I like to get a jump start on NaNoWriMo. Like a two month jump start. What can I say, it’s my favorite time of year! Picking a project to work on, starting my research, getting logged onto the site for the first time in months, and letting the anticipation build as November creeps closer. It’s a great time to break out my books about writing for a refresher course, and On Writing is one of my favorites. I have a plethora of Stephen King quotes stuck to the wall above my desk thanks to his quasi-memoir writing guide.
Like all books about writing, which tend to be—surprise—written by writers, On Writing isn’t perfect. And despite my love for Stephen King—as a writer, a hometown hero, and a pretty decent human being, not to mention as the owner of the cutest, scariest corgi to ever terrorize the earth—he’s not perfect either. He has some opinions that make me cringe, and On Writing, like some of his novels, has a tendency to ramble. But there’s a reason my creative writing professors used to tout it as a must-read for would-be writers. When it comes to a straight forward discussion of the basics, it can’t be beat.
Bath time for Molly, aka the Thing of Evil. She's not pleased. The dirtier the better is her motto. pic.twitter.com/JfEok4JDg2
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) June 29, 2019
(What would a Stephen King post be without an obligatory snap shot of Molly, the Thing of Evil?)
I picked out 15 of my favorite quotes from On Writing, in celebration of the start of Pre-Pre-NaNo Prep, to inspire all you wrimos and everyday writers, plotters, pantsers, scribblers, and scribes. So get out those sticky notes and get ready to jot some down for your inspiration wall!
Stephen King Quotes on How to Start Writing
“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.” (101)
This is one of my favorite Stephen King quotes, especially for NaNoWriMo. Everyone knows that November is a month of scrambling for minutes, words, and one more cup of coffee. When I was in college I used to write all night long sometimes, and having fellow wrimo friends was the only thing that kept me from becoming a dorm room hermit for four weeks. It’s…not a good look. So as much fun as we’re going to have, don’t forget that even when you’re living that writing life, you still have to keep living. (And showering. And eating real food that doesn’t contain some form of espresso.)
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” (145)
“Books are uniquely portable magic.” (104)
I mean how can I even talk about On Writing without mentioning this quote? It’s become legend. You can get it on a print, a t-shirt, a mug, or a bookmark. You can even do it up as a cross-stitch if you’re feeling do-it-yourself-ish!
“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair—the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your firsts clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. […] Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.” (106)
Stephen King Quotes on the Writing Process
“It’s best to have your tools with you. If you don’t, you’re apt to find something you didn’t expect and get discouraged.” (114)
This quote precedes the “toolbox” section of On Writing, which is full of really helpful tips for writers. And I included both it and this second quote,
“I’m just another ordinary sinner.” (127)
Because one of the things I love most about King’s writing guide is that he makes a bunch of suggestions about what might help your writing, then turns around and tells you that he’s just as guilty as the rest of us of ignoring or breaking the rules. It’s breaking them with style that really matters. We’re all sinners in the eyes of the merciless writing gods.
“Stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea” (77)
Honestly, King should just @ me next time he wants to call out all my writing failures like that. I am a serial story killer, I swear. But even if it’s easier, ditching stories rather than fighting through the false starts, plot holes, etc. that plague first drafts does not a finished book produce. Sometimes you’ve got to channel your inner Dory.
“I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.” (127)
“The most interesting situations can usually be expressed as a What-if question” (169)
There’s this great scene in Misery, where the main character Paul plays the “Can I?” game with himself as a way of describing the writing process. Okay this is that situation my characters are in? “Can I” get them out of it? This idea of creating situations centered around a “What-if” question and using that to drive your writing strikes me as very similar.
“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.” (77)
Ugh those first drafts, right? Honestly, “shovel[ing] shit from a sitting position” is the most accurate description of the drafting process I’ve ever come across. This is the second half of that “don’t give up on difficult projects” quote up above and again, seriously, just @ me, King.
“Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like The Lord of the Rings, the work is always accomplished one word at a time.” (156)
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.” (174)
We all know show don’t tell (which is my favorite writing rule to break), but the other half of that is: don’t show too much. I’m not kidding about breaking this rule all the time. I always forget that if you give it all up you’ll give away the game. The monster in the corner is much more frightening when all you can see is the glow of its eyes.
Stephen King Quotes About Writing What You Love
“There’s nothing wrong with writing any of these things [sci-fi, romance, mystery, etc.]. What would be very wrong, I think, is to turn away from what you know and like (or love[…]) in favor of things you believe will impress your friends, relatives, and writing circle colleagues.” (159)
Thankfully, NaNoWriMo thrives on the blood of genre writers (we select one wrimo every year for sacrifice). So it’s one of the least judgmental places to tackle that genre WIP you’ve been planning. But the real world always seems ready to kick genre fiction in the teeth, so just remember to write what you love and flip off everyone who complains. Everyone.
“Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex, and work.” (161)
“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.” (270)
These are the last few lines of On Writing, and together they make up my second favorite quote. This is the one I want on a shirt, a mug, and/or a giant 10 foot banner hung on the wall in my living room. You CAN, you SHOULD, and you WILL write. All you have to do is be brave.
We’ve got a long while yet to go until NaNoWriMo. But while we’re all busy prepping our hearts out for the next however many weeks, remember to: stock your toolbox, don’t give up on that obnoxious outline, pick a project that you love, and get ready to write bravely! I’ll see you in November.
Looking for some resources to get you ready for November? Check out these book lists perfect for wrimos:
(Even More) Books to Get You Writing