On Writing
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On Writing

A Memoir Of The Craft

Stephen King

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eBook - ePub

On Writing

A Memoir Of The Craft

Stephen King

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About This Book

Twentieth Anniversary Edition with Contributions from Joe Hill and Owen King ONE OF TIME MAGAZINE'S TOP 100 NONFICTION BOOKS OF ALL TIMEImmensely helpful and illuminating to any aspiring writer, this special edition of Stephen King's critically lauded, million-copy bestseller shares the experiences, habits, and convictions that have shaped him and his work. "Long live the King" hailed Entertainment Weekly upon publication of Stephen King's On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer's craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King's advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported, near-fatal accident in 1999—and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it—fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.

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And Furthermore, Part I: Door Shut, Door Open

Earlier in this book, when writing about my brief career as a sports reporter for the Lisbon Weekly Enterprise (I was, in fact, the entire sports department; a small-town Howard Cosell), I offered an example of how the editing process works. That example was necessarily brief, and dealt with nonfiction. The passage that follows is fiction. It is completely raw, the sort of thing I feel free to do with the door shut—it’s the story undressed, standing up in nothing but its socks and undershorts. I suggest that you look at it closely before going on to the edited version.

The Hotel Story

Mike Enslin was still in the revolving door when he saw Ostermeyer, the manager of the Hotel Dolphin, sitting in one of the overstuffed lobby chairs. Mike’s heart sank a little. Maybe should have brought the damned lawyer along again, after all, he thought. Well, too late now. And even if Ostermeyer had decided to throw up another roadblock or two between Mike and room 1408, that wasn’t all bad; it would simply add to the story when he finally told it.
Ostermeyer saw him, got up, and was crossing the room with one pudgy hand held out as Mike left the revolving door. The Dolphin was on Sixty-first Street, around the corner from Fifth Avenue; small but smart. A man and woman dressed in evening clothes passed Mike as he reached out and took Ostermeyer’s hand, switching his small overnight case to his left hand in order to do it. The woman was blonde, dressed in black, of course, and the light, flowery smell of her perfume seemed to summarize New York. On the mezzanine level, someone was playing “Night and Day” in the bar, as if to underline the summary.
“Mr. Enslin. Good evening.”
“Mr. Ostermeyer. Is there a problem?”
Ostermeyer looked pained. For a moment he glanced around the small, smart lobby, as if for help. At the concierge’s stand, a man was discussing theater tickets with his wife while the concierge himself watched them with a small, patient smile. At the front desk, a man with the rumpled look one only got after long hours in Business Class was discussing his reservation with a woman in a smart black suit that could itself have doubled for evening wear. It was business as usual at the Hotel Dolphin. There was help for everyone except poor Mr. Ostermeyer, who had fallen into the writer’s clutches.
“Mr. Ostermeyer?” Mike repeated, feeling a little sorry for the man.
“No,” Ostermeyer said at last. “No problem. But, Mr. Enslin… could I speak to you for a moment in my office?”
So, Mike thought. He wants to try one more time.
Under other circumstances he might have been impatient. Now he was not. It would help the section on room 1408, offer the proper ominous tone the readers of his books seemed to crave—it was to be One Final Warning—but that wasn’t all. Mike Enslin hadn’t been sure until now, in spite of all the backing and filling; now he was. Ostermeyer wasn’t playing a part. Ostermeyer was really afraid of room 1408, and what might happen to Mike there tonight.
“Of course, Mr. Ostermeyer. Should I leave my bag at the desk, or bring it?”
“Oh, we’ll bring it along, shall we?” Ostermeyer, the good host, reached for it. Yes, he still held out some hope of persuading Mike not to stay in the room. Otherwise, he would have directed Mike to the desk… or taken it there himself. “Allow me.”
“I’m fine with it,” Mike said. “Nothing but a change of clothes and a toothbrush.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” Mike said, holding his eyes. “I’m afraid I am.”
For a moment Mike thought Ostermeyer was going to give up. He sighed, a little round man in a dark cutaway coat and a neatly knotted tie, and then he squared his shoulders again. “Very good, Mr. Enslin. Follow me.”
The hotel manager had seemed tentative in the lobby, depressed, almost beaten. In his oak-paneled office, with the pictures of the hotel on the walls (the Dolphin had opened in October of 1910—Mike might publish without the benefit of reviews in the journals or the big-city papers, but he did his research), Ostermeyer seemed to gain assurance again. There was a Persian carpet on the floor. Two standing lamps cast a mild yellow light. A desk-lamp with a green lozenge-shaped shade stood on the desk, next to a humidor. And next to the humidor were Mike Enslin’s last three books. Paperback editions, of course; there had been no hardbacks. Yet he did quite well. Mine host has been doing a little research of his own, Mike thought.
