On Writing: How Stephen King Got Started As a Writer


“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.


  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

  4. Deborah Andrews on

    My schedule varies so much because of the fact that I have been actively involved in my son’s homeschooling which will be over May 2017. The best time for me to write is at night starting around 8-9 pm and going to 1 am, but as a nurse who works at a distance full time, I would not be able to stay up late the night before a shift. I’m not really sure that I could carve out 4-7 hours daily for writing at this time.

    I believe that I would be an entertaining short story writer and this is my goal. Any suggestions would be helpful. Thanks.

  5. I found Stephen King’s book,”On Writing” and have put into writing his many recommendations. My writing is tighter and my clients really like the writing style I now put out. It’s brought in more income over time and multiple repeat clients. Like you, this is the first Stephen King book I’ve read. I’m not a fan of his thrillers but his writing style is so engaging. Love the way he described how to pull the reader into the story. I tried it and it works! But he’s already proved that with his writing success.

    You did make me pick up pen and paper and jot down my writing schedule, and remind myself to read, read, read. Again, an exciting idea that I’ll start immediately.

    King is correct. The more you write the more you’re inspired and you become the writer you were meant to be, if you’re a true writer. Many times I have to remind myself I’m working when I’m writing. I love what I do. I spend hours doing it. When I’m done I have to write it down to remind myself that I’ve accomplished a lot today because it’s all so natural and all so much fun I don’t feel like I’m working.

    Maybe that’s what makes writing so real for me. I’m doing what Stephen King does, writing what comes naturally and so enjoying it it’s not work so much as it is fun and play that makes money.

  6. As a child, I was good at the English in school and it was indeed one of my highest scoring subjects in school. It all started with an awful lot of reading.
    You see, I am a Fiji Islander and forty years ago there was no other form of entertainment in the islands apart from the local radio stations, gramophone records, occasional films at the cinemas and lots and lots of books.
    First it was Western Comics and Archie Comics. Then came James Hadley Chase novels that had me captivated, despite the gory details. I knew so much about Miami, the Sunset Boulevard, Buicks and California. Then there was Wilbur Smith and the entire range of Enid Blytons. Sidney Sheldon and Stephen King came much later.
    And as time passed I stopped reading due to a lot of factors. But I caught up with magazines whenever I could to stay informed.
    Now, when I finally set foot in America and I saw beautiful settings for novels. It dawned on me that maybe it’s time to start. So here I am…ready to embark on this journey!

  7. Angela Miller on

    What a Read! Once I stopped laughing, it occurred to me that not only is Stephen King a great writer, but he also has great comic timing. Based on Mr. Ford’s recommendation, I ordered the book and expected it to “inspire” and “motivate”…something I need now and then. It has been a while since I read a complete book instead of magazine articles, trending now, email links, news clips from the smartphone. If there is one book to pick up that encourages and energizes the writer within, this is it.

  8. Kenneth Hepner on

    I rise to write about 5am and work until my wife wakes up. I start the coffee and we walk the dogs. I visit sites like LinedIn and Facebook to keep up with friends and family. I write at various times in the afternoon. I am working my way through the books that came as bonuses when I joined “the club”. My wife says my writing is getting better, but I wish I had someone who could look over my work and tell me where I am in need of improvement before I set bad habits firmly in place.

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