Wednesday, July 1, 2009

On Writing: Are You Serious?

"I'll tell you right now that every aspiring writer should read The Elements of Style."
~On Writing, Stephen King

Once again, I have a confession. Like many writers, I receive books about writing as gifts, among them the original edition published in 1920 of The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr.. Unfortunately, it stayed up in the bookcase unread until recently. I'd opened it up once or twice and read parts of it, but not very much. I didn't really appreciate its value until I read Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (a gift I gave myself) which frequently mentions Strunk's book. In fact, the two books belong together, and will be shelved next to each other in my home, near my writing desk.

Published in 2000, the first part of On Writing is autobiographical, although the whole book is sprinkled liberally with facts from King's own life, pertaining to his childhood, long marriage to novelist Tabitha, struggles with drugs and alcohol, near-fatal accident, and career as a writer. The second half of the book is entitled On Writing and centers on how to write fiction (although much of it applies to other kinds of writing as well). With over 300 million copies of his novels sold, and many stories adapted for film and television, I think King is well qualified to write about writing.

Although King says that there's no magic formula for becoming a good writer, he offers solid, down-to-earth advice in an entertaining way. His friendly style and honesty drew me in as I discovered that On Writing is filled with practical advice. One thing King says, which shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone who aspires to write, is to "read a lot and write a lot". By this King means four to six hours daily. That's a large portion of the day (or night, if you're more nocturnal). But a serious writer needs to have discipline and work at the craft.

King's book reinforced what I learned in school by emphasizing the basics. From the book, here are some ideas about what good writing is:
  • Active and purposeful
  • Adverse to adverbs
  • Free of clichés and hackneyed phrases
  • Clear and concise (cut out extraneous words)
  • Courageous (take some risks)
  • Follows grammatical rules, but breaks a few rules once in a while
  • Honest, plain, and direct
  • Offers the right amount of description
Mr. King, if I've left anything crucial off this list, please let me know.

Read this book if you're serious about your writing. It may even count towards the daily requirement of four to six hours of reading and writing!


  1. I've read and own "The Elements of Style." I also enjoy reading books about writing. It's the writing for 4 to 6 hours a day that eludes me. I MUST get disciplined!

    Just this morning I awoke from a dream about being a witch (I have a truly wicked cackle and volunteer each year in October at our local Pumpkin Walk as a witch) and jotted down an idea for a children's book on how to become a witch. It would contain helpful hints like not brushing your teeth or scrubbing behind your ears.

    Thanks, as always, for a post that gets me thinking -- this time about buckling down and writing.

  2. Great review! I really enjoyed this book too, I found it so interesting to learn more about Kings life and his advice for writers. He is one of my favorite authors.

  3. i also found this book incredibly valuable!
    thank you, Suko!


  4. I always want to read book about writing, but somehow I haven't. Graa. I should make it a priority some time. I've heard about both books (Elements and On Writing) before and I'm definitely interested!

  5. I have many books on writing, and was particularly impressed with Stephen King's. It was straightforward, unpatronising and extremely helpful. However, I have to confess that I owned Strunk and White's 'Elements of Style' but gave it away. I keep seeing it recommended everywhere so I feel like I ought to buy it again, but I think I'll wait until I actually need it.

  6. Indeed, a very interesting book. A memoir and a writing book in one? A great deal! :)

    I agree that there's no magic formula. Each writer has to find his own style, I think.

    Thanks a lot for this post Suko! Now I want that book :)

  7. Nice to read this .Thank you so much for sharing this post.


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