On Writing

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Once we realize that imperfect understanding is the human condition, there is no shame in being wrong, only in failing to correct our mistakes.
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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000) is an autobiography and writing guide by Stephen King.

  • This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included, don't understand very much about what they do—not why it works when it's good, not why it doesn't when it's bad. I figured the shorter the book, the less the bullshit.
    • Second Foreword
  • One rule of the road not directly stated elsewhere in this book: "The editor is always right." The corollary is that no writer will take all of his or her editor's advice; for all have sinned and fallen short of editorial perfection. Put another way, to write is human, to edit is divine.
    • Third Foreword
  • Let's get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn't to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.
    • C.V., 15
  • 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.
    • C.V., 20
  • I don't want to speak too disparagingly of my generation (actually I do, we had a chance to change the world and opted for the Home Shopping Network instead), but there was a view among the student writers I knew at that time that good writing came spontaneously, in an uprush of feeling that had to be caught at once; when you were building that all-important stairway to heaven, you couldn't just stand around with your hammer in your hand.
    • C.V., 23
  • The idea that the creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time. . . . Substance abusing writers are just substance abusers--common garden variety drunks and druggies, in other words. Any claims that the drugs and alcohol are necessary to dull a finer sensibility are just the usual self-serving bullshit. I've heard alcoholic snowplow drivers make the same claim, that they drink to still the demons.
    • C.V., 36
  • I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.
    • Toolbox, 3
  • "I'm convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing"
    • Toolbox, 3
  • "Words create sentences; sentences create paragraphs; sometimes paragraphs quicken and begin to breathe. Imagine if you like, Frankenstein's monster on its slab. Here comes lightening, not from the sky but from a humble paragraph of English words. Maybe it's the first really good paragraph you wrote, something so fragile and yet full of possibility that you are frightened. You feel as Victor Frankenstein must have when the dead conglomeration of sewn-together spare parts suddenly opened its watery yellow eyes. Oh my God, it's breathing, you realize. Maybe it's even thinking. What in hell's name do I do next?
    • Toolbox, 5
  • If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.
    • On Writing, 1
  • If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write.
    • On Writing, 1
  • Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story. Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot. It's not just a question of how-to, you see; it's also a question of how much to. Reading will help you answer how much, and only reams of writing will help you with the how. You can learn only by doing.
    • On Writing, 6
  • You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair--the sense that you can never completely put on the page what's in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.
    • "What Writing Is", 4
  • Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It's about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.
    • On Living: A Postscript, 7
  • Some of this book—perhaps too much—has been about how I learned to do it. Much of it has been about how you can do it better. The rest of it—and perhaps the best of it—is a permission slip: you can, you should, and if you're brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.
    • On Living: A Postscript, 7
  • Dave was a great brother, but too smart for a ten-year-old. His brains were always getting him in trouble, and he learned at some point (probably after I had wiped my ass with poison ivy) that it was usually possible to get Brother Stevie to join him in the point position when trouble was in the wind. Dave never asked me to shoulder all the blame for his often brilliant fuck-ups - he was neither a sneak nor a coward - but on several occasions I was asked to share it. Which was why, I think, why be both got in trouble when Dave dammed up the stream running through the jungle and flooding much of lower West Broad Street. Sharing the blame was also the reason why ran the risk of getting killed while implementing his potentionally lethal school science project.
  • This was probably 1958. I was at the Center Grammar School; Dave was at Stratford Junior High. Mom was working at the Stratford Laundry, where she was the only white lady on the mangle crew. That's what she was doing-- feeding sheets into the mangle-- while Dave constructed his Science Fair project. My big brother wasn't the sort of boy to content himself drawing frog-diagrams on construction paper or making the House of the Future out of plastic Tyco cups; Dave aimed for the stars.
    • C.V., 32

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