On Writing: How Stephen King Got Started As a Writer

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“Reading has always been an important part of my success and happiness. I am not unusual in that regard. Most of the most accomplished men and women of our time credit a good part of their success to reading.” – Mark Ford

A Confidence Booster From the King

“Long live the King,” hailed Entertainment Weekly when this book was published in 2000. No, not that King (although I think every American should make a pilgrimage to Graceland). Stephen King, the master storyteller from Bangor, Maine. Author of Carrie and Salem’s Lot (both written in the laundry room of a rented trailer), plus 47 other books that have sold over 350 million copies. I snatched up King’s On Writing a few years ago on a recommendation from John Forde. I devoured it in one sitting and took notes on almost all 297 pages.

On Writing is King’s revealing inside look at how he got started as a writer, what inspires him, and how he developed his style. More than anything, it’s a book about passion for the craft of writing. I read On Writing a few years ago when I was just getting started as a Barefoot Writer. It inspired me and motivated me like no other book has. It made me laugh and it made me cry. Above all, it gave me the confidence that I could be a successful writer.

When I read the last page, closed the book, and lodged it in a place of importance on my office bookshelf, I finally started calling myself a writer. I’ve never looked back, and I owe a debt of gratitude to Stephen King. Wherever you are on your journey to the writer’s life, check out On Writing or the harder-to-find companion book, Secret Windows. You may just get a push from the King like I did.

Lessons From a Master Writer …

Even though he’s a bestselling fiction author and you and I are copywriters, you’ll find a lot of common ground and practical ideas to implement. To tell you the truth, I’m not even a fan of Stephen King. This is the only book of his I’ve ever read. But I learned three important things that I use every day in my writing routine:

  1. Establish a clear-cut writing schedule. For King, mornings are prime writing time. His goal is to write about 10 pages per day, about 2,000 words. That’s about a million words in a year and a half. Not bad. His afternoons are for naps and letters, and evenings are for reading, family, and revisions that can’t wait (and Red Sox games on TV). I like his evening schedule, but I skip the naps and letters, and my goal is five pages by 8 a.m. (about 1,250 words in the font size I use) and anything I can get after that. For me, it’s all a labor of love. What is your daily schedule? Share with me in the comments below.
  2. Keep vocabulary and grammar simple and the style conversational. Hey, could this guy be a closet copywriter? King says to avoid the passive tense, get rid of adverbs, use short paragraphs and lots of white space, and keep it all tight.
  3. Read a lot and write a lot. King says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” He advocates reading and writing four to six hours a day, seven days a week. And what should you write? Two ideas: 1) Readers want a good story. The best writers are good storytellers, and 2) Write what you like, but imbue it with life and make it unique. In other words, use your own natural voice.
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5 Comments

  1. Monica Jovanovic on

    I’ve been a barefoot writer for approximatly a year. Unfortunately I’ve never had the opportunity to take it real serious due to many excuses. Urnestly trying sending emails, messages all over on these websites begging for help with finding my log in and password info so this beautiful writing journey can begin for me once in for all. To many years watching my dream of becoming a writer wash away in the Ocean tide vacation also forgotten. Always with a heart filled with great empathy learning the downs of others to build them up. Passionatly in love with life, helping people break free of chains bounding them from smiling or finding freedom. Who knew that passion for others reflected on my own lack of confidence. Thank you for inspiring me. Mr King inspired you ultimately he is the one who blessed you with Blessing me this evening. I want to dive in and write, no fear!! Thank you Mr. Ford

  2. Just finished reading On Writing by Stephen King. Great book and good tips as well as eye-opening in some places.

  3. I dream of writing a story that affects people the way “Twilight” and the Harry Potter series affected me. There were times that I would stay up all night reading, until I fell asleep with the book in hand, slept for 2 hours, then would draaag myself out of bed to get to work. Or I had a hard time putting the book down! I would literally do everything I could do,while reading. Getting ingredients out of the fridge, stirring a pot on the stove,carrying food to the table, and definitely reading while I ate-until my kids scolded me for “neglecting” them. : /
    I have the “bones” to a brilliant story that my 12 year-old said she could see as a movie, after reading a (very) rough 1st draft of chapter one–which *absolutely* enthralled me!
    And yet…fear of failure causes me to not put 100% into it.
    I’ve failed at so much in life, that a little voice in my head taunts me saying,” How *dare* you consider doing this seriously? You screw up everything you put your hands to!…” While another voice encourages me, “This is what you were created for! Press on!”
    The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak…”
    Finding the discipline to carve out a “set” writing time everyday has been difficult for me. Reading several of the writers’ work on this website has reignited the spark to move forward again! Sometimes,it is almost as if an invisible force is, literally,pulling me back by the waist to keep me from going down this path. But with a lot of prayer, I’m finding the strength to put one foot in front of the other,and take it one step at a time.
    Thanks for sharing about King’s book. I’m usually too freaked out by the scary movies I’ve seen, to read any of his work.But I’m going to check that one out. Peace. ~Suma

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