On Writing By Stephen King

Stephen King’s On Writing is basically a two part book merged into one. The first half of the book goes over his childhood, how he got into writing—picking up little lessons along the way. He touches on his influences growing up, school shenanigans, and how certain life experiences translated into his books. The second half seamlessly switches to a writing masterclass. Going over the tools of the craft and divulging his tricks, opinions on grammar, publishing and writing techniques. 


  • Books are a uniquely portable magic.
  • To write is human, to edit is divine.
  • Write with the doors closed, rewrite with the door open.

  • When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking all the things that are not the story. 

  • The scariest moment is always just before you start. 

  • Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.

  • Write what you like, then imbue it with the life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex, and work.
  • In my view, stories and novels consist of three parts: narration, which moves the story from point A to point B and finally to point Z; description, which creates a sensory reality for the reader; and dialogue, which brings characters to life through their speech. 
  • Good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up. 

  • Stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit. 

  • If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. 
  • Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones. 
  • The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing. Constantly reading will pull you into a place where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dead on the page. The more you read, the last apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen. 
  • The most common tool, the bread of writing, is vocabulary. 
  • One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for a long word because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. 
  • Remember that the basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful. 
  • Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story. Good description is a learned skill, one of the primary reasons we cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot. 
  • It’s not just a question of how-to, you see; it’s also a question of how much to. Reading will help you answer how much, and only reams of writing will help you with the how. You can learn only by doing.

  • Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s. 
  • When it comes to scene-setting and all sorts of description, a meal is as good as a feast. 
  • Practice is in valuable and honesty is indispensable. Skills in description, dialogue, and character development all boil down to seeing or hearing clearly and then transcribing what you see or hear with equal clarity. 
  • The most important things to remember about backstory are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting. Stick to the parts that are, and don’t get carried away with the rest. 
  • The most important thing is that the writers original perception of the character or characters may be as erroneous as the readers. 

  • When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.

  • Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.

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