Book Reviews

On Writing by Stephen King -Book Notes, Summary, and Review

38. On Writing - Stephen King

Get it on Amazon

Rating: 9/10

Date of reading: 23rd of September – 6th of October, 2017

Description: When people ask me what they need to read to start their writer’s journey, this book always comes first. Writing lessons from one of the most successful and prolific writers of all times, Stephen King, on how to create and incubate ideas, how to write, how to edit, how to listen to feedback, and, in the end, how to touch your reader’s souls. 


My notes:


First, Second, and Third Foreword


“One notable exception to the bullshit rule is The Elements of Style,by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White. There is little or no detectable bullshit in that book. (Of course it’s short; at eighty-five pages it’s much shorter than this one.) I’ll tell you right now that every aspiring writer should read The Elements of Style. Rule 17 in the chapter titled Principles of Composition is “Omit needless words.” I will try to do that here.” ( :10)

“Put another way, to write is human, to edit is divine. Chuck Verrill edited this book, as he has so many of my novels. And as usual, Chuck, you were divine.” ( :11)




“Most of that year I spent either in bed or housebound. I read my way through approximately six tons of comic books, progressed to Tom Swift and Dave Dawson (a heroic World War II pilot whose various planes were always “prop-clawing for altitude”), then moved on to Jack London’s bloodcurdling animal tales.” ( :23)

“Four stories. A quarter apiece. That was the first buck I made in this business.” ( :25)

“with big handfuls of shiny green leaves. These turned out to be poison ivy.” ( :27)

“My story was rejected, but Forry kept it. (Forry keeps everything,which anyone who has ever toured his house—the Ackermansion—will tell you.) About twenty years later, while I was signing autographs at a Los Angeles bookstore, Forry turned up in line . . . with my story, single-spaced and typed with the long-vanished Royal typewriter my mom gave me for Christmas the year I was eleven.” ( :31)

“On Writing My story was rejected, but Forry kept it. (Forry keeps everything,which anyone who has ever toured his house—the Ackermansion—will tell you.) About twenty years later, while I was signing autographs at a Los Angeles bookstore, Forry turned up in line . . . with my story, single-spaced and typed with the long-vanished Royal typewriter my mom gave me for Christmas the year I was eleven. He wanted me to sign it to him, and I guess I did, although the whole encounter was so 35” ( :31)

“surreal I can’t be completely sure. Talk about your ghosts. Man oh man.” ( :32)

“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.” ( :33)

“S&H green. I thought how nice it would be if you could make those damned stamps in your basement, and in that instant a story called “Happy Stamps” was born. The concept of counterfeiting Green Stamps and the sight of my mother’s green tongue created it in an instant.” ( :34)

“”Loose pages plus paperclip equal correct way to submit copy.”” ( :36)

“Algis Budrys, then the editor of Fantasy and Science Fiction,who read a story of mine called “The Night of the Tiger” (the inspiration was, I think, an episode of The Fugitive in which Dr. Richard Kimble worked as an attendant cleaning out cages in a zoo or a circus) and wrote: “This is good. Not for us, but good. You have talent. Submit again.”” ( :37)

“Although he was a year younger than his classmates, my big brother was bored with high school. Some of this had to do with his intellect—Dave’s IQ tested in the 150s or 160s— but I think it was mostly his restless nature.” ( :37)

“I was ashamed. I have spent a good many years since—too many, I think—being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all. I’m not editorializing, just trying to give you the facts as I see them.” ( :46)

“In the end, Miss Margitan settled for a formal apology and two weeks of detention for the bad boy who had dared call her Maggot in print. It was bad, but what in high school is not?” ( :50)

“I wrote, and that much I could understand. I doubt that she hated me—she was probably too busy—but she was the National Honor Society advisor at LHS, and when my name showed up on the candidate list two years later, she vetoed me. The Honor Society did not need boys “of his type,” she said.” ( :50)

“”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 notthe story.”” ( :53)

“One day late in my final semester at college, finals over and at loose ends, I recalled the dyehouse guy’s story about the rats under the mill—big as cats, goddam, some as big as dogs—and started writing a story called “Graveyard Shift.” I was only passing the time on a late spring afternoon, but two months later Cavalier magazine bought the story for two hundred dollars. I had sold two other stories previous to this, but they had brought in a total of just sixty-five dollars. This was three times that, and at a single stroke. It took my breath away, it did. I was rich.” ( :56)

