Every week, I spelunk into the Writer’s Digest archives to find the wisest, funniest, or downright strangest moments from our 92 years of publication.
Today: An array of quotes from Stephen King, author of, err, well, mostly everything, from The Shining and Carrie to On Writing, The Dark Tower series and The Stand.
I know, I know: Stephen King polarizes writers—you’re either a fan and love (or at least respect) his work, or think he’s wildly overrated (and maybe you’re still not over that Stand TV miniseries featuring Rob Lowe).
Say what you want about King’s books, etc., but I think he’s brilliant. Talk about a powerful storyteller. When you look at the proliferation of his work on bookshelves, TV, movie theaters, graphic novels, etc., his impact on pop culture and modern storytelling is immense.
But enough rambling. Time for some Stephen King quotes on writing, your moment of Friday Literary Zen.
(Also … what do you think of King?)
“So where do the ideas—the salable ideas—come from? They come from my nightmares. Not the night-time variety, as a rule, but the ones that hide just beyond the doorway that separates the conscious from the unconscious.”
“At parties, people usually approach the writer of horror fiction with a mixture of wonder and trepidation. … Most of us, you see, look and seem (and ARE) perfectly ordinary. We don’t drown houseguests in the bathtub, torture the children, or sacrifice the cat at midnight inside of a pentagram. There are no locked closets or screams from the cellar. Robert Bloch, author of Psycho, looks like a moderately successful used car salesman. Ray Bradbury bears an uncomfortable resemblance to Charles M. Shulz, creator of Peanuts.”
“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”
—Quotes by Stephen King, “The Horror Writer Market and the Ten Bears,” November 1973 WD
“I can’t do anything else. And every day I marvel that I can get money for doing something I enjoy so much.”
“Making people believe the unbelievable is no trick; it’s work. … Belief and reader absorption come in the details: An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything. Or a broken billboard. Or weeds growing in the cracks of a library’s steps. Of course, none of this means a lot without characters the reader cares about (and sometimes characters—‘bad guys’—the reader is rooting against).”
“The writer must have a good imagination to begin with, but the imagination has to be muscular, which means it must be exercised in a disciplined way, day in and day out, by writing, failing, succeeding and revising.”
“The battle between good and evil is endlessly fascinating because we are participants every day.”
“Writers must be fair and remember even bad guys (most of them, anyway) see themselves as good—they are the heroes of their own lives. Giving them a fair chance as characters can create some interesting shades of gray—and shades of gray are also a part of life.”
“I have no particular spiritual insights, but I think every writer who does this on a daily basis has a ‘back channel’ to the subconscious that can be accessed pretty easily. Mine is wide and deep. I never write with an ax to grind, but I sense strongly that this world is a thin place indeed, simply a veil over a brighter and more amazing truth. To me, every ant, cloud and star seems to proclaim that there is more to existence than we know. I suppose that sounds like naturism and pantheism, and to some degree it is, but I also believe in a power greater than myself. If I die and that turns out to be wrong, there’s this advantage: I’ll never know.”
“Who gave you the idea I hate most of the film adaptations? There are at least eight really good ones, and the only one I can remember hating was [Stanley] Kubrick’s cold adaptation of The Shining; spending three hours watching an ant farm would be more emotionally uplifting.”
—Quotes by Stephen King, “The WD Interview: Stephen King & Jerry B. Jenkins” by Jessica Strawser, May/June 2009 WD
“There’s no outline, nothing like that. That freezes it, it takes what should be a liquid, plastic, malleable thing to me and turns it into something else. Hey, to me it’s the difference between going to a canvas and painting a picture and going out and buying a Craftsmaster paint-by-the-numbers kit.”
“The worst advice? ‘Don’t listen to the critics.’ I think that you really ought to listen to the critics, because sometimes they’re telling you something is broken that you can fix.
“There’s nothing really very magical about it. … I think the best trick is experience.”
—Quotes by Stephen King, from “Digging Up Stories With Stephen King” by W.C. Stroby, March 1992 WD
(To read the rest of Strawser’s interview with Stephen King, click here. To read Stroby’s full interview, visit his website here. For some pointers on King’s style, check out Write Like the Masters by William Cane. And for more quotes and wisdoms from other legendary scribes, read our 90-year retrospective here.)