13 Writing Tips from Stephen King

The stories of prolific author Stephen King are popping up everywhere at the moment as many of his books are being adapted into movies and TV series. This year alone there’s been the new IT movie, The Dark Tower movie, Gerard’s Game and 1922 on Netflix, the Mr Mercedes TV series and Castle Rock is coming soon.

On Writing by Stephen King cover
On Writing by Stephen King ISBN: 9781439156810, pp 291

My husband loves reading Stephen King and is currently working his way through The Dark Tower series and we’re enjoying all the TV and movie adaptions as they come out. While I’ve read quite a few Stephen King books over the years, my husband is definitely the biggest fan in our household. My favourite Stephen King book is not one of his fiction books, it’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I read it many years ago and, searching for inspiration, have just read it again. Its advice remains useful, relevant and practical. Plus, it’s inspiring to read about Stephen King’s personal writing journey. His books may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he certainly knows how to craft a story for his audience and knows who he is as a writer.

Here are my favourite tips from On Writing by Stephen King

1. On coming up with story ideas…
“There is no Idea Dump, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky…Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

2. On writing the first draft for you and then writing for an audience…
“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”

3. On persevering with a story…
“…stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally of 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 from a sitting position.”

4. On vocabulary…
“One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes. The pet is embarrassed and the person who committed this act of premeditated cuteness should be even more embarrassed.”

5. On using adverbs…
“…the road to hell is paved with adverbs…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…”

Note: I am guilty of using and abusing adverbs in my writing. But I enthusiastically agree with this point!

Collection of Stephen King books
A collection of Stephen King books from my bookshelf

6. On wanting to be a writer…
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
“Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

7. On plotting (or not plotting)…
“… my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves. The job of the writer is the give them a place to grow…”

8. On description…
“Thin description leaves the reader feeling bewildered and nearsighted. Overdescription buries him or her in details and images. The trick is to find a happy medium.”
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”

9. On finishing the first draft and letting it rest…
“How long you let your book rest—sort of like bread dough between kneadings—is entirely up to you, but I think it should be a minimum of six weeks. During this time your manuscript will be safely shut away in a desk drawer, aging and (one hopes) mellowing.”

10. On rewriting for the Ideal Reader…
“Call that one person you write for your Ideal Reader. He or she is going to be in your writing room all the time: in the flesh once you open the door and let the world back in…in spirit during the sometimes troubling and often exhilarating days of the first draft, when the door is closed.”

11. On rewriting to speed up the pace…
“You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%.”
“The effect of judicious cutting is immediate and often amazing—literary Viagra. You’ll feel it and your Ideal Reader will, too.”

12. On researching for a novel…
“When you step away from the ‘write what you know’ rule, research becomes inevitable, and it can add a lot to your story. Just don’t end up with the tail wagging the dog: remember that you are writing a novel, not a research paper. The story always comes first.”

13. On writing …
“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.”

This last point sums up how I feel about writing. I do it for the love of words and because it makes me happy.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

6 thoughts on “13 Writing Tips from Stephen King

  1. Owl's Library November 22, 2017 / 3:09 am

    This is such an information blog post! Thanks so much for sharing! I cannot wait to read this book of his.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Janereads November 22, 2017 / 4:21 am

      You’re welcome! I hope you enjoy the book. It has so many more great writing tips.


  2. Emily Raper February 5, 2018 / 11:57 am

    Really enjoyed this post! Will definitely be reblogging soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Janereads February 5, 2018 / 11:59 am

      Thanks Emily. This book is full of such awesome writing advice. I really recommend reading it.

      Liked by 1 person

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