Stephen King’s 10 Best Tips for Becoming a Phenomenal Writer

The King has always been the sort of writer who can release one bestseller after another. He has sold more than 350 million copies of his works.

Wouldn’t that be nice? To be able to sell that many books? To be that productive?

Well, in 2002 King temporarily gave up on writing horror novels, and wrote a little book chronicling his rise to fame and discussing exactly what he believes it takes to become a good writer. Since then, it’s become the most popular book about writing ever written, which is understandable.

On Writing is not only about the basics of writing, and something that you should approach as a craft, but also a passion. Other writing books are focused on the mechanics of the written word, while King shows you how to capture the joy of the craft.

Yes, this little book will make you want to write, not for fame or fortune, but because it’s fun, and there’s nothing else you would rather do.

If I could recommend only one book to aspiring writers, On Writing would be it. But don’t take my word for it. Below, I’ve compiled a list of his best advice from the book, and I also wrote down some of my own thoughts on exactly how they apply to aspiring writers.

1. On Having a Powerful Why

“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.”

You see, the issue with any of those motives is that you can reach a point where you’ve earned enough money, or become famous enough. It’s also self-centered, which makes it that much more difficult to keep your head in the game.

But enriching other people’s lives?

That’s a very powerful why.

And you can always change another person’s life. There’s always someone else to inspire.

2. On Rejection

“By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”

Stephen the Impaler.

Let’s be honest here. How would you face so many rejections? Would still keep writing?

Your attitude regarding rejection will determine your altitude as a writer.

3. On Inspiration

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

The dreaded writer’s block. Being creatively bankrupt. Procrastinating. Spending more time thinking about writing than actually writing.

Funny.

Writing is a simple process. It’s just our fears that make it seem so complicated.

You sit down at your desk, and you write. That’s about it. Whether you feel like it, or not. Even if you’d much rather do just about anything else. Sit down, and write. That’s it. That’s all it takes.

4. On Writing and Reading

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

Simple enough, right?

5. On Critics

I have spent a good many years since―too many, I think―being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction or poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.

There will always be haters, there will always be naysayers. The only way to please everyone is if you do not do anything at all.

But that isn’t really an option, is it?

5. On Editing

“To write is human, to edit is divine.” 

Ah. Editing.

As they say, writing is rewriting.

No one ever wrote a wonderful first draft, and no one ever will.

6. On Ideas

“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.”

If you do not consume art, if you do not go out there to live your life, to experience as much of this world as humanly possible, then you’ll run out of ideas.

In order to be a creator, you must first be a creation.

In order to write about characters, you must first be a character.

There’s no way around this, and the more you try to create something out of nothing, that harder it will be.

7. On Distractions

“If you’re just starting out as a writer, you could do worse than strip your television’s electric plug-wire, wrap a spike around it, and then stick it back into the wall. See what blows, and how far. Just an idea.”

I do not watch TV. As in, all the stuff that I consume by reading or watching pictures on a screen is meant to either help me grow as a person or inspire me.

Most of the stuff on TV is the equivalent of junk food for your brain. It’s poison, and you need to limit your exposure to it.

While you’re at it, you might want to turn off your smartphone as well.

I don’t even listen to music while writing. I need complete and utter silence, to better hear my thoughts. I need to focus on what I am writing, and not get distracted.

In this day and age, this is precisely what we must all fight hard to keep: our ability to focus, and not get sidetracked by all the stuff that’s one click or swipe away.

8. On The Muse

“There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement kind of guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you. Do you think it’s fair? I think it’s fair. He may not be much to look at, that muse-guy, and he may not be much of a conversationalist, but he’s got inspiration. It’s right that you should do all the work and burn all the mid-night oil, because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic. There’s stuff in there that can change your life. Believe me, I know.”

I agree with this, but my muse is a woman. She’s cute and stuff. Like Tinkerbell. But older. And way more hot. It’s got to be.

9. On Words

“One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes. The pet is embarrassed and the person who committed this act of premeditated cuteness should be even more embarrassed.” 
Using simple words is the best way to make your readers understand what your writing is all about. Not reason to be pretentious, which is a synonym for douchebag these days.

10. On “The Important Things”

“The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of because words diminish your feelings – words shrink things that seem timeless when they are in your head to no more than living size when they are brought out.”
 This is true. Something always gets lost when we translate our feelings, ideas, and thoughts into words. Something always will, no matter how good you become.
And this is exactly why you always return to the blank page. To try one more time. Just this once. To try to write all that you have stored up in your heart in such a way that it’s all there, on your computer, or phone, or notepad.
But you never quite manage it.
And you almost give up. But you never do.
And this is why you keep writing.

Writing is a simple process. It’s people who are not willing to work hard at it that make it seem like such a terrifying thing.

Immensely helpful and illuminating to any aspiring writer, this special edition of Stephen King’s critically lauded, million-copy bestseller shares the experiences, habits, and convictions that have shaped him and his work.

Buy your copy here.

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18 thoughts on “Stephen King’s 10 Best Tips for Becoming a Phenomenal Writer

  1. Must agree 100 percent with the comment about television. It is junk. Having been a detective, and having been there, done that, and got the T-Shirt, it amazes me with the stuff they pull on TV in the holy name of the story. And example. They had a stabbing victim on the slab in the morgue. No knife. So they pour resin into the wound to make an imprint of the knife (and of course it came out perfectly). Doesn’t work in the real world.
    Or they always solve the crime with fingerprints. In twenty years of being a detective, I never once solved a crime using fingerprints. I always took them, but they rarely even tied into the actual crime. The cases got solved by good old fashioned police work, asking question, going down false leads, and getting back on track. Or thinking outside the box.

  2. I adore Stephen King! All these points are great, I too, ditched T.V years ago! I do however, listen to music as I write, more often than not a classical or instrumental piece that reflects the mood I’m creating.

  3. A great resource for writers, but also a good memoir to boot. And I concur on television. Not something I almost ever watch. I can listen to music when I am scheduling things, but I too need silence when writing. More space for creativity and to hear my own words out loud.
    Good review Cristian.

  4. Reblogged this on luna’s on line and commented:
    Stephen King…amazing writer! Cristian Milhai gives us a quick and useful synopsis of King’s book “On Writing”.

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