On Writing, Stephen King


This was a whimsical purchase — it popped up somewhere looking highly rated and short, so I couldn’t resist. Though I’ve seen plenty of movies adapted from Stephen King novels, I don’t think I’ve actually ever read one of his novels. Given how many he’s written, it’s funny that my first official encounter with him is non-fiction…

Even as an outsider I really enjoyed the book. The first third is a fun autobiographical romp through King’s childhood and early adult years. The rest is advice for burgeoning writers, interspersed with plenty more fun anecdotes. I ended up getting through the book in a day or two since it was so short and addictive (and I was listening on 3x speed). Here are a few choice pieces of writing advice:

  1. Grammar: the passive voice is for timid writers — avoid it. And avoid adverbs — they’re for timid writers too! You don’t need to write that your main character spun around angrily; if you’ve written the story well enough your readers will know that she’s angry when she spins around without you having to say it.
  2. Read and write, lots and lots! King emphasises throughout that there is no shortcut to reading a lot and writing a lot when it comes to improving your writing. On reading he says (approximately) that ‘The trick is to learn to read in both small sips and big gulps’: he will always take a book with him to dip into in spare minutes, and also has a spot in his chair at home where he loves to read for more extended periods. He averages at around 70-80 books a year. (Reading, not writing — not even King can do that.)
  3. Get into a regular routine of some sort. When he’s writing a first draft of a novel, King always makes sure to write 2,000 words a day so that the characters stay fresh in his mind and he keeps making incremental progress on the story. His daily schedule usually looks as follows: write in the morning; lunch; nap and respond to letters in the afternoon; watch Red Sox games and chill out with his family in the evening. (What a life!) The 2,000 words usually get done by 1pm, but sometimes he’ll have to stretch out into the evening. He writes 365 days a year — Christmas and birthdays included! — as the idea of taking a day of “rest” away from writing makes him more stressed than relaxed.

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