Stephen King: On Writing

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Stephen King: On Writing.

Author Stephen King built his writing career around science-fiction, horror and suspense stories. But in my opinion, one of his best books is Stephen King “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft,” a non-fiction guideline for aspiring writers.

The craft of writing is one that has to be learned. You can yearn to be a writer, and you may have the talent, but even then, there are things you don’t instinctively know.

King demonstrates each process as you go through the book. If you can’t learn from this book….you can’t learn.

He Tells His Background: He Didn’t Start Out Making Money

King began writing for magazines, a college paper, and basically, anything that would accept his work. Many times he wrote for nothing, simply to get his name into public view.

After meeting and marrying his wife Tabitha, he took a teaching job for a steady paycheck. He didn’t want to be a teacher, but he nearly despaired of ever making enough money for a family. With children on the way he knew he needed steady earnings. Because of this self-doubt, he threw a work-in-progress manuscript into a trash basket. Fortunately, his wife found the pages and convinced him it was worth saving. She suggested a couple of modifications and then talked him into submitting it to a publisher. To his surprise, it was accepted and he was advanced $2500.00. The publisher was Doubleday. The book was Carrie, still one of his best selling novels today. Later the paperback rights were sold to Signet for $400,000. King was on his way as a professional writer who could make a living from his work.

He Tells This To Illustrate It’s Not Easy: You Have To WANT It

Stephen King On WritingKing writes about his beginnings to let everyone know that being a writer is lonely and often not financially stable, Many writers throughout history were never paid what their work was worth, being recognized for their talent only after death. Some of them just gave up and worked their lives through at jobs in which they found no fulfillment.

Stephen King did not want this to happen to him and his family. He kept his teaching job, but continued to write at odd hours whenever he could manage the time. Everyday, ordinary events would formulate into twists and turns of plots in his mind. He found that if he manipulated and contrived the plot, it was not a successful book (at least to him.) He felt that writing down the bare bones, and building on them bit by bit, allowing the characters to proceed in their own fashion, gave him a more satisfactory story.

King Advises “Less is more,” in Writing

He advises to choose your words so that they tell a lot in a small amount of wordage. Then put the work away for a period of time. Don’t rush it, you’ll know when the time is right to get back to it. When that day comes, go through and cut at least 10% of what you’ve written, making sure you leave the flavor of each situation. When you are finished, go back through and see how the story flows. If there are still places where more cutting of extraneous material or characters needs to be done, you have to be merciless and cut for the sake of the story. If it doesn’t fit, you must omit!

Watch For Sprouting Adverbs!

Stephen King is against the usage of adverbs, which most of us tend to think of as “descriptive” phrases. They aren’t, according to King:

“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day… fifty the day after that… and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s—GASP!!—too late.” ~ Stephen King

There’s More To Come

There’s more to come in “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft,” but if I told you all the useful tools he provides to a writer, I’d be the one writing the book. I didn’t, but King did. If you are interested in learning how to write better, seek out the truths in this non-fiction book. They MUST work….look what they did for Stephen King.

A Writer Must Also Be A Reader

Stephen King believes that to be a writer you must also be a reader. He says in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft,

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write….” ~ Stephen King

Strunk And White: The Elements of Style

Stephen King recommendsKing highly recommends another book, Strunk and White: The Elements Of Style, and believes no writer should ever be without this manual. He keeps it within his reach as he creates a story, knowing that if he questions something, the answers will be at his fingertips. Editing, refining, the “how to” and “when to” is all there. It’s an invaluable resource and if you’re a writer, you can’t afford to be without it.

“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, consider yourself talented.” ~ Stephen King

The Sign You’re A Successful Writer

When we talk about being successful as a writer, let’s assume we are talking about the public yardstick of being paid for your writing. In that respect, what do YOU think it takes to be a successful writer? How do these varied things figure into that success: talent, creativity, luck, perseverance, self-promotion or all of these things? Are there more things you would consider to be part of what makes a successful writer? If so what are they? Note them down for yourself for future reference.

You’ll notice in Stephen King’s quote above this paragraph, he uses the term “talented writer,” rather than successful. What do you think is the difference between the two and why he used the term “talented” rather than successful? Please leave a comment on what you think about these questions and anything else pertaining to this issue.

The two books mentioned here, along with the AP Style Book are available for purchase below, if you missed them above.



Nancy Hardin is a highly experienced writer and author. A retired journalist, she is also a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother with a wealth of experience in many fields. In addition, she is a retiree veteran, having spent many years in the Women’s Army Corps. She is also an experienced ghostwriter and you can see more about her skills at the The Writers’Door. YOu can visit Nancy’s website here and discover more of her work at this site.

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  1. I had no idea that he was a teacher, just assumed that he published books his entire life, his books enjoyable, and ones you just cannot set down. This was a very interesting article.

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  2. I’ve always liked Stephen King, and after reading this article I like him even more. It seems we share the same opinion about adverbs. Back when I was Director of Surveillance in a casino I had to read reports written by my staff. One of my rules for report writing was ‘if you have a word that ends in ly in your report, take it out’.

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  3. It is interesting that King chose “talented” rather than “successful.” Some people might assume that he means only talented writers get paid, or that all writers who get paid are talented in the more creative sense. Of course, we all know that isn’t true!

    Perhaps what he means is that if we can take something we love and excel at, and then make it work for us so that we can afford to do it some more, we have a talent for adapting art to life.

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