Known as one of the greatest living writers of our time, it’s hard to find anyone who hasn’t heard or at least read a Stephen King novel.
With over 60 novels published and over 200 short stories, including critically acclaimed novels like Carrie, It, Misery and The Shining, Stephen King is known for his gripping horror that often begins with seemingly ‘normal’ circumstances before spiraling completely out of control.
With many of Stephen King’s novels and short stories being turned into numerous television shows and adapted for the big screen too. It is clear that King knows his craft and is a writer with the ability to consistently produce one thrilling horror novel after another while making us eager to be scared just a little bit more.
However, it is not only the world of horror and thriller fiction that Stephen King has dominated over the past few decades as he has delved into the realm of non-fiction too, just to tell us how he does it.
Part memoir, part guide to the craft of writing, Stephen King’s book, On Writing, delves into his own personal experiences while giving the reader a foray of tips and tricks that he uses himself while writing.
Previously here on HooktoBooks, we’ve discussed what the Best Stephen King Books of All Time are. But today, we want to discuss what are the best lessons that you can learn from his book, On Writing.
1. Start Writing.
“The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.”
Perceived as the most obvious piece of writing advice in the book, but for many aspiring writers, it is getting past this first hurdle that often causes a struggle.
For King, he really highlights this within his book, making a point for any aspiring writer to get past this block and to just sit down and start adding words onto the page.
Moreover, with this direct quote King is challenging his reader, making it a point to show there is no need to fear because having a blank page doesn’t make you a writer and that by pushing past this fear you can be on the road to be a writer.
Only by actively practicing the craft of writing can you make your journey to become a published writer.
2. Not Only Write But Read Too.
“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.”
As an advocate for reading as well as the act of writing, Stephen King has mentioned in numerous interviews how he himself reads anywhere from sixty to eighty novels a year – mainly fiction.
This is a lesson that King himself practices and accredits partly to the reason why he writes with the belief that the act of reading can help make you a better writer.
“Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
In fact, this is something he presses towards in On Writing, making the act of reading an essential and integral part of being and becoming a writer. So instead of pressuring yourself to constantly be on the go writing your own novel, don’t be afraid to take a break and listen to Stephen King, make time for the act of reading as well as writing.
3. First Drafts Aren’t For Perfection
“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”
Often when writing, once we get past the fear of actually filling the blank page in front of us, the next hurdle for many is making a first draft perfect. This pressure that many of us put on ourselves means as writers we soon find ourselves stumbling to continue and often unable to finish a complete draft of work.
Stephen King’s advice for this is to simply write. Don’t worry about punctuation, perfect grammar, the perfect words because that’s what the rewrite is for.
The first draft is to just get the bare bones of the story that you want to tell, down on the page so you actually have something to edit and make better.
4. Have A Support Buddy
“Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough.”
Now, I think we all know how Carrie almost got thrown away. Originally meant to be a short story, King threw it away after three pages and it wasn’t until his wife, writer Tabitha King fished them out and encouraged him to finish the story and that she would help with the female perspective.
Carrie ended up being Stephen King’s first published novel. Imagine if Tabitha hadn’t fished those pages out of the bin? Would Stephen King be where he is now? That is why in On Writing, Stephen King makes a point that by having someone there just supports or just believes in you can make the whole difference and that as a writer you don’t have to be completely alone.
Let one person in, whether it be a friend, family member, another writer, or just some who is rooting for you.
5. Avoid the Overuse of Adverbs
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.
Stephen King makes a point in On Writing, to highlight the fact many writers overuse adverbs, and often they aren’t entirely necessary. When writing, or even rewriting especially, questioning whether an adverb needs to be there on the page is crucial and often by doing so, you can turn a passive sentence into an active one.
By questioning your own work and moving away from passive sentences when you can, this can alter the whole style of your work and most of the time changing from passive to active voice can make the difference.
“The adverb is not your friend.”
6. Don’t Fall into the Trap of Over Describing
“When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”
In Stephen King’s On Writing, King makes it clear his dislike of oversaturation and unnecessary descriptions. It is easy when writing to get caught up in the need to make this grand world up with every single detail in place not only in your mind but the page as well, however, it isn’t always necessary and can result in you losing your reader.
When you approach your edit, question yourself whether that piece of description really needs to be there? Does it further the story you’re telling or is it there just there because you know that detail and want your readers to know it too? Remove anything that is non-essential.
“In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it ‘got boring,’ the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling.”
7. Not Everyone Will Like Your Work
“I have spent a good many years since―too many, I think―being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction or poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.”
The final lesson to take away from Stephen King’s On Writing is accepting that not everyone will like your work, someone will always want to criticize it and you. As Stephen King himself states, he has spent so many years paying attention to such criticism and as a result, been made to feel ashamed by what he writes.
Everyone has criticism, not everyone will like your work, and accepting that you will face a negative response at some point is important and not to allow it to take over and try to change someone’s mind.
Stop listening to the negatives, stop trying to change their mind but rather focus on what you enjoy writing and those who enjoy your work.
There you have it, the 7 Best Lessons that you can learn from Stephen King On Writing. However, if you care about writing, want to be a writer, or are simply just fascinated about the process of writing and how writers write then On Writing should be added to your essential reading list.
About the Author
An avid reader and writer, Hannah always has a cup of tea at hand along with a book.