On Writing

On Writing by Stephen King

Quotes:

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Common tools go on top. The commonest of all, the bread and butter of writing, is vocabulary. In this case, you can happily pack what you have without the slightest bit of guilt of inferiority. As the whore said to the bashful sailor, “It ain’t how much you’ve got, honey, it’s how you use it.”

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There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer screen. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement guy. You have to descend to his level, and one you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do al the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you. Do you think this is fair? I think it’s fair. He may not be much to look at, that muse-guy, and he may not be much of a conversationalist (what I get out of mine is mostly surly grunts, unless he’s on duty), but he’s got the inspiration. It’s right that you should do all the hard work and burn all the midnight oil, because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic. There’s stuff in there that can change your life.

Believe me, I know.

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The Zen simile is only one potential pitfall of figurative language. The most common—and again, landing in this trap can usually be traced back to not enough reading — is the use of cliched similes, metaphors, and images. He ran like a madman, she was pretty as a summer day, the guy was a hot ticket, Bob fought like a tiger… don’t waste my time (or anyone’s) with such chestnuts. It makes you look either lazy or ignorant. Neither description will do your reputation as a writer much good.