Writer’s Toolbox: Stephen King’s Tips to Enhance Your Writing

On Writing: A Memoir of The Craft is the culmination of Stephen King’s prolific writing odyssey. After more than 2 decades of writing fiction, Stephen finally decided to aggregate all the tips and bits he learned from his craft share them in a guide-like book meant to help beginner writers hone in their writing skills. Stephen acknowledged that writing such a memoir was not an easy thing . “I must tell you though” King declared, “that confidence during the actual writing of this book was a commodity in remarkably short supply. What I was long on was physical pain and self-doubt”.


In this post, I share with some of King tips that stand out to me. I hope you find them helpful.

1. Writing toolbox

Among the different things Stephen recommended for beginner writers is the creation of a writing toolbox. He stated:


I want to suggest that to write to your best abilities, it behooves you to construct your own toolbox and then build up enough muscle so you can carry it with you. Then, instead of looking at a hard job and getting discouraged, you will perhaps seize the correct tool and get immediately to work. (p. 114)


This toolbox is composed of several layers:

1st layer : vocabulary
Vocabulary is an important element in Stephen’s toolbox . Here is what he said about it:


Put your vocabulary on the top shelf of your toolbox, and don’t make any conscious effort to improve it (you will be doing that as you read…). One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re may be a little bit ashamed of your short ones… 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 hesitate and cogitate, you will come up with another word… but it probably won’t be as good as your first one, or as close to what you really mean….Why in God’s name would you want to make things worse by choosing a word which is only cousin to the one you really wanted to use? (p.118)


2nd Layer: Grammar
Grammar, for Stephen, is not only “a pain in the ass, it is the pole you grab to get your thoughts up on their feet and walking” (p. 121). To make a better use of grammar in your writing, avoid the use of passive voice.


“I think timid writers like them {passive verbs}for the same reason timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe. There is no troublesome action to contend with; the subject just has to close its eyes and think of England, to paraphrase Queen Victoria. I think unsure writers also feel the passive voice somehow lends their work authority, perhaps even a quality of majesty”. (p. 123)


Besides passive voice, adverbs are the second grammatical elements Stephen cautions against. As he stated, 


“With adverbs , the writer usually tells us he/she is afraid he/she is not expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.” (p. 124)

2. Reading 

Another thing which Stephen insisted on as being integral to the act of writing besides creating a toolbox is reading. Extensive reading is sine qua non for any writer and Stephen himself stated that he reads between 70 to 80 novels a year. On the importance of reading , Stephen said:


The more fiction you read and write the more you will find your paragraphs forming on their own. And that’s what you want. When composing it’s best not to think too much about  where paragraphs begin and end, the trick is to let nature take its course. If you don’t like it later on, fix it then. (p. 132)


He further added :


The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing … Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mindset) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor. (p. 150) 


Indeed, Stephen King’s book, On Writing: A Memoir of The Craft , contains a treasure trove of writing tips that you should not miss. Take my word, the book is nothing like those boring academic self help guides. Even with a non-fiction book,  King turns it into an enticing narrative that hooks you in the moment you start reading it. Check it out and share with us how your feedback.

Disclaimer, this post contains Amazon affiliate links.


By Med Kharbach, PhD

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