Stephen King, one of the most acclaimed horror novelists of the modern era, has sold over 350 million copies of his books. Many have become successful screenplays for movies and television.
Born in Portland, Maine, King began writing as a teenager. After graduating with an English degree from the University of Maine in 1970, he took a job teaching at Hampden Academy, writing short stories in his spare time.
His first novel Carrie, published in 1974, became a stunning commercial success. The film adaptation become a Hollywood classic, starring Sissy Spacek in the title role.
King quickly published several more successful horror novels, including The Shining, Firestarter, Cujo, and The Shining.
A prolific writer, King also published under the pen name Richard Bachman, fearing the public wouldn’t buy more than one novel per year from a single author. Works under the Bachman name include Rage, The Running Man, The Long Walk, and Road Work.
King wrote several books per year, every year, for a large portion of the 1980s and 1990s.
King’s books were uniquely suited to movie adaptations. Several became critically-acclaimed films.
Kathy Bates won an Oscar for her performance of Annie Wilkes in Misery. Shawshank Redemption garnered several Oscar nominations. 1999’s The Green Mile was extraordinarily successful.
King began work on provocative television projects, including Under the Dome, based on his 2009 novel. In 2013, he published Dr. Sleep, a sequel to The Shining, and reached the top of the New York Times Bestseller list.
King and his wife, fellow author Tabitha Spruce, maintain homes in Maine and Florida. They have three children, one of whom, Joseph Hillstrom, became a successful horror writer in his own right.
Naturally, King has much to say about the art and craft of writing.
In 2000, he published a memoir on the subject, offering readers (and writers) a glimpse into his creative writing process. I hope these quotes inspire and inform writers at all levels: to persevere, to honor the work, to value the process over the product.
“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”
“And as a writer, one of the things that I’ve always been interested in doing is actually invading your comfort space. Because that’s what we’re supposed to do. Get under your skin, and make you react.”
“Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often
the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.”
“You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.”
“Like anything else that happens on its own, the act of writing is beyond currency. Money is great stuff to have, but when it comes to the act of creation, the best thing is not to think of money too much. It constipates the whole process.”
“I had a period where I thought I might not be good enough to publish…”
“I’m still in love with what I do, with the idea of making things up,
so hours when I write always feel like very blessed hours to me.”
“The more you write, the more trained you are to recognize the little signals.”
“When asked, ‘How do you write?’ I invariably answer, ‘one word at a time.’”
“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.”
“I never saw any of my dad’s stories. My mother said he had piles and piles of manuscripts. He had a massive stroke. He died with his tie on. Do you think that could be our generation’s equivalent of that old saying about dying with your boots on?”
“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.”
“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”
“The most important things to remember about back story are that
(a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting.”
“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.”
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
“It starts with this: 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.”
“When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.”
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
“The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.”
“The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor.”
“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.”
“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. Wash the car, maybe.”
“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.”
“Let me say it again: You must not come lightly to the blank page.”
“Optimism is a perfectly legitimate response to failure.”
What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?
What’s your best advice for writing success?
Share your thoughts in the comments section.