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Stephen King – On writing

The toolbox for writing

Vocabulary is the core tool and you build it by reading. Do not search for words just to use them in your writing. You will feel fake. Use the word that comes to your mind.

Grammar is the second most important after vocabulary. He recommends Warriner’s English Grammar and composition. He recommends using short sentences, no passive voice, no adverbs and no unnecessary complexity.

The third one is paragraph. Good writer write in short paragraphs. Books with big paragraphs are about complex topics and concepts. Paragraphs should come naturally, they are like the beat of the book. You would get it after a lot of practice.

Writing Rhythm and process

He writes primarily in the morning, every day. When he is writing a book, he never takes a break. He takes a nap, does small stuff in the noon. Watches TV, does important rewriting, interacts with family etc in the evening. He aims to write 15-20 pages which is about 2000 words every day. That becomes 1,80,000 words in three months which is the right length for a novel. That is the timeline he gives for the first draft. He recommends that the writer should aim at 1000 words every day in the beginning to make sure that the motivation remains.

The place of writing is important too. It should be a place that you can lock from inside to tell other people that you are working. You can have a desk and a chair that makes you comfortable and helps you get in the flow(my words). He listens to music while writing, again with the purpose of tuning out the external world. That way you can writer anywhere without the distraction and the sounds of the external world. He avoids having phone in the room.

Importance of Reading

Reading is extremely important for writing. Anyone who says he wants to write but does not read is going to be a bad writer. Reading tells you how other writers sketch their characters, build the plot, use the language and make the story interesting. He reads approximately 70-80 books every year which is 6 books a month.

Plot and situation

Plotting is unnecessary. The situation is the primary thing. The secondary thing is the characters and the plot emerges after you start putting the characters in a situation and seeing them come out of it using their own ingeniousness. In “Misery” he came out with the situation of an author being put in captivity by a senile woman and wrote it on a piece of paper. The idea was so strong that he reached the hotel and wrote 16 pages. The concept of the vamp asking the author to write the sequel of misery just for her came much later. In the process, he also discovered that the author was much more resourceful and the vamp much crueler than he initially thought. These things will come as you start writing and treat yourself as the first reader. You should also practice “Show, don’t tell” for the characterization and let the character express themselves in dialog, situations or scenes rather thank giving the information about them directly to the reader.

Too much detail about character or locations is not that important. Details like “he had a sharp nose and big eyebrows” is not required since the reader likes to fill in the details with her own imagination. That is in fact the advantage books have over movies. Movies have to give too much detail just by the visuals. You do not have to describe the place also in too much detail. You should describe it the way you remember it after some time not as if you are describing it as you are seeing it. The reader does not want to read a brochure of a realtor. He is primarily interested in the story and where the place leads the characters and the interaction between them that drives the story forward.


It is important to use all the tools at your disposal for carrying the story. Anything that takes the story forward and makes it stronger can be used. Symbolism definitely can take the story forward. He gives the example of “Carrie”, where blood is used as a device for symbolism. It is shown in all the important events in the book. But he also warns that most of the times symbolism actually works against the story and hence you should be careful before using it. A similar phenomenon works for most of the literary tools like alliteration, metaphor etc. They should not be used only for ornamental purposes. If it takes away the life of the story, they are just not worth it. You should not use them for showing your command on the subject.

Drafts and revision

The first draft should be the “Closed door draft”. In this draft, you should write whatever comes to your mind without inviting any external opinions or criticisms. The only thing he allows is to look at the backstories of the characters, basically anything that is absolutely needed for the coherence of the story. After the first draft is finished, you should just keep it away for six week minimum. When you come back to it, you will see this as a familiar yet unfamiliar story. Something that seems to be written by you but has the flavor of being someone else’s story. Obvious holes in the story would be visible to you. You write the second draft and remove those holes, add scenes that improve the core message of the story and remove the ones that drains the core message. He shares that second draft with 6-8 people he trusts. He thinks that two drafts are enough. Some other people like Vonnegut write each page perfectly, rewriting it many times, so that when they put those pages together, it is the finished product. You can have your own style of writing and rewriting till you feel good about it.

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