“There were times—especially in summer, while swallowing my afternoon salt-pill—when it occurred to me that I was simply repeating my mother’s life. Usually this thought struck me as funny. But if I happened to be tired, or if there were extra bills to pay and no money to pay them with, it seemed awful. I’d think This isn’t the way our lives are supposed to be going.Then I’d think Half the world has the same idea.” ( :66)

“I managed to get the downstairs door open without dropping my daughter and was easing her inside (she was so feverish she glowed against my chest like a banked coal) when I saw there was an envelope sticking out of our mailbox—a rare Saturday delivery. Young marrieds don’t get much mail; everyone but the gas and electric companies seems to forget they are alive. I snagged it, praying it wouldn’t turn out to be another bill. It wasn’t. My friends at the Dugent Publishing Corporation, purveyors of Cavalierand many other fine adult publications, had sent me a check for “Sometimes They Come Back,” a long story I hadn’t believed would sell anywhere. The check was for five hundred dollars, easily the largest sum I’d ever received.” ( :67)

“And whenever I see a first novel dedicated to a wife (or a husband), I smile and think, There’s someone who knows.” ( :70)

“And whenever I see a first novel dedicated to a wife (or a husband), I smile and think, There’s someone who knows.Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough.” ( :70)

“This memory came back to me one day while I was working at the laundry, and I started seeing the opening scene of a story: girls showering in a locker room where there were no U-rings, pink plastic curtains, or privacy. And this one girl starts to have her period. Only she doesn’t know what it is, and the other girls—grossed out, horrified, amused—start pelting her with sanitary napkins. Or with tampons, which Harry had called pussy-plugs. The girl begins to scream. All that blood! She thinks she’s dying, that the other girls are making fun of her even while she’s bleeding to death . . . she reacts . . . fights back . . . but how?” ( :71)

“I’d read an article in Lifemagazine some years before, suggesting that at least some reported poltergeist activity might actually be telekinetic phenomena—telekinesis being the ability to move objects just by thinking about them. There was some evidence to suggest that young people might have such powers, the article said, especially girls in early adolescence, right around the time of their first— Pow! Two unrelated ideas, adolescent cruelty and telekinesis, came together, and I had an idea. I didn’t leave my post at Washex #2, didn’t go running around the laundry waving my arms and shouting “Eureka!,”” ( :71)

“had four problems with what I’d written. First and least important was the fact that the story didn’t move me emotionally. Second and slightly more important was the fact that I didn’t much like the lead character. Carrie White seemed thick and passive, a ready-made victim. The other girls were chucking tampons and sanitary napkins at her, chanting “Plug it up! Plug it up!” and I just didn’t care. Third and more important still was not feeling at home with either the surroundings or my all-girl cast of supporting characters. I had landed on Planet Female, and one sortie into the girls’ locker room at Brunswick High School years before wasn’t much help in navigating there. For me writing has always been best when it’s intimate, as sexy as skin on skin. With Carrie I felt as if I were wearing a rubber wet-suit I couldn’t pull off. Fourth and most important of all was the realization that the story wouldn’t pay off unless it was pretty long, probably even longer than “Sometimes They Come Back,” which had been at the absolute outer limit of what the men’s magazine market could accept in terms of word-count.” ( :72)

“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.” ( :73)

“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” ( :73)

“When the school year ended she was still wearing them, although by then the weather was much too hot for wool and there were always beads of sweat at her temples and on her upper lip. The home permanent wasn’t repeated and the new clothes took on a matted, dispirited look, but the teasing had dropped back to its pre-Christmas levels and the taunting stopped entirely. Someone made a break for the fence and had to be knocked down, that was all. Once the escape was foiled and the entire company of prisoners was once more accounted for, life could go back to normal.” ( :77)

“Bill Thompson (who would later go on to discover a Mississippi scribbler named John Grisham)” ( :79)


“Before it occurred to me that I might actually need an agent, I had generated well over three million dollars’ worth of income, a good deal of it for the publisher.” ( :79)

