19 Lessons About Life and Art I Learned From Stephen King

My close friends will tell you that I’m a little strange.

In addition to my fascination with visiting the graves of famous musicians, I’m always up for exploring macabre sites. Recent excursions include subterranean labyrinths in Paris, Dracula’s chamber under Buda Castle in Budapest, the shrine of St. Valentine in Dublin, and even a real life pet cemetery in Paris (which is where the dogs of Camille Saint-Saëns are buried).

I can thank Stephen King for instilling this appreciation for the macabre.

I first read Stephen King when I was in middle school (I think my first book was IT). Ever since, I’ve devoured everything he has written and eagerly await his next publication. His stories are memorable, but his characters are unforgettable. He delivers both with a quirky-strange view of the world, and I consider Stephen King one of my inspirations in both life and art.

Fangirling over Stephen King metro ads while waiting for the M4 in Paris

I recently read King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and was inspired by his views on life and writing. Granted, he is a writer and I am a musician, but there are infinite parallels between writing and music.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book. All quotes are Stephen King’s, found in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. If you love them as much as I do, make sure to add the book to your reading list (along with everything else he’s ever written).

***Warning: Some quotes may contain offensive language (after all, it is Stephen King).***

  1. On perfection. “As with all other aspects of the narrative art, you will improve with practice, but practice will never make you perfect. Why should it? What fun would that be?”

  2. On being true to yourself. “Even today I’m not above writing slightly more sophisticated versions of that tale; I was built with a love of the night and the unquiet coffin, that’s all. If you disapprove, I can only shrug my shoulders – it’s what I have.”

  3. On rejection. “When I got the rejection slip from AHMM, I pounded a nail into the wall above the Webcor, wrote “Happy Stamps” on the rejection slip, and poked it onto the nail. Then I sat on my bed and listened to Fats sing “I’m Ready.” I felt pretty good, actually. When you’re still too young to shave, optimism is a perfectly legitimate response to failure. By the time I was fourteen (and shaving twice a week whether I needed to or not) the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”

  4. On determination. “. . .the realization that stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”

  5. On working. “The work starts to feel like work, and for most writers that is the smooch of death. Writing is at its best – always, always, always – when it is a kind of inspired play for the writer. I can write in cold blood if I have to, but I like it best when it’s fresh and almost too hot to handle.”

  6. On self-doubt. “Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job; it’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There’s plenty of opportunity for self-doubt. If I write rapidly, putting down my story exactly as it comes into my mind, only looking back to check the names of my characters and the relevant parts of their back stories, I find that I can keep up with my original enthusiasm and the same time outrun the self-doubt that’s always waiting to settle in.”

  7. On welcoming interruptions. “In truth, I’ve found that any day’s routine interruptions and distractions don’t much hurt a work in progress and may actually help it in some ways. It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster’s shell that makes the pearl, not pearl-making seminars with others oysters.”

  8. On breaking into the scene. “. . . I was fairly optimistic about my chances of getting published; I knew that I had some game, as the basketball players say these days, and I also felt that time was on my side; sooner or later the best-selling writers of the sixties and seventies would either die or go senile, making room for newcomers like me.”

  9. On muses. “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 once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all 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 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.”

  10. On creating a work space. “The space can be humble (probably should be, as I think I have already suggested), and it really needs only one thing: a door which you are willing to shut. The closed door is your way of telling the world and yourself that you mean business; you have made a serious commitment to write and intend to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. . . . With that goal set, resolve to yourself that the door stays closed until that goal is met. The door closes the rest of the world out; it also serves to close you in and keep you focused on the job at hand. . . .When you write, you want to get rid of the world, do you not? Of course you do. When you’re writing, you’re creating your own worlds.”

  11. On taking criticism. “And if what you hear makes sense, then make the changes. You can’t let the whole world into your story, but you can let in the ones that matter the most. And you should.”

  12. On the Outside World. “Keep the pressure on; don’t lower it by exposing what you’ve written to the doubt, the praise, or even the well-meaning questions of someone from the Outside World. Let your hope of success (and your fear of failure) carry you on, difficult as that can be. There’ll be time to show off what you’ve done when you finish…but even after finishing I think you must be cautious and give yourself a chance to think while the story is still like a field of freshly fallen snow, absent of any tracks save your own.”

  13. On joy and faith. “I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever. There have been times when for me the act of writing has been a little act of faith, a spit in the eye of despair…writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life.”

  14. On the learning process. “I don’t read fiction to study the art of fiction, but simply because I like stories. Yet there is a learning process going on. Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.”

  15. On using what you know. “What you know makes you unique in some other way. Be brave. Map the enemy’s positions, come back, tell us all you know.”

  16. On having a grand time. “If you got a chance to participate in a deal like that, I’d say go right ahead. You might not learn The Magic Secrets of Writing (there aren’t any – bummer, huh?), but it would certainly be a grand time, and grand times are something I’m always in favor of.”

  17. On being serious. “You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair – the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page. I’m not asking you to come reverently or unquestioningly; I’m not asking you to be politically correct or cast aside your sense of humor (please God, have you one) this isn’t a popularity contest, it’s not the moral Olympics, and it’s not church. But it’s writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else. Wash the car, maybe.”

  18. On the meaning of art. “In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”

  19. On magic. “Some of this book-perhaps too much-has been about how I learned to do it. Much of it has been about how you can do it better. The rest of it – and perhaps the best of it – is a permission slip: you can, you  should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”



  • Amey Lokhande

    I admire Stephen King, for his the writer of a generation. Although he writes book revolving around a plot that is very dark, I think his books reveal life and the ways of life. I am an aspiring writer and he is the one writer I follow the most. I hope you are doing great as a musician, and I feel you will continue doing good. These little excursions that you mentioned sound pretty adventurous though!

    • jennymaclay

      It’s so good to find other Stephen King fans out there! I love the stories he creates, but I think he is especially gifted at capturing people and life, as you said. How wonderful that you are an aspiring writer – keep sharing your words with the world, and thank you for your kind comment!

  • Dana Parker

    I love Stephen King and; like you, I have read everything he has written. I never thought about it, like you, but it is applicable to anything we want to do in our lives that is creative. Thank you !

    • jennymaclay

      Isn’t he such an amazing writer? I’m glad you liked the article and hope that you were as inspired as I was by these quotes!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.