On Writing: Stephen King

Updated: Aug 26, 2018



Doing an "On Writing" post on a quote from Stephen King is fitting, since he's lauded for his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft as much as he is for his fiction.


But before we go any further, an admission: I'm not a huge fan of his work. I've read The Shining, Carrie, The Stand, and a few others. Never once did I consider not finishing those novels. But I haven't bought any more, either. And I've read On Writing, and I agree with most of what he says...on writing. My main complaint with this book is that the title is misleading. Yes, he talks about the craft of writing, but he also meanders into other areas that I found tiresome and even a little self-pitying. Another issue I have with the book is that what he does say about writing seems to have already been said by many others.


I respect King for being a successful writer who not only taps into our fears so well, but for exploring the reasons behind such fears. That said, I'm not a fan of horror, so even a master of the genre such as King isn't going to be my favorite. King is no wordsmith, either, and for someone like me who could read technical manuals if they were superbly written, King's matter-of-fact storytelling isn't particularly engaging.


On Writing has its share of usable, easy-to-package quotes. Here's one of my favorites:


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


Kind of clunky, but he gets his point across. Successful writers are those that get to work. They don't wait for inspiration to strike; they grab it by the horns. They don't do laundry or think about writing. They write. They pound the keys and produce material. They believe in the process. They accept that much of what they write will change or get deleted.


"Butt in chair" is a phrase that you may have heard before. It refers to the truth that if you want to write (and get better at it), you need to first put your butt in the chair.


As you may have noticed, this quote from King is similar to the poem from Louise Erdrich I wrote about in another blog post. Both authors agree that in order to get things done, you have to sacrifice. You have to work. A writer's life is no different than someone studying to be a doctor or nurse. It's no different than an architect or athlete or a weaver or restaurant owner. You have to be there and you have to work. Hard. You have to forego TV, social media, meeting up with friends, sleep.


A successful writer makes a lot of mistakes and learns from them. Then they move on.


I'm the first to admit that I don't always follow this advice. I wish I did. When I do, good things happen. It's a lot like exercising. I loathe going to the gym, but I'm always satisfied afterward.


What say you? Are you a King fan? What's your experience with getting to work? What sort of sacrifices have you made in order to get some writing time?