“I said it was—not likely, perhaps, but possible. I also reminded her that my contract specified a fifty-fifty paperback split, which meant that if Ballantine or Dell did pay sixty grand, we’d only get thirty.” ( :80)

“”You might,” he said. “The paperback rights to Carrie went to Signet Books for four hundred thousand dollars.” When I was a little kid, Daddy Guy had once said to my mother: “Why don’t you shut that kid up, Ruth? When Stephen opens his mouth, all his guts fall out.”” ( :82)

“I was still standing in the doorway, looking across the living room toward our bedroom and the crib where Joe slept. Our place on Sanford Street rented for ninety dollars a month and this man I’d only met once face-to-face was telling me I’d just won the lottery. The strength ran out of my legs. I didn’t fall, exactly, but I kind of whooshed down to a sitting position there in the doorway.” ( :82)

“I told her again. Tabby looked over my shoulder at our shitty little four-room apartment, just as I had, and began to cry.” ( :83)

“Ten years or so later I’m in an Irish saloon with Bill Thompson. We have lots to celebrate, not the least of which is the completion of my third book, The Shining.” ( :87)

“Alcoholics build defenses like the Dutch build dikes. I spent the first twelve years or so of my married life assuring myself that I “just liked to drink.” I also employed the world-famous Hemingway Defense. Although never clearly articulated (it would not be manly to do so), the Hemingway Defense goes something like this: as a writer, I am a very sensitive fellow, but I am also a man, and real men don’t give in to their sensitivities. Only sissy-men do that. Therefore I drink. How else can I face the existential horror of it all and continue to work? Besides, come on, I can handle it. A real man always can.” ( :90)

“out there to toss in a few dead soldiers and saw that this container, which had been empty on Monday night, was now almost full. And since I was the only one in the house who drank Miller Lite— Holy shit, I’m an alcoholic,” ( :91)

“I did think, though—as well as I could in my addled state—and what finally decided me was Annie Wilkes, the psycho nurse in Misery. Annie was coke, Annie was booze, and I decided I was tired of being Annie’s pet writer. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to work anymore if I quit drinking and drugging, but I decided (again, so far as I was able to decide anything in my distraught and depressed state of mind) that I would trade writing for staying married and watching the kids grow up. If it came to that.” ( :94)

“It didn’t, of course. The idea that creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time.” ( :94)

“Any claims that the drugs and alcohol are necessary to dull a finer sensibility are just the usual self-serving bullshit.” ( :94)

“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. Creative people probably do run a greater risk of alcoholism and addiction than those in some other jobs, but so what? We all look pretty much the same when we’re puking in the gutter.” ( :95)

“We’re having a meeting of the minds. I sent you a table with a red cloth on it, a cage, a rabbit, and the number eight in blue ink. You got them all, especially that blue eight. We’ve engaged in an act of telepathy. No mythy-mountain shit; real telepathy.” ( :102)




“”Yeah, but Stevie,” he said, bending to grasp the handles, “I didn’t know what else I might find to do once I got out here, did I? 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.”” ( :108)

“Common tools go on top. The commonest of all, the bread of writing, is vocabulary. In this case, you can happily pack what you have without the slightest bit of guilt and inferiority. As the whore said to the bashful sailor, “It ain’t how much you’ve got, honey, it’s how you use it.”” ( :108)

“The Steinbeck sentence is especially interesting. It’s fifty words long. Of those fifty words, thirty-nine have but one syllable. That leaves eleven, but even that number is deceptive; Steinbeck uses because three times, owner twice, and hated twice.” ( :110)

“don’t make any conscious effort to improve it. (You’ll be doing that as you read, of course . . . but that comes later.)” ( :111)

“embarrassed. Make yourself a solemn promise right now that you’ll never use “emolument” when you mean “tip” and you’ll never say John stopped long enough to perform an act of excretion when you mean John stopped long enough to take a shit.” ( :111)

“vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful.” ( :112)

“And do feel free to take appropriateness into account; as George Carlin once observed, in some company it’s perfectly all right to prick your finger, but very bad form to finger your prick.” ( :112)

