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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