Book: On Writing

As Amy watched the Seahawks decimate the Broncos, I read Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. The result – Amy was sad while I was delighted.

King’s book is part memoir, part instructional manual, and part motivational tool. While I read a lot, I rarely read books by writers about writing. However, several people, including Amy, suggested On Writing to me so I kindled it a while ago.

After a long, hot run on the beach in Miami as part of my Boston Marathon training, I took a shower, a nap, and then settled in on the couch. Last week was much too intense for my tastes so I decided to lose myself in a book. This one was at the top of the Kindle queue.

I’ve read a number of King’s books over the years. I wouldn’t consider myself a fanboy, but they almost always capture me. Firestarter remains my favorite, but after watching The Shining recently, I’m going to revisit it, The Stand, and then read Doctor Sleep.

While most of my writing has been non-fiction, an increasing amount of my writing time is being spent on fiction and science fiction. As a reader, I’ve always been completely entranced by science fiction – the good stuff, not the junky stuff – and several of my current writer friends are science fiction writers. I’ve woven this into my work, since much of what I like to invest in could be considered science fiction of “not too long ago.” I’m going deeper into this in several ways, including an upcoming conference at Silicon Flatirons titled SciFi and Entrepreneurship – Is Resistance Futile?

King’s reflections on writing are crisp. His memoir is fascinating and brief enough as to not detract from the instruction manual. The bulk of the book is filled with tools, examples, and stories, which nicely reinforce King’s message, especially to get rid of adverbs. Damn – I suck at that. But I can get better. I know I can.

If you are a writer, do yourself a favor – read King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. And enjoy all the special bonuses you’ll find.

Congrats to all my Seattle friends. Y’all completely dominated tonight. Damn – there’s another adverb.

  • mjklanac

    I love the vocabulary as your toolbox metaphor.

  • Richard K. Morgan, Altered Carbon is really good sci fi.

  • aaronbrethorst

    I’d have liked more of a contest to be sure. Altered Carbon is a good book. But, being in the middle of re-reading Anathem (for the fourth time), please do that first.

  • RBC

    Thanks Brad! Can I recommend Passage of Power by Robert Caro. Great book on LBJ – looking at his schemes for getting power and how he used it, as well as the transition post-JFK assassination. Might be interesting for your companies in a transition period. In an interview with Kurt Vonnegut, Caro once said: “I was never interested in writing biography just to show the life of a great man,” saying he wanted instead “to use biography as a means of illuminating the times and the great forces that shape the times—particularly political power.”

    • I believe Matt Blumberg and Jeff Epstein recently recommended that book over a dinner discussion about presidents. I’ll have to red it.

      • I still think Caro’s best book is the “The Power Broker.” It covers so many things besides power. If you are builder of anything, this is a must read. I always thought Moses was more like Steve Jobs. They both had a great vision and knew how to get things done.

        • Jeff Epstein mentioned that one as well. Ordering it now.

  • jerrycolonna

    I’ve always loved On Writing and have given it to many folks (including my son Michael). I think it’s one of the best books on writing ever.

  • If brevity is the soul of wit, Elmore Leonard’s “10 Rules of Writing” are good to remember. (Just read the article;, no need to bother with the book version)

  • This is a wonderful book:

    Francine Prose, “Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them”

    And yes – Prose is her real name.

  • For those interested in writing dramatic fiction I strongly recommend a study of screenwriting. The reason is that whilst novelists can, and do, often write books that aren’t particularly well structured dramatically, the first equal imperative of a screenplay is that it be well engineered dramatically. To understand screenwriting is, in large part, to understand long form dramatic structure and this requires story engineering.

    There are many books on screenwriting. A very sound work is “Story” by Robert McKee.
    For a good introduction to the relationship between character and narrative structure Lajos Egri’s “The Art of Dramatic Writing” is a classic.

  • In “On Writing” King talks about just letting the story flow and not getting stuck in any writing formula. It’s a good book for entrepreneurs who need to learn to let their *company story* flow while writing or speaking.
    Startup100M [@] ObjectMethodology [.] com

    • Great point – perfect analogy for code also.

      • I’m not a programmer anymore. The last project I coded on was my EMR product. I actually generated most of the code instead of typing it in. It worked well and made me as productive as a whole team.
        One drawback to that approach is finding people who can develop that way. It can be difficult to find programmers. But just try to find people who can think at an even higher level and generate an application! I don’t even want to think about it.

  • StevenHB

    You’re writing fiction? Do tell more.

    • More coming soon!

  • Nikki Braziel

    Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway is, as far as I understand it, basically the control text for MFA programs. I’ve been reading it and am utterly in love. It’s pretty technical, but it answers questions I’ve never found answers to anywhere else. (For example, at the beginning of a flashback, how many times do I really have to use the past perfect before I can switch to simple past?)

    From Where You Dream by Pulitzer-prize winner Robert Olen Butler has been nothing less to me than a spiritual guide into the soul of inspiration.

    And Wonderbook, by Jeff VanderMeer is a new edition to my collection. I’ve only skimmed it, but it’s illustrated with fabulous, fun charts (like the plot dinosaur!) and focuses more on sci-fi and fantasy than many texts.

    If you need additions to your fiction reading list, Swamplandia! by Karen Russel (which was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer, along with “The Pale King,” by the late David Foster Wallace) and Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (who was dear friends with and eulogized DFW), both fully blew my mind.

    Best of luck with your fiction! What a phenomenal journey!

  • xyi

    It would be interesting to have Norm Chomsky speak on the upcoming Silicon Flatirons SciFi conference, who recently commented in an interview that “singularity is science fiction.”