“You’ll also want grammar on the top shelf of your toolbox, and don’t annoy me with your moans of exasperation or your cries that you don’t understand grammar, you never did understandgrammar, you flunked that whole semesterin Sophomore English, writing is fun but grammar sucks the big one.” ( :112)

“between a gerund (verb form used as a noun) and a participle (verb form used as an adjective).” ( :113)

“American grammar doesn’t have the sturdiness of British grammar (a British advertising man with a proper education can make magazine copy for ribbed condoms sound like the Magna goddam Carta), but it has its own scruffy charm.” ( :113)

“Bad grammar produces bad sentences. My favorite example from Strunk and White is this one: “As a mother of five, with another one on the way, my ironing board is always up.”” ( :114)

“”Unless he is certain of doing well, [the writer] will probably do best to follow the rules.”” ( :115)

“Take any noun, put it with any verb, and you have a sentence. It never fails. Rocks explode. Jane transmits. Mountains float. These are all perfect sentences. Many such thoughts make little rational sense, but even the stranger ones (Plums deify!) have a kind of poetic weight that’s nice.” ( :115)

“Besides, all those simple sentences worked for Hemingway, didn’t they?” ( :115)

“On Writing find a copy of Warriner’s English Grammar 121” ( :115)

“and Composition” ( :116)

“Verbs come in two types, active and passive. With an active verb, the subject of the sentence is doing something. With a passive verb, something is being done tothe subject of the sentence. The subject is just letting it happen. You should avoid the passive tense. I’m not the only one who says so; you can find the same advice in The Elements of Style.” ( :116)

“The timid fellow writes The meeting will be held at seven o’clockbecause that somehow says to him, “Put it this way and people will believe you really know.” Purge this quisling thought! Don’t be a muggle! Throw back your shoulders, stick out your chin, and put that meeting in charge! Write The meeting’s at seven.There, by God! Don’t you feel better?” ( :117)

“My first kiss will always be recalled by me as how my romance with Shayna was begun.Oh, man—who farted, right?” ( :117)

“My romance with Shayna began with our first kiss. I’ll never forget it.” ( :118)

“The adverb is not your friend. Adverbs, you will remember from your own version of Business English, are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs.” ( :118)

“He closed the door and He slammed the door, and you’ll get no argument from me . . . but what about context?” ( :119)

“On Writing “Put it down!” she shouted. “Give it back,” he pleaded, “it’s mine.” “Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,” Utterson said. In these sentences, shouted, pleaded, and said are verbs of dialogue attribution. Now look at these dubious revisions: 125″ ( :119)

“”Put it down!” she shouted menacingly. “Give it back,” he pleaded abjectly, “it’s mine.” “Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,” Utterson said contemptuously.” ( :120)

“Stephen King “Put down the gun, Utterson!” Jekyll grated. “Never stop kissing me!” Shayna gasped. “You damned tease!” Bill jerked out. 126″ ( :120)

“Don’t do these things. Please oh please. The best form of dialogue attribution is said, as in he said, she said, Bill said, Monica said.” ( :121)

“use he said, the reader will know how he said it—fast or slowly, happily or sadly. Your man may be floundering in a swamp, and by all means throw him a rope if he is . . . but there’s no need to knock him unconscious with ninety feet of steel cable.” ( :122)

“All I ask is that you do as well as you can, and remember that, while to write adverbs is human, to write he saidor she saidis divine.” ( :122)

“(They are offered with a refreshing strictness, beginning with the rule on how to form possessives: you always add ‘s, even when the word you’re modifying ends in s—always write Thomas’s bikeand never Thomas’ bike—and ending with ideas about where it’s best to place the most important parts of a sentence.” ( :123)

“The most interesting paragraph is the fifth one: Big Tony sat down, lit a cigarette, ran a hand through his hair.It’s only a single sentence long, and expository paragraphs almost never consist of a single sentence. It’s not even a very goodsentence, technically speaking; to make it perfect in the Warriner’s sense, there should be a conjunction (and).Also, what exactly is the purpose of this paragraph?” ( :127)

Stil referenca: Dugi i kratki referentni stil. koristi “he said, she said” – bez dodatnih pridjevaKratki razgovori kao paragrafi. Dugački opisi kao veliki paragrafi. Ali bez dodatnih pridjeva zacrtano raspoloženje. (note on p.129)


