Stephen King on the Magic Moment When a Young Writer Reads a Published Book and Says: “This Sucks. I Can Do Better.”

Go to a bookstore.

Tell the clerk you’re an aspiring writer.

You’ll be directed to a shelf—possibly an entire section—brimming with prompts, exercises, formulae, and Jedi mind tricks. Round out your purchase with a journal, a fancy pen, or an inspirational quote in bookmark form.

Few of author Stephen King’s books would be at home in this section, but his 2000 memoir, On Writing, a combination of personal history and practical advice, certainly is. The writing rules listed therein are numerous enough to yield a top 20. He makes no bones about reading being a mandatory activity:

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.

Not surprisingly, given his prodigious output, he also believes that writers must write daily. Practice helps shape a writer’s voice. Daily practice keeps him or her on intimate terms with characters and plot.

Got that?

Nose to the grindstone, young writer! Quit looking for fairy godmothers and making excuses! Though you might be able to fast track to the magical moment King revealed in a 2003 speech at Yale, above.

Go back to the bookstore.

Ask the clerk to point you toward the shelves of whatever genre has traditionally made your flesh crawl. Chick litvampire eroticamanly airplane reads. Select the most odious seeming title. Buy it. Read it. And heed the words of King:

There’s a magic moment, a really magic moment if you read enough, it will always come to you if you want to be a writer, when you put down some book and say, This really sucks. I can do better than this, and this got published!

(It’s really more of a spontaneously occurring rite of passage than magic moment, but who are we to fault Stephen King for giving it a crowd-pleasing supernatural spin?)

Related Content:

Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writers

Stephen King Creates a List of 96 Books for Aspiring Writers to Read

Stephen King Creates a List of 82 Books for Aspiring Writers (to Supplement an Earlier List of 96 Recommend Books)

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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