On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft

As one of the most prolific authors of the past century, Stephen King knows something about the craft of writing. In his great book, On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft, King provides excellent advice for aspiring authors. In this article we will share a few of his tips.

Master the Fundamentals

“Writing is refined thinking.” (Stephen King, On Writing)

To write well you must understand the basics of the English language and know how to properly construct clear sentences. King, provides a few tips on how to do this, however, providing guidance on the fundamentals of writing is not King’s main goal. Rather, as he points out, a great book already exists to help people master the fundamentals: “I’ll tell you right now that every aspiring writer should read The Elements of Style.” (Stephen King, On Writing)

The Elements of Style is a classic work which outlines the essential rules you need to know in order to write in a clear, and grammatically correct, manner. The book is only about 100 pages long so there is really no excuse for aspiring writers not to read it.

Form a Daily Writing Habit

If you are serious about writing it must become something you do almost everyday – it must become a habit. King recommends the following daily routine:

“As with physical exercise, it would be best to set this goal low at first, to avoid discouragement. I suggest 1000 words a day, and because I’m feeling magnanimous, I’ll also suggested that you can take one day a week off, at least to begin with. No more; you’ll lose the urgency and immediacy of your story if you do. With that goal set, resolve to yourself that the door stays closed until that goal is met.” (Stephen King, On Writing)

Some days you will reach your writing goal with ease, other days it will be a struggle. But King emphasizes that on those days when it is most difficult it is crucial not to stop:

“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.” (Stephen King, On Writing)

Read – Read A lot!

“Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.” (Stephen King, On Writing)

King makes the simple claim that to be a good writer you need to read a lot, in addition to writing a lot. King practices what he preaches, reading approximately 70 books a year. Reading provides exposure to the good and the bad of writing and overtime helps you to become a better judge of the quality of your own work. Reading also introduces you to new writing styles and provides inspiration in terms of what is possible.

“Can I be blunt on the subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” (Stephen King, On Writing)

Failure and Rejection – All Part of the Process

King began his career by writing short stories which he submitted to various magazines for publication. For a long time he found absolutely no success in this endeavour:

“By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips I impaled on it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.” (Stephen King, On Writing)

This bold perseverance in the face of failure was key to King’s success. King continued to write, continued to hone his craft, and eventually after much rejection the success came. It is far too common to look at a successful writer and only seeing their accomplishments, to naively assume that the success came easy. But often when a successful author’s career is looked at in more detail it is discovered that they experienced ample instances of failure and rejection. J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected 12 times before being accepted by a publisher! Aspiring writers would best be served to look at failure and rejection, not as a reasons to quit, but as signs that they are on the right track.