“They build some of wood a plank at a time and some of brick a brick at a time. You will build a paragraph at a time, constructing these of your vocabulary and your knowledge of grammar and basic style.” ( :130)

“TV program could ever hope to provide. Even after a thousand pages we don’t want to leave the world the writer has made for us, or the make-believe people who live there. You wouldn’t leave after two thousand pages, if there were two thousand. The Rings trilogy of J. R. R. Tolkien is a perfect example of this. A thousand pages of hobbits hasn’t been enough for three generations of post-World War II fantasy fans;” ( :130)

dugački opisi, ali rastavljeni kratkim i konciznim razgovorima. (note on p.130)




“The next level is much smaller. These are the really good writers. Above them—above almost all of us—are the Shakespeares, the Faulkners, the Yeatses, Shaws, and Eudora Weltys.” ( :134)

“he second is that while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.” ( :134)

“Even Charles Dickens, the Shakespeare of the novel, has faced a constant critical attack as a result of his often sensational subject matter, his cheerful fecundity (when he wasn’t creating novels, he and his wife were creating children), and,” ( :135)

kratki opisi bez viška pridjeva. ALi dobija se osjećaj i priča (note on p.136)


“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.” ( :137)

“I’m a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year, mostly fiction. I don’t read in order to study the craft; I read because I like to read. It’s what I do at night, kicked back in my blue chair.” ( :137)

“Almost everyone can remember losing his or her virginity, and most writers can remember the first book he/she put down thinking: I can do better than this. Hell, I am doing better than this!” ( :138)

“This sort of stylistic blending is a necessary part of developing one’s own style, but it doesn’t occur in a vacuum. You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true.” ( :139)

“Once weaned from the ephemeral craving for TV, most people will find they enjoy the time they spend reading. I’d like to suggest that turning off that endlessly quacking box is apt to improve the quality of your life as well as the quality of your writing.” ( :140)

“At the other end of the spectrum, there are writers like Anthony Trollope. He wrote humongous novels (Can You Forgive Her? is a fair enough example; for modern audiences it might be retitled Can You Possibly Finish It?), and” ( :143)

“John Creasey, a British mystery novelist, wrote five hundred (yes, you read it correctly) novels under ten different names. I’ve written thirty-five or so—some of Trollopian length—and am considered prolific, but I look positively blocked next to Creasey.” ( :144)

“Deify plums? I’m probably being snotty here, but I am also, believe me, honestly curious. If God gives you something you can do, why in God’s name wouldn’t you do it?” ( :144)

“The tale’s narrative cutting edge starts to rust and I begin to lose my hold on the story’s plot and pace. Worst of all, the excitement of spinning something new begins to fade. The work starts to feel like work, and for most writers that is the smooch of death.” ( :145)

“Christmas, the Fourth of July, and my birthday. That was a lie. I told them that because if you agree to an interview you have to say something, and it plays better if it’s something at least half-clever. Also, I didn’t want to sound like a workaholic dweeb (just a workaholic, I guess). The truth is that when I’m writing, I write every day, workaholic dweeb or not. That includes Christmas, the Fourth, and my birthday (at my age you try to ignore your goddam birthday anyway).” ( :145)

“I used to tell interviewers that I wrote every day except for Christmas, the Fourth of July, and my birthday. That was a lie. I told them that because if you agree to an interview you have to say something, and it plays better if it’s something at least half-clever. Also, I didn’t want to sound like a workaholic dweeb (just a workaholic, I guess). The truth is that when I’m writing, I write every day, workaholic dweeb or not. That includes Christmas, the Fourth, and my birthday (at my age you try to ignore your goddam birthday anyway).” ( :145)

“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.” ( :148)

“comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want. Anything at all . . . as long as you tell the truth.” ( :150)

“A critical assumption is sometimes made that we have access to some mystical vulgate that other (and often better) writers either cannot find or will not deign to use. I doubt if this is true. Nor do I believe the contention of some popular novelists (although she was not the only one, I am thinking of the late Jacqueline Susann) that their success is based on literary merit—that the public understands true greatness in ways the tight-assed, consumed-by-jealousy literary establishment cannot. This idea is ridiculous, a product of vanity and insecurity.” ( :152)

