On Writing by Stephen King: Summary, Notes, and Lessons

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

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Rating: 8/10

Related: On Writing Well, The Elements of Style, Writing to Learn, Bird by Bird, The War of Art

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Get the full index of lessons here

On Writing Short Summary

On Writing by Stephen King is a great book about the art of writing and the tools of a writer. Less practical than On Writing Well, but packed with great stories. If you’re serious about writing, you should definitely read both.

Toolbox

Don’t try to improve your vocabulary. Use the first word that comes to your mind.

When using verbs, avoid the passive tense.

Avoid using adverbs as well.

Paragraphs are almost as important for how they look as for what they say; they are maps of intent. They should be neat and utilitarian.

The single-sentence paragraph more closely resembles talk than writing, and that’s good. Writing is seduction. Good talk is part of seduction.

Writing is refined thinking.

On Writing

To be a good writer, you must read a lot and write a lot.

Always be reading:

  • Carry books with you or listen to audiobooks
  • Take advantage of boring moments-waiting in line, commuting, etc.
  • Pick a favorite place to read
  • Read in small sips as well as in long swallows

Routines and Environment:

  • Your writing space should be humble and needs a door which you are willing to shut
  • Write at the same time every day
  • Settle on a daily writing goal, such as a thousand words a day
  • Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open
  • Take one day a week off (at least to begin with)

“Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around”

Writing Stories

What should you write about? Anything at all … as long as you tell the truth.

Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex, and work.

Your job during or just after the first draft is to decide what something or somethings yours is about. Your job in the second draft is to make that something even more clear.

Boredom can be a very good thing for someone in a creative jam.

This first draft should be written with no help (or interference) from anyone else.

In the second draft, add scenes and incidents that reinforce that meaning and delete stuff that goes in other directions.

You can’t let the whole world into your story, but you can let in the ones that matter the most. And you should. Call that one person you write for Ideal Reader.

Revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft — 10%.

The story belongs in front, but some research is inevitable. Not much, though; research is back story, and the key word in back story is back

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