Stephen King is one of the most successful, prolific writers alive today.
He’s published 65 novels and sold over 350m copies. His books have been turned into countless movies. And even at 76 he still publishes a book or two per year.
So what’s his secret? And what can we learn from him about how to write, and how to write well?
Today I decided to share my notes from his memoir, “On Writing,” one of my favorite books about writing and a fantastic glimpse into his personal life.
Here are some of my favorite highlights from the book.
And as always, if you want to listen to the audio, subscribe to the Nat’s Notes podcast on YouTube, Spotify, Apple, Amazon, or anywhere else you listen to podcasts by searching “Nat’s Notes.”
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This is honestly the best tool out there for getting more out of everything you read. And they’re offering readers of Nat’s Notes a 2 month free trial to check it out. Just go to readwise.io/nat to get started.
“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.”
“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.”
“Remember that the basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful.”
“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.”
“One learns most clearly what not to do by reading bad prose—one novel like Asteroid Miners (or Valley of the Dolls, Flowers in the Attic, and The Bridges of Madison County, to name just a few) is worth a semester at a good writing school, even with the superstar guest lecturers thrown in.”
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
“Still, I believe the first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season… I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words. That’s 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book—something in which the reader can get happily lost, if the tale is done well and stays fresh.”
“Good fiction always begins with story and progresses to theme; it almost never begins with theme and progresses to story.”
“Much of it has been about how you can do it better. The rest of it—and perhaps the best of it—is a permission slip: you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”
As always, if you want to listen to the audio, subscribe to the Nat’s Notes podcast on YouTube, Spotify, Apple, Amazon, or anywhere else you listen to podcasts by searching “Nat’s Notes.”
I’ll be back next week with more notes from a great book!