“What you need to remember is that there’s a difference between lecturing about what you know and using it to enrich the story. The latter is good. The former is not.” ( :153)

“In my view, stories and novels consist of three parts: narration, which moves the story from point A to point B and finally to point Z; description, which creates a sensory reality for the reader; and dialogue, which brings characters to life through their speech.” ( :155)

“Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice. The story which results from it is apt to feel artificial and labored.” ( :156)

“I lean more heavily on intuition, and have been able to do that because my books tend to be based on situation rather than story.” ( :156)

“The situation comes first. The characters—always flat and unfeatured, to begin with—come next.” ( :156)

“I can be pretty sure of keeping the reader in a state of page-turning anxiety. And why worry about the ending anyway? Why be such a control freak? Sooner or later every story comes out somewhere.” ( :157)

“It had been Rudyard Kipling’s desk, he told me with perhaps justifiable pride.” ( :158)

“”Kipling died there, actually. Of a stroke. While he was writing.”” ( :158)

“Edgar Wallace Plot Wheel. When you got stuck for the next Plot Development or needed an Amazing Turn of Events in a hurry, you simply spun the Plot Wheel and read what came up in the window: a fortuitous arrival,perhaps, or Heroine declares her love.These gadgets apparently sold like hotcakes.)” ( :159)

“Paul Sheldon turned out to be a good deal more resourceful than I initially thought, and his efforts to play Scheherazade and save his life gave me a chance to say some things about the redemptive power of writing that I had long felt but never articulated.” ( :160)

“A strong enough situation renders the whole question of plot moot, which is fine with me. The most interesting situations can usually be expressed as a What-ifquestion: What if vampires invaded a small New England village? (‘Salem’s Lot)” ( :161)

“Story is honorable and trustworthy; plot is shifty, and best kept under house arrest.” ( :162)

“This isn’t a textbook, and so there aren’t a lot of exercises, but I want to offer you one now, in case you feel that all this talk about situation replacing plot is so much woolly-headed bullshit. I am going to show you the location of a fossil. Your job is to write five or six pages of unplotted narration concerning this fossil. Put another way, I want you to dig for the bones and see what they look like. I think you may be quite surprised and delighted with the results. Ready? Here we go.” ( :162)

“Everyone is familiar with the basic details of the following story; with small variations, it seems to pop up in the Police Beat section of metropolitan daily papers every other week or so. A woman—call her Jane—marries a man who is bright, witty, and pulsing with sexual magnetism. We’ll call the guy” ( :162)

“Dick; it’s the world’s most Freudian name. Unfortunately, Dick has a dark side. He’s short-tempered, a control freak, perhaps even (you’ll find this out as he speaks and acts) a paranoid. Jane tries mightily to overlook Dick’s faults and make the marriage work (why she tries so hard is something you will also find out; she will come onstage and tell you). They have a child, and for awhile things seem better. Then, when the little girl is three or so, the abuse and the jealous tirades begin again. The abuse is verbal at first, then physical. Dick is convinced that Jane is sleeping with someone, perhaps someone from her job. Is it someone specific? I don’t know and don’t care. Eventually Dick may tell you who he suspects. If he does, we’ll both know, won’t we?” ( :163)

“It’s a pretty good story, yes? I think so, but not exactly unique. As I’ve already pointed out, ESTRANGEDHUBBYBEATSUP (or MURDERS) EXmakes the paper every other week, sad WIFE but true. What I want you to do in this exercise is change the sexes of the antagonist and protagonistbefore beginning to work out the situation in your narrative—make the ex-wife the stalker,” ( :164)

“Honesty in storytelling makes up for a great many stylistic faults, as the work of wooden-prose writers like Theodore Dreiser and Ayn Rand shows, but lying is the great unrepairable fault. Liars prosper, no question about it, but only in the grand sweep of things, never down in the jungles of actual composition, where you must take your objective one bloody word at a time.” ( :165)

“When you finish your exercise, drop me a line at and tell me how it worked for you. I can’t promise to vet every reply, but I canpromise to read at least some of your adventures with great interest. I’m curious to know what kind of fossil you dig up, and how much of it you are able to retrieve from the ground intact.” ( :165)

