Why I never recommend Stephen King’s On Writing book

I never recommend Stephen King’s, On Writing book to people looking to learn fiction craft. Why not? Well, I’ll tell you, but first let me tell you what I think is good about it:

  • Easy read – great voice (obviously)
  • Household name (instant crowd pleaser)
  • Writers Journey (spoiler alert: King nearly died)
  • King’s credentials are undisputed

Now, I read this book years ago, and LOVED it. It was such an easy compelling read; I recall telling Avila it was fantastic and would sit proudly on my shelf forever; however, I never recommend it to people and this is why:

It’s not specific

Now, everyone is different, and when I read it I was at the stage of having read lots of books on the craft of writing, and because of this, I can’t be certain of what quotes from the book really affected me. However, I cannot recall for the life of me, reading anything from the book and thinking, ‘I’m going to do that!’

I may be very wrong here, and I’ve just decided (right now) to re-read On Writing to prove to myself if this is true or not.

So, either way, I did love the book and it had an affect on me (of being brilliant), but because it’s not specific, ie: it doesn’t focus on a problem/solution narrative, it becomes hard to recommend to people.

If someone says, ‘On Writing is a good book,’ I agree whole-heartedly with them. 100% of the time.

But…

Of people I meet and get onto the topic of craft books, I tend to ask, ‘what are you struggling with?’ or, ‘what stage are you at with your writing?’

People respond with something like the following:

‘oh, I’m still figuring out how to write, really.’ (then we get onto the topic of genre, reader expectations, and story conventions)

‘I’m writing but it’s taking a really long time, because I can’t find the time.’ (then we talk about commitment, writing strategies, plotting/pantsing, etc.)

‘I’m revising atm.’ (then we talk about editing, plot, structure, characters, etc.)

‘I’m finished and working on another book.’ (then we talk about marketing the first book, or the new book and do they connect at all – as in a series?)

All these basic questions are very specific and therefore a general book like King’s On Writing, isn’t going to be much use, apart from a casual entertaining read by a Pro author.

Now if I hear someone recommend King’s On Writing, I tend to think that that someone isn’t really interested in finding out what specific problem(s) a writer has. The only time I can think of recommending King’s book, is if I meet someone who says, ‘Can you recommend any entertaining reads by working authors?’ BINGO!: King’s On Writing is perfect. But that never happens. Or maybe a question of, ‘I’m not sure if writing is for me, and I just want to read about the writer’s life.’ BOOOM! There it is: K’s OW is the answer.

How many people have asked that Q? Zero.

So despite me loving K’s OW, I am finding it hard to recommend to anyone. I want to, but I can’t. I can’t because I care about the painful process writers are struggling with and ask deeper questions about their writing.

How about you? What do you think of K’s OW? Do you regularly recommend it? What do you love about it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Even if it’s just to tell me I’m wrong. Let me know.

Mark

Photo by francisco.j.gonzalez

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