©2020 by Sarah Downey

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Quotes about writing from Stephen King's "On Writing"



I read Stephen King's "On Writing" recently and loved it. It's full of great quotes about writing. I compiled all the ones that I highlighted while reading below.


The book is half autobiography, half writing advice. I've been a fan of Stephen King since I was a kid, so probably had extra appreciation for his story about becoming a writer, but any writer will find it interesting. It's like the storytelling version of Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style."  



On rewriting: “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story,” he said. “When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”


On the myth that most creative people are also substance abusers: "The idea that creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time...Hemingway and Fitzgerald didn’t drink because they were creative, alienated, or morally weak. They drank because it’s what alkies are wired up to do."


On getting out in the world to find writing inspiration: "Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around."


On vocabulary: "The basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful."


On passive voice: "Strunk and White don’t speculate as to why so many writers are attracted to passive verbs, but I’m willing to; I think timid writers like them for the same reason timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe."


On avoiding adverbs: "I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops."


On formal tone: "Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes."


On becoming a writer: "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."


On always carrying a book with you: "Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life. I take a book with me everywhere I go, and find there are all sorts of opportunities to dip in. The trick is to teach yourself to read in small sips as well as in long swallows. Waiting rooms were made for books— of course! But so are theater lobbies before the show, long and boring checkout lines, and everyone’s favorite, the john. You can even read while you’re driving, thanks to the audiobook revolution. Of the books I read each year, anywhere from six to a dozen are on tape."


On escapism: "When you write, you want to get rid of the world, do you not? Of course you do. When you’re writing, you’re creating your own worlds."


On creating stories: "...my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves."


On painting a narrative picture: "Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s."


On writers who bog down their pages with excessive details (ahem, George R. R. Martin): "In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it “got boring,” the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling."


On using realistic language: "If you substitute “Oh sugar!” for “Oh shit!” because you’re thinking about the Legion of Decency, you are breaking the unspoken contract that exists between writer and reader— your promise to express the truth of how people act and talk through the medium of a made-up story."


On editing down a second draft: "Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%."


On providing backstory: "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. Stick to the parts that are, and don’t get carried away with the rest."


On getting started: "The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better."


#stephenking #onwriting #grammar