there.  I read like a writer.

ON WRITING is a terrific, well-written (of course) book, even for non-writers.  It has made its way into my Top Ten.

What did you think?

I'm so excited to read your responses!  Thanks for joining in this first Blog-O-Rama Book Club.  Stay tuned for another go!


  1. Oh wow. I totally misread the part before the questions where you said we could answer all, some, or none of them. Whoops. I actually answered all of them, but decided to delete out some of my answers to make the post a bit smaller (it's still huge O_o). Anyway, here they are: Jaime’s Discussion Questions Great book and I'm really glad I joined in on the read :D

  2. Again, thanks so much Sara for organizing this book club and for pushing me that way to FINALLY pick up ON WRITING :D

    I also agree that love of reading and love of writing go hand in hand :D Like you, I used his quote on the "fuzzy feeling". Really, writing is similar to being in love, it´s hard work but so worth it! And discussing this book is definitely a HAPPY FRIDAY :D And here is my take: King´s on writing makes me all kind of happy


  3. I Love the fuzzy feeling I've gotten from my writing, but for me, writing HAS saved my life through the dark days when I could barely breathe, it pulled me through depression and finding out the nightmares about my ex were real. Also, I've tried to be a plotter, but find it IS more like excavating for me, because the magic just happens.

  4. I loved Stephen King's On Writing. It really helped me feel more comfortable about the way I write (so unorganized!). I just pulled my copy off my bookshelf. It has so many dogeared pages I had to laugh.

    I loved Betsy, Tacy and Tib too! It helped that I was called Betsy when I was little, but I still LOVED those books.

  5. The idea of "writing through excavation" is my favorite part of On Writing. My personal analogy is from the eye doctor. In the beginning, I see a story as a fuzzy thing that I'm trying to unearth, and as I move forward, and through drafting, the picture becomes more and more clear. Great discussion of an awesome top ten book!


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