Stephen King: Making us better writers

Maine lighthouse

Maine lighthouse. Image courtesy of earl53, Morguefile.

Writer Anaïs Nin has a great quote about writers: “It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with, we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.”

Author Stephen King of Maine is a terrific embodiment of this quote. He excels at blending the ordinary and extraordinary to make them terrifying. He shakes up what’s real, what’s familiar…..and scares the heck out of you in the process.

I’m awed by the man’s skill with words, and he shares some of what makes his writing so powerful in the book, On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft. If you seek to improve your writing — whether it’s in the form of a blog, a book or any other format — read this book. I’ll say it again: Please.Read.This.Book.

The book is part autobiography and part informal teaching course on how to make your writing better, using his own work and examples from other authors.  Stephen King provides tips such as using the active voice, avoiding adverbs (whoops, guilty there!) and keeping your writing free from melodrama. Here are some other gems:

  • Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation. Good writing is also about making good choices when it comes to picking the tools you plan to work with.
  • The more fiction you read and write, the more you’ll find your paragraphs forming on their own. When composing, it’s best not to think too much about where paragraphs begin and end; the trick is to let nature take its course. If you don’t like it later on, fix it then.
  • If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.
  • What you know makes you unique. Be brave. Map the enemy’s positions, come back, tell us all you know. (in a section about writing what you know)
  • For me, good description usually consists of a few well-chosen details that will stand for everything else.

Stephen King also notes that reading an exceptional writer can act as a spur; by reading their material, you want to work harder and aim higher. For me, bloggers such as bottledworder or year-struck are prime examples, since their writing wows me.

The book closes with a long list of books that Stephen King has found entertaining; I’m delighted to discover that he and I share some of the same literary tastes, such as Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and several of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels.

Again: Read this book. It’s definitely worth your time.




Filed under Writing

7 responses to “Stephen King: Making us better writers

  1. Thanks for a great piece. King really is superb. Whether you like all his books … or only some of them … you can’t argue with his ability to write extraordinary prose. His novel 11/22/63 is my favorite, but some of his short stories are perfect examples of the form. If I’m going to take writing advice from anyone, he would be it!

  2. This is a great book! I loved all his down-to earth advice and it was fun to read (which is saying a lot, because writing books can be boring at times)

  3. I will get the book. I admire King so much. While reading “Misery” I turned the page and actually jumped when I read what came next as if I was watching a movie not reading a book. Now that’s powerful writing!

  4. I really like that second suggestion.
    (And who can forget the suspense of The Shining!)


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