Writing Tips

How To Use Stephen King’s "On Writing" Advice

By December 1, 2013 25 Comments

Stephen King On Writing
Stephen King’s On Writing chronicles his writing career from the rejection-slip-collecting kid to the bestselling horror novelist he will become. The book also contains extremely useful writing advice, three of which I’ve been using regularly:

1. Look at a blank wall when you’re writing.

There’s a science to the necessity of the blank wall for writers. Studies conducted at Duke University reveal that our everyday environment triggers repeated behaviours regardless of willpower.

“You need the room, you need the door, and you need the determination to shut the door.”

If you’re easily distracted when writing (like me), change your environment! I’ve quit Facebook, blocked Youtube, and set my phone aside when it’s time to write. Walls are bare to resemble a blank canvas. I’m currently revamping my writing space until it becomes a Kazimir Malevich painting. Success?

Macbook On White Table

2. Don’t actively search for inspiration.

In Stephen King’s own words:

“Your job isn’t to find ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

This is similar to the “write what you know” philosophy. Inspiration is sourced from the places you’ve been, people you’ve met, and things you’ve done. Add a touch of the unknown, a willingness to explore, and you’ll have stories bombarding you left and right.

Since I replaced Google with the world around me, I started noticing the everyday stories, like

Amsterdam Dam Square Musician

A River Phoenix lookalike sipping mystery juice in Amsterdam’s Dam Square.

MIllie Ho graduation UWO

Me, looking slightly murderous, on graduation day.

Blonde girl running

The strange way children’s limbs bend when they rush towards a parent.

3. You need to have a great writing support group.

Stephen King had his wife Tabitha, who believed in him when he didn’t. As a first reader and critic, Tabitha is also vocal about what she doesn’t like:

When she catches me in a goof, I know it, and thank God I’ve got someone around who’ll tell me my fly’s unzipped before I go out in public that way.

Outside of boosting morale and wielding the editor’s pen, the support system brings the additional benefit of automating the writing process. Everything becomes easier once you know, almost on reflex, the next step in the process of production, and the fact that somebody cares, and is holding you accountable.

Sure enough, I’m back on WordPress, making To-Do lists, and trying to update my support group on my daily word count. I occasionally fail, but I’ll keep at it, and fail better.

What do you think of Stephen King’s advice? Do you have a different writing approach?

Join the discussion 25 Comments

  • Illie says:

    Great! I can’t have a blank wall for the walls around me are covered in shelves and stuffs from shelves, however I understand your needs. 😀 I can shut out the world if I’m into what I’m writing deep enough. But I’m gonna try it! Thanks!

  • steve says:

    I like the three Stephen King suggestions, but like the Millie Ho suggestion even more…writing with music in the ears.

    • steve says:

      Your efforts are admirable Millie. Imposing a simpler life on ourselves is maybe trickier than ever before. I especially like your flight form google and seeking answers outside. It’s maybe more rewarding to uncover a more primary source whether it’s an authentic interview, trip to the library and rifling through books or your example-the sights and sounds. Cheers Millie!

      • Millie Ho says:

        Thanks, Steve! A lot of discovery comes from sheer serendipity. For example, I was in a Scottish restaurant today, and a man with a grey face and a matching grey fedora looked at me like I was his loathed great-aunt reincarnated, so now he’s in my story as Man With Poor Impulse Control #2.

        A trip to the library is rare nowadays. I’ll do that sometime.

        • steve says:

          I had no idea there was such a thing as a scottish restaurant. Yeh, of course our own experiences appear in our dreams later that night or as characters in novels if writing is what we like to do. I guess it’s the same for everyone. We can only know what we experience. I once had a gold fish, but put it in a pot that was too small and it died. Oh well.

          • kvennarad says:

            We have loads of them in Scotland.

          • steve says:

            I’m not too into restaurants, but definitely hold a soft spot and a hungry belly for any restaurant that calls itself an english one. The few I’ve eaten at always fill me up and it’s always easy…no complicated cutlery or twister situations with the long pepper shaker.

