Top 10 Writing Tips from Stephen King

In March, I met Doug Heuck, publisher of Pittsburgh Quarterly. His best advice to me as a writer is to read not only great literature but books on writing.

One book Heuck recommended is Stephen King’s On Writing. King’s book takes an honest look into his journey as a writer and the art of writing. I underlined, bracketed, and wrote notes throughout the book, and since reading it, I have grown as a writer. On Writing is a must-read for any writer working toward his or her dream.

10 favorite quotes:

  1. “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out” (57).
  2. On learning from writing Carrie: “The most important is that the writer’s original perception of a character or characters may be as erroneous as the reader’s. Running a close second was the realization that stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea” (77).
  3. Avoid passive verbs: “I think timid writers like them for the same reason timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe” (123).
  4. “The adverb is not your friend. … With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or picture across” (124).
  5. “I would argue that the paragraph, not the sentence, is the basic unit of writing—the place where coherence begins and words stand a chance of becoming more than mere words” (134).
  6. “So we read to experience the mediocre and the outright rotten; such experience helps us to recognize those things when they begin to creep into our own work, and to steer clear of them. We also read in order to measure ourselves against the good and the great, to get a sense of all that can be done. And we read in order to experience different styles” (147).
  7. “The key to good description begins with clear seeing and ends with clear writing, the kind of writing that employs fresh images and simple vocabulary” (179).
  8. “I think the best stories always end up being about the people rather than the event, which is to say character-driven” (190).
  9. On creating multi-dimensional characters: “It’s also important to remember that no one is ‘the bad’ or ‘the best friend’ or ‘the whore with a heart of gold’ in real life; in real life we each of us regard ourselves as the main character, the protagonist, the big cheese, the camera is on us, baby” (190).
  10. “But once your basic story is on paper, you need to think about what it means and enrich your following drafts with your conclusions” (208).
Sarah Dunlap

About Sarah Dunlap

I am a Pittsburgh native and an English major and Communications minor at Nyack College Rockland Campus. I am a devoted dancer, avid reader, and an aspiring writer. "Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences." - Sylvia Plath
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