If you’ve read Stephen King’s On Writing, you know what a treasure trove of writing advice it is—from mindset, to daily routines, to the nuts and bolts of structure and word choice, he covers it all.
If you need a boost of inspiration, look no further than this list of the 23 best Stephen King quotes from On Writing.
1. Your job isn’t to find ideas, but recognize them.
“There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers . . . 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.”
2. There will always be critics.
“If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it.”
3. Don’t stop writing.
“stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. 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.”
4. Put your desk in the corner.
“Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”
5. Take seriously the craft of writing.
“I’m not asking you to come reverently or unquestioningly; I’m not asking you to be politically correct or cast aside your sense of humor (please God you have one). This isn’t a popularity contest, it’s not the moral Olympics, and it’s not church. But it’s writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else.”
6. Don’t dress up your vocabulary.
Put your vocabulary on the top shelf of your toolbox, and don’t make any conscious effort to improve it. . . . 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.
“use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful.”
7. Avoid adverbs.
“The adverb is not your friend. . . . I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
8. Focus on paragraphs.
“I would argue that the paragraph, not the sentence, is the basic unit of writing.”
9. Don’t spend too much time researching good writing.
“the hours we spend talking about writing is time we don’t spend actually doing it.”
10. Be willing to work for it.
“If you don’t want to work your ass off, you have no business trying to write well.”
11. Read. A lot.
“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.”
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
12. Read so that you can create.
“Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.”
“The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order. Constant reading will pull you into a palace (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor.”
13. Read widely.
“You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so.”
14. Apply the Kondo test.
“If there’s no joy in it, it’s just no good. It’s best to go on to some other area, where the deposits of talent may be richer and the fun quotient higher.”
15. Write (the first draft) quickly.
” I believe the first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months.”
16. Where you write matters.
“The biggest aid to regular production is working in a serene atmosphere.”
17. Establish a concrete goal.
“You need a concrete goal . . . The longer you keep to these basics, the easier the act of writing will become. Don’t wait for the muse.”
“I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words.”
18. Show up, every day.
“Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ‘til noon or seven ‘til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up, chomping his cigar and making his magic.”
19. Tell the truth. Be brave.
“What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want. Anything at all . . . as long as you tell the truth.”
“What you know makes you unique . . . Be brave.”
20. Cut 10%.
“2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%”
“every story and novel is collapsible to some degree. If you can’t get out ten per cent of it while retaining the basic story and flavor, you’re not trying very hard.”
21. Confidently claim your indentity as a writer.
“Do you need someone to make you a paper badge with the word WRITER on it before you can believe you are one? God, I hope not.”
22. Just start.
“The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.”
23. Know what it’s all about.
“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.”
Of course, these aren’t all the Stephen King quotes about writing. What are your favorites? Let us know in the comments.
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