Book Notes: “On Writing” by Steven King

I recently finished reading Steven King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (it’s a good ‘un).

If you haven’t noticed from my recent posts, there were a number of excerpts from the book which spurred some blog posts.

Additionally there are a number of miscellaneous excerpts I want to keep around as notes, so I’m adding this dump of quotes to my collection of #bookNotes posts.


Imitation preceded creation. (27)

Whenever I see a first novel dedicated to a [spouse], I smile and think, There’s someone who knows. 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. (74)

Stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or 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. (78)

Writing is refined thinking. (131)

When I'm asked for “the secret of my success” (an absurd idea, that, but impossible to get away from), I sometimes say there are two: I stayed physically healthy…an I stayed married. It’s a good answer because it makes the question go away, and because there is an element of truth in it. The combination of a healthy body and a stable relationship with a self-reliant woman who takes zero shit from me or anyone else has made the continuity of my working life possible. And I believe the converse is also true: that my writing and the pleasure I take in it has contributed to the stability of my health and my home life. (155)

Don’t wait for the [creativity muse]…This isn't the Ouija board of the spirit-world we’re talking about here, but just another job like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks. Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’till noon or seven ’til three. (157)

“write what you know”…If you’re a plumber, you know plumbing, but that is far from the extent of your knowledge; the heart also knows things, and so does the imagination. (158)

If I tell you that Carrie White is a high school outcast with a bad complexion and a fashion-victim wardrobe, I think you can do the rest, can’t you? I don’t need to give you a pimple-by-pimple, skirt-by-skirt rundown. We all remember one or more high school losers, after all; if I describe mine, it freezes out yours, and I lose a little bit of the bond of understanding I want to forget between us. Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s head. (174)

There are lots of would-be censors out there, and although they may have different agendas, they all want basically the same thing: for you to see the world they see…or at least to shut up about what you do see that’s different. (187)

Screw-ups happen to the best of us…remember this: someone really did design the Titanic and then label it unsinkable. (213)

Non-specific critiques won’t help…these comments are just wind, offering no factual input at all. (233)

You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself. (236)

I do know a lot [about writing], but some of it turned out to be dull and most of the rest, I’ve discovered, has more to do with instinct than with anything resembling “higher thought”. (248)