            Restaurants with the word english or american in the name is just something i never associate with fine dining, but then again i run away from fine dining. It scares away my appetite. I guess I’m in luck because english is my favorite language so the next scottish, welshian, irish, canadian, american or whatever other english restaurant i bump into, I’m going in for at least some french fries.

  • kvennarad says:

    If nothing else has come of this, I have been practicing looking slightly murderous.

    My own writing method is rather like W G Sebald’s method for academic research, which he described as ‘running around like a dog in a field’.

    • Millie Ho says:

      Make a mind map! And then colour-code it to smithereens.

      What introductory Sebald text do you recommend?

      • kvennarad says:

        I must admit to having read very little and to having been confused by what I did read – I just loved the idea of someone who was a respected university professor admitting to a totally random research method. For recommendations you should go to my agent, who studied Sebald as part of his own university course, and is planning eventually to write a Masters thesis on WGS. To me he recommended ‘The Emigrants’. Barely discernable as a novel because it includes reportage, personal reminiscences, fictionalised factual stories, and photographs, it is ‘about’ the experience of not so much Holocaust-survivors but individuals who had moved away from central Europe in the early-mid 20c, how their pre-WW2 bourgeois European-Jewish culture was lost, and how space and time closes in on them. My agent says maybe ‘Austerlitz’ is an easier read, focusing more on a single character but on much the same theme; in fact the book was controversial because Sebald was accused of ‘stealing’ a true story to write it. But a confusion of fact and fiction is part of Sebald’s style. I really must get around to reading his books myself some time.

  • Eric Alagan says:

    I go for almost daily walks/jogs/bicycling – always return brimming with ideas!

  • Awesome message Millie, I am so very happy my computer issues and my illness behind me so that I may now embrace and enjoy your posts daily once again! Have a wonderful week ahead and know that what you share is important to us all! Hugs and blessings my sister!

  • pretzellogic says:

    oh, i love that book. it taught me so many things. still learning from it.

  • Hi Millie,
    I really enjoyed this post. I don’t have any blank walls, but I do better when it is quiet in the house. I do have a standing date–once a week I go to a Barnes and Noble Starbucks to write with a couple of friends. It’s noisy there, but for some reason I can tune that out much better than the ones around my house. Congratulations on your graduation! Best of luck with your writing.

  • Thomas says:

    I like his advice about not forcing the inspiration thing. I get up early and just start writing. I don’t let myself quit early. Sometimes I create something worth reading; many times I don’t. You have to move a lot of dirt to find a little gold.

  • Ron says:

    Hi, Millie. Your work never ceases to amaze me. Glad to see you back. Congrats on your graduation. I’ve got King’s book on writing. It’s a good motivator. I’ve got to catch up on your blog posts. Cheers…

  • disperser says:

    I must be the only person who got little to nothing out of that book . . .

    I like a cozy, semi-cluttered environment; I write with music in my ears – currently epic music; I’m not much for writing groups, or groups of any kind; I strive to write stuff I don’t know (for instance, I don’t know how any writer of fantasy can say they write what they know . . . certainly Rawling did not attend a school for wizards, and she’s not now or ever was a boy. As a seat-of-the-pants writer, I don’t look for inspiration; I just start writing, so that’s one I agree with.

    Then again, I write; I’m not a writer (not published, so not a writer), so what do I know.

  • kikonizzy says:

    Dear Millie, I admire you so much, your youth, exuberance, DRIVE to do the things you love. I see myself slipping away, never realizing my potential as an artist, as a writer, as a whole. I allowed a complete stranger’s inappropriate and mean criticism on my blog cause me to doubt my writing, to doubt myself. Why am I so vulnerable? I know, you don’t know me-but your writing resonates with me…I just needed to tell someone.:-) Lucky you! Keep doing what you do, Miss Millie! I am all for you!

    • Millie Ho says:

      Thank you for the nice comment, Kikonizzy! Never let others bring you down. Keep writing, because there’s only one person in the world with your voice, and that’s you.

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