“what you see in your mind into words on the page. It’s far from easy. As I’ve said, we’ve all heard someone say, “Man, it was so great (or so horrible/strange/funny) . . . I just can’t describe it!” If you want to be a successful writer, you mustbe able to describe it, and in a way that will cause your reader to prickle with recognition. If you can do this, you will be paid for your labors, and deservedly so. If you can’t, you’re going to collect a lot of rejection slips and perhaps explore a career in the fascinating world of telemarketing.” ( :166)

“in the fascinating world of telemarketing. Thin description leaves the reader feeling bewildered and nearsighted. Overdescription buries him or her in details and images. The trick is to find a happy medium. It’s also important to know what to describe and what can be left alone while you get on with your main job, which is telling a story.” ( :166)

“Carrie White is a high school outcast with a bad complexion and a fashion-victim wardrobe, I think you can do the rest, can’t you?” ( :166)

“We all remember one or more high school losers, after all; if I describe mine, it freezes out yours, and I lose a little bit of the bond of understanding I want to forge between us.” ( :166)

“good fiction can weave. 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.” ( :170)

“You can tell me via straight narration that your main character, Mistuh Butts, never did well in school, never even went much to school, but you can convey the same thing, and much more vividly, by his speech . . . and one of the cardinal rules of good fiction is never tell us a thing if you can show us, instead:” ( :172)

“Loners such as Lovecraft often write it badly, or with the care of someone who is composing in a language other than his or her native tongue.” ( :175)

“nd if you are honest about the words coming out of your characters’ mouths, you’ll find that you’ve let yourself in for a fair amount of criticism. Not a week goes by that I don’t receive at least one pissed-off letter (most weeks there are more) accusing me of being foulmouthed, bigoted, homophobic, murderous, frivolous, or downright psychopathic.” ( :177)

“”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.” ( :178)

“There are lots of would-be censors out there, and although they may have different agendas, they all want basically the same thing: for you to see the world they see . . . or to at least shut up about what you dosee that’s different.” ( :179)

“Norris responded coolly and disdainfully: “What do I care for their opinions? I never truckled. I told them the truth.”” ( :181)

“neighbor picks his nose when he thinks no one is looking. This is a great detail, but noting it does you no good as a writer unless you’re willing to dump it into a story at some point.” ( :181)

“For me, what happens to characters as a story progresses depends solely on what I discover about them as I go along— how they grow, in other words. Sometimes they grow a little. If they grow a lot, they begin to influence the course of the story instead of the other way around.” ( :182)

“always end up being about the people rather than the event, which is to say character-driven.” ( :182)

“I most often see chances to add the grace-notes and ornamental touches after my basic storytelling job is done. Once in awhile it comes earlier; not long after I began The Green Mile and realized my main character was an innocent man likely to be executed for the crime of another, I decided to give him the initials J.C.,” ( :189)

“first draft of the book was so damned short it barely seemed like a novel.” ( :190)

“I don’t believe any novelist, even one who’s written fortyplus books, has too many thematic concerns; I have many interests, but only a few that are deep enough to power novels. These deep interests (I won’t quite call them obsessions) include how difficult it is—perhaps impossible!—to close” ( :199)

“Good fiction always begins with story and progresses to theme; it almost never begins with theme and progresses to story. The only possible exceptions to this rule that I can think of are allegories like George Orwell’s Animal Farm(and I have a sneaking suspicion that with Animal Farm the story idea may indeed have come first; if I see Orwell in the afterlife, I mean to ask him). But once your basic story is on paper, you need to think about what it means and enrich your following drafts with your conclusions. To do less is to rob your work (and eventually your readers) of the vision that makes each tale you write uniquely your own.” ( :200)

“If you’ve never done it before, you’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience. It’s yours, you’ll recognize it as yours, even be able to remember what tune was on the stereo when you wrote certain lines, and yet it will also be like reading the work of someone else, a soul-twin, perhaps.” ( :204)

“Viking that came to an end in a stupid squabble about money)” ( :207)

