In 2002 Stephen King temporarily gave up on writing bestselling 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 writers, bloggers, and, why not, content creators in general.
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. It allows you to create a compelling vision that will inspire you even when you feel like you’ve written about everything.
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 you still keep punching those keys? Would you publish your articles, even when no one seems to be reading your stuff?
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.
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.
The amateur writer sits around, waiting for the adrenaline rush that makes them effortlessly stroll their fingers against the keyboard. The professional, however, sits down to do the work, no matter how they feel.
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?
To be honest, there’s no other way. The more you write, the more you read, the stronger your creative muscle becomes.
There’s no other way.
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?
Write your truth, even if your fingers shake against the keyboard. Write your truth, no matter what, because fortune always favors the bold.
And, believe me, no matter what you do, how much you try, there will always be someone who tries to dismiss you, or criticize you, or ridicule you. It’s inevitable.
The truth is that we should be busy punching those keys, publishing new content, and we should let our readers decide whether or work is good or not. The moment we click the publish button, those words are no longer ours. They belong to our readers. And it’s up to them to criticize all they like. Our job is done.
5. On Editing
“To write is human, to edit is divine.”
As they say, writing is rewriting. No one ever wrote a wonderful first draft, and no one ever will. The goal isn’t to write perfection into existence, the goal is to write the best damn thing that you are capable of.
Also, on editing… rather than frustrate us, we should view editing as an opportunity. We can always revise and edit our words.
That’s the beauty of writing. You can always change your articles, edit them, update them with new information…
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, sooner or later, you’ll run out of ideas.
There’s no way around this, and the more you try to create something out of nothing, the harder it will be.
As I’ve previously said, there’s no way to avoid feeding your brain. Reading as much as possible.
The truth is, your subconscious mind will connect all the dots. You don’t have to actively pursue new ideas, you just have to be busy feeding your brain with enough information. It will do everything else on its own.
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.
Do not underestimate this!
The main reason people read books is that they want a bit of clarity that will enable them to overcome a mental fog of sorts (they either don’t know how to do something or aren’t sure they are able to do it.)
As content creators, we must first focus, so we can provide our readers with clear and concise advice.
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. She’s got to be.
All jokes aside, too many writers, especially the novice, rely too much on inspiration. Their content strategies are a bizarre mixture of hope, excitement, and despair.
The truth is this: if you show up at your desk to do the work, and you force yourself to punch those keys, you will inevitably create something worth sharing. Always.
I’ve never regretted forcing myself to write. Not even once.
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. No reason to be pretentious, which is a synonym for douchebag these days.
And when it comes to writing, a lot of people approach it not in a conversational manner, but as if they are writing a bunch of school essays. In most cases, it’s bad for your brand. It also makes you a lot less likable, and in the long run, it will ruin your chances of building a genuine community around your content.
Clear and concise writing is the way to go if you’re sharing your words on the web. Most people want the idea, the actionable advice. That’s why they go online.
Don’t use words that your target audience won’t understand, don’t use jargon that doesn’t belong in your article.
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 punching those keys.
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.
If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you grab a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s some of the best money you can invest to turbocharge your writing and develop the right mindset.
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