Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writers

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In one of my favorite Stephen King interviews,  he talks at length about the vital importance of a good opening line. “There are all sorts of theories,” he says, “it’s a tricky thing.” “But there’s one thing” he’s sure about: “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.” King’s discussion of opening lines is compelling because of his dual focus as an avid reader and a prodigious writer of fiction—he doesn’t lose sight of either perspective:

We’ve talked so much about the reader, but you can’t forget that the opening line is important to the writer, too. To the person who’s actually boots-on-the-ground. Because it’s not just the reader’s way in, it’s the writer’s way in also, and you’ve got to find a doorway that fits us both.

This is excellent advice. As you orient your reader, so you orient yourself, pointing your work in the direction it needs to go. Now King admits that he doesn’t think much about the opening line as he writes, in a first draft, at least. That perfectly crafted and inviting opening sentence is something that emerges in revision, which can be where the bulk of a writer’s work happens.

Revision in the second draft, “one of them, anyway,” may “necessitate some big changes” says King in his 2000 memoir slash writing guide On Writing. And yet, it is an essential process, and one that “hardly ever fails.” Below, we bring you King’s top twenty rules from On Writing. About half of these relate directly to revision. The other half cover the intangibles—attitude, discipline, work habits. A number of these suggestions reliably pop up in every writer’s guide. But quite a few of them were born of Stephen King’s many decades of trial and error and—writes the Barnes & Noble book blog—“over 350 million copies” sold, “like them or loathe them.”

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I would tell you I miss you but what’s the fucking point. You don’t love me anymore and I fall asleep crying every night praying to whoever the fuck may be listening that you’ll call me and tell me to come home.
—  I miss you so fucking much I don’t know how much longer I can do this.
God I’m so sorry that I keep saying all these words without any meaning there’s no way to stop the screaming banshee she hurls herself at the roof of my mouth and claws at my lungs my breaths are shallow and useless I wanted to love him but he didn’t love me why is my heart so full to bursting when there’s nothing left inside it fuck you for never listening to me when I cried I should have been awake at midnight on new years eve but I was so tired and scared of the dark once I saw a skeleton climb out of my brothers body and it bit me on the shoulder I didn’t sleep for two weeks am I a liar or a sinner or am I every kind of Christian my belly is swollen and there’s so many ways to die that I always find myself overwhelmed she didn’t want to kiss me and I could see it in her face I want you to at least appreciate that I fucking care but my heart is so tired all the time I’m so tired all the time my body is a battle zone and its blowing up at the seams I wanted to be beautiful I wanted to be captivating I wanted her to love me but she doesn’t something in my brain is gnawing at the synapses I killed a part of myself and I mourn her everyday I don’t know where I went but I wish I gave myself a map I’m lost in space and the stars aren’t shooting for me anymore they’re shooting at me and I’m praying to god that one of them hits me in the chest I’m bleeding on the sidewalk and I’m kissing him on the mouth but my friend called me a whore and I haven’t looked at myself since I’m a disgusting piece of work I taste them on my skin after a night out and I hate myself more then I thought I could I believed in fairies and I believed in monsters and I always close my eyes when I write poetry so as nothing comes out but the truth but maybe I’ve been lying this whole time.

dear lover of mine,
dig deep into the skin
of my back
so you can grasp my spine
with a clenched fist
only to throw it on the ground

just for you to rip my beating heart out
without looking
into my eyes

dear lover of mine,
spend all of your time
wasting mine
only to tell me
none of this was ever worth it
or
i was never worth it

dear lover of mine,
don’t use your soft and gentle lips to speak
such hard and harmful words
because with each syllable you annunciate
it’s as if poison is being spat from your mouth

and even though the poison is burning my
flesh
you look away
and speak louder

dear lover of mine,
I do not love you anymore
but instead I love more harmful things
such as the way
the bottom of a cheap vodka bottle looks
as my throat tries it’s best to finish its contents

or the way the cigarette smoke appears like
a ghost
as i watch it leave my lungs

dear lover of mine,
even though our love went sour
the memories remain sweet
and I don’t know
if that’s better
or worse

I write too many poems about how much I miss you and I cry and I cry and I cry and maybe one day I won’t collapse on the floor when someone says your name but for now I’ll lay in bed at 3am staring at my phone trying to find the strength not to text you I love you.
—  Maybe one day I won’t feel like drowning when my phone doesn’t light up with your name.
Yeah, I’m not feeling well, I’m in a state of extreme emotional hell and I haven’t had any sleep last night. So no, I’m not pissed off with you, I’m emotionally drained and my lack of sleep is not helping my cause. Thank you for understanding, now if you would please excuse me, I’m feeling a little annoyed and irritated.
—  Michael Daaboul
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