I’ve been hearing about this book since my earliest writing days. Every podcast, every book, every youtube channel, and most twitter posts, Stephan King’s On Writing was quoted endlessly, lauded as the only writing book you would ever need, and recommended to everyone and their mother.
There was always a bit of arrogance in the words “I’m reading Stephan King’s On Writing” it seemed to me. I also found that a lot of writers who put a lot of weight on the advice in On Writing were also really bad writers. They had really long, unfinished manuscripts that they posted on Wattpad, yelling at anyone who dare critique them. They raged against adverbs and plotting, and any of the writers who write them. Honestly, I had a bad taste in my mouth for the book because there seemed to be a very particular type of person who quoted it.
Does that sound odd. And yet, if you had a group of people who had all learned how to code from the same book on website designed, and they all had crappy, dark, unfriendly websites filled with blog posts ranting about people they didn’t like… maybe you would hesitate about that book too.
Non-fiction has a different set of expectations on it than fiction does.
At the very least, I figured the book would be packed with writing advice. Instead I got wrapped up in a patchwork of random musing from Stephen King’s life. It took me a little while to get used to the format, and the style, but pretty soon I was loving it.
My final thoughts? Maybe it’s right to judge a non-fiction book by the skills it teaches. But I think before you do that you have to understand what you are looking at. On Writing probably draws in the type of writers it does because it takes a very strong stance on a few writer-specific issues (pantsing as well call it, where a writer doesn’t plot. Specific uses of language. A very artistic, right brained view of writing) while being very encouraging to writers in general. It doesn’t hold back on the cynicism, or the joys, of the craft. I can see why it draws in a certain crowd. I can also see why it reaches so many more.
This book is not like typical writing books, and it can’t be approached that way. It’s part memoir, part writing craft, and you have to pick it up knowing that you are going to get a hearty helping of opinion on top. So learn what you can, enjoy what you will, but don’t read this book thinking it will make you the world’s best writer. Trust yourself, trust your own research, and read widely. There is no final authority, even if this is a really good book.