Notes and Quotes: “On Writing” by Stephen King

On Writing by Stephen King is a must-read for aspiring writers. I wish I had discovered this book while taking fiction writing classes in college. It may have convinced me to drop out of school and actually do something, like write.

There wasn’t much writing getting done back then. There was, however, a lot of “maddeningly vague” critiques, as Stephen King calls the kind of discussions held in most university fiction classes. So if you’re thinking about going to college for writing, going on a writing retreat, or taking a one-off class on writing, read this book first.

This book, along with The Elements of Style (which King recommends in On Writing), will give you everything you need to start your writing career, and keep you out of debt.

Notes

King’s Advice

There’s a lot of good advice in this book, but these are the first three things that come to mind upon finishing it…

  1. Write your first draft with the door closed; write your second draft with the door open. In other words, first focus on getting the story down on paper without any feedback from people or worrying about facts. Then, after letting the first draft “breathe” and spending some time away from it, start getting feedback from the world and making it realistic with the world’s facts.

  2. Kill your darlings. In other words, scratch whatever only serves you and not the reader. Kill long-winded descriptions of people and places you love. Kill the clever line you’ve been dying to use. Kill the dialogue that fits you and not the character.

  3. Focus on the story. Character development is good, description is good, setting the scene is good. But what’s great is a good story. Tell the story first and leave the rest for the rewrite.

King’s Life

  • Started off as a writer by submitting short stories to science fiction and literary journals and magazines

  • Got paid $200,000 when his first novel, Carrie, got bought for paperback rights

  • Recovered alcohol and cocaine user (he wrote stories like The Shining while struggling with alcoholism and addiction)

  • Drinks a shit load of tea

  • Taught English class to high school students

  • Has a goal to write 2,000 words each day. Sometimes he finishes in three hours, sometimes eight, and sometimes he writes more.

  • Used to write in the middle of an open room at a big table; now he writes in a private room at a desk. He summarizes this decision with this quote: “Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”

Quotes

Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.

The road to hell is paved with adverbs.

Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.

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