“ace is the speed at which your narrative unfolds. There is a kind of unspoken (hence undefended and unexamined) belief in publishing circles that the most commercially successful stories and novels are fast-paced. I guess the underlying thought is that people have so many things to do today, and are so easily distracted from the printed word, that you’ll lose them unless you become a kind of short-order cook, serving up sizzling burgers, fries, and eggs over easy just as fast as you can.” ( :212)

“Mostly when I think of pacing, I go back to Elmore Leonard, who explained it so perfectly by saying he just left out the boring parts. This suggests cutting to speed the pace, and that’s what most of us end up having to do (kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings).” ( :214)

“PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%. Good luck.”” ( :214)

“Still, the Formula was surely part of it. Before the Formula, if I produced a story that was four thousand words or so in first draft, it was apt to be five thousand in second (some writers are taker-outers; I’m afraid I’ve always been a natural putter-inner).” ( :215)

“”Hello, ex-wife,” Tom said to Doris as she entered the room. Now, it may be important to the story that Tom and Doris are divorced, but there hasto be a better way to do it than the above, which is about as graceful as an axe-murder. Here is one suggestion: “Hi, Doris,” Tom said. His voice sounded natural enough—to his own ears, at least—but the fingers of his right hand crept to the place where his wedding ring had been until six months ago.” ( :216)

“” Probably J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter stories, is the current champ when it comes to back story.” ( :217)

“Tabby was right—as soon as I saw it in print, I knew. Three million people or so have read Bag of Bones,I’ve gotten at least four thousand letters concerning it, and so far not a single one has said, “Hey, turkey! What was Mike doing for community-service work during the year he couldn’t write?”” ( :219)

“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.” ( :219)

“a quarter under a kid’s pillow. I imagine it appealed because it’s so far from my own experience, where the creative flow is apt to be stopped at any moment by a message from my wife that the toilet is plugged up and would I try to fix it, or a call from the office telling me that I’m in imminent danger of blowing yet another dental appointment. At times like that I’m sure all writers feel pretty much the same, no matter what their skill and success level: God, if only I were in the right writing environment, with the right understanding people, I just I could be penning my masterpiece. KNOW” ( :224)

“You don’t need writing classes or seminars any more than you need this or any other book on writing. Faulkner learned his trade while working in the Oxford, Mississippi, post office. Other writers have learned the basics while serving in the Navy, working in steel mills, or doing time in America’s finer crossbar hotels. I learned the most valuable (and commercial) part of my life’s work while washing motel sheets and restaurant tablecloths at the New Franklin Laundry in Bangor. You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.” ( :228)

“There have been times when for me the act of writing has been a little act of faith, a spit in the eye of despair. The second half of this book was written in that spirit. I gutted it out, as we used to say when we were kids. Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life. That was something I found out in the summer of 1999, when a man driving a blue van almost killed me.” ( :241)




“On July twenty-fourth, five weeks after Bryan Smith hit me with his Dodge van, I began to write again.” ( :255)

“That first writing session lasted an hour and forty minutes, by far the longest period I’d spent sitting upright since being struck by Smith’s van. When it was over, I was dripping with sweat and almost too exhausted to sit up straight in my wheelchair. The pain in my hip was just short of apocalyptic. And the first five hundred words were uniquely terrifying—it was as if I’d never written anything before them in my life. All my old tricks seemed to have deserted me.” ( :258)

“There was no miraculous breakthrough that afternoon, unless it was the ordinary miracle that comes with any attempt to create something.” ( :258)

“The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.” ( :259)

“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.” ( :259)

“The reasons for the majority of the changes are self-evident; if you flip back and forth between the two versions, I’m confident that you’ll understand almost all of them, and I’m hopeful that you’ll see how raw the first-draft work of even a so-called “professional writer” is once you really examine it.” ( :272)

“I have cut with Strunk in mind—”Omit needless words”— and also to satisfy the formula stated earlier: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%.” ( :272)

“3. I’m doing a lot of the reader’s thinking for him here. Since most readers can think for themselves, I felt free to cut this from five lines to just two.” ( :273)

“Krakauer, Jon: Into Thin Air” ( :277)

Check out more book notes at How I Read 90 Books In The Past 2 Years By Reading 20 Pages A Day

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