Mike sat down in one of the chairs in front of the desk. He expected Ostermeyer to sit behind the desk, where he could draw authority from it, but Ostermeyer surprised him. He sat in the other chair on what he probably thought of as the employees’ side of the desk, crossed his legs, then leaned forward over his tidy little belly to touch the humidor.
“Cigar, Mr. Enslin? They’re not Cuban, but they’re quite good.”
“No, thank you. I don’t smoke.”
Ostermeyer’s eyes shifted to the cigarette behind Mike’s right ear—parked there on a jaunty jut the way an oldtime wisecracking New York reporter might have parked his next smoke just below his fedora with the PRESS tag stuck in the band. The cigarette had become so much a part of him that for a moment Mike honestly didn’t know what Ostermeyer was looking at. Then he remembered, laughed, took it down, looked at it himself, then looked back at Ostermeyer.
“Haven’t had a cigarette in nine years,” he said. “I had an older brother who died of lung cancer. I quit shortly after he died. The cigarette behind the ear…” He shrugged. “Part affectation, part superstition, I guess. Kind of like the ones you sometimes see on people’s desks or walls, mounted in a little box with a sign saying BREAK GLASS IN CASE OF EMERGENCY. I sometimes tell people I’ll light up in case of nuclear war. Is 1408 a smoking room, Mr. Ostermeyer? Just in case nuclear war breaks out?”
“As a matter of fact, it is.”
“Well,” Mike said heartily, “that’s one less worry in the watches of the night.”
Mr. Ostermeyer sighed again, unamused, but this one didn’t have the disconsolate quality of his lobby-sigh. Yes, it was the room, Mike reckoned. His room. Even this afternoon, when Mike had come accompanied by Robertson, the lawyer, Ostermeyer had seemed less flustered once they were in here. At the time Mike had thought it was partly because they were no longer drawing stares from the passing public, partly because Ostermeyer had given up. Now he knew better. It was the room. And why not? It was a room with good pictures on the walls, a good rug on the floor, and good cigars—although not Cuban—in the humidor. A lot of managers had no doubt conducted a lot of business in here since October of 1910; in its own way it was as New York as the blonde woman in her black off-the-shoulder dress, her smell of perfume and her unarticulated promise of sleek sex in the small hours of the morning—New York sex. Mike himself was from Omaha, although he hadn’t been back there in a lot of years.
“You still don’t think I can talk you out of this idea of yours, do you?” Ostermeyer asked.
“I know you can’t,” Mike said, replacing the cigarette behind his ear.
What follows is revised copy of this same opening passage—it’s the story putting on its clothes, combing its hair, maybe adding just a small dash of cologne. Once these changes are incorporated into my document, I’m ready to open the door and face the world.
Excerpt of writing with edits, reading: '1408 by stephen king. Mike Enslin was still in the revolving door when he saw Olin the manager of the Hotel Dolphin, sitting in one of the overstuffed lobby chairs. Mike's heart sank. Maybe should have brought the damned lawyer along again, after all, he thought. Well, too late now. And even if Olin had decided to throw up another roadlblock or two between Mike and room 1408, that wasn't all bad; there were compensations. Olin was crossing...'
Page with Ostermeyer changed to Olin. Final sentence changed to 'Mike repeated.'
Page reading 'Mr. Enslin...could I speak to you for a moment in my office?' 'Well, and why not?' Changes continue, with many cross-outs
'Yes,' Mike said,, holding his eyes. 'I'm already wearing my lucky Hawaiian shirt.' He smiled. 'It's the one with the ghost repellent.'
Ostermeyer changed to Olin, many words crossed out
Page with many words crossed out, Ostermeyer changed to Olin
'since October of 2019' changed to 'since 2019'. 'as the blonde woman in her' changed to 'as the blonde in her'. 'New York' added before the word sleek, and 'New York sex' removed. 'back there in a lot of years' changed to 'back there in years'. Ostermeyer changed to Olin.
The reasons for the majority of the changes are self-evident; if you flip back and forth between the two versions, I’m confident that you’ll understand almost all of them, and I’m hopeful that you’ll see how raw the first-draft work of even a so-called “professional writer” is once you really examine it.
Most of the changes are cuts, intended to speed the story. I have cut with Strunk in mind—“Omit needless words”—and also to satisfy the formula stated earlier: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%.
I have keyed a few changes for brief explanation:
1. Obviously, “The Hotel Story” is never going to replace “Killdozer!” or Norma Jean, the Termite Queen as a title. I simply slotted it into the first draft, knowing a better one would occur as I went along. (If a better title doesn’t occur, an editor will usually supply his or her idea of a better one, and the results are usually ugly.) I like “1408” because this is a “thirteenth floor” story, and the numbers add up to thirteen.
2. Ostermeyer is a long and gallumphing name. By changing it to Olin via global replace, I was able to shorten my story by about fifteen lines at a single stroke. Also, by the time I finished “1408,” I had realized it was probably going to be part of an audio collection. I would read the stories myself, and didn’t want...

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