How to Write

The best books I have read on how to be a writer are the memoirs of Haruki Murakami, and Stephen King.

Here, jumbled together, are my notes on how to write, gathered from King’s “On Writing” and Murakami’s “What I talk about when I talk about Running”.  These are not high-falutin’ puffed-up pieces about the noble art of the craft. They are roll up your sleeves, this is actually what you gotta do, declarations. They are the sort of notes a plumber might leave to his son before passing along the family business. If you are serious about writing follow the advice of these two masters and you can’t fail. (These quotes are taped on the wall next to my desk. Just memorize and apply these words of wisdom, young grasshopper, and you won’t need to spend $40,000 on an MFA. You’re welcome.)

Murakami’s Schedule


I got up before 5 a.m. and went to bed before ten p.m. People are at their best during different times of the day, but I’m definitely a morning person. That’s when I can focus and finish up important work I have to do. Afterward I work out or do other errands that don’t take much concentration. At the end of the day I relax and don’t do anymore work. I read, listen to music, take it easy, and try to go to bed early. this is the pattern I’ve mostly followed up till today

Stephen King’s routine


My own schedule is pretty clear-cut. Mornings belong to whatever is new—the current composition. Afternoons are for naps and letters. Evenings are for reading, family, Red Sox games on TV, and any revisions that just cannot wait. Basically morning is my prime time for writing.

Quotes: (See if you can tell who said what.)

“I came to feel strongly that a story is not something you create. It is something that you pull out of yourself. The story is already there, inside you.”

“I want you to understand that my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow (and to transcribe them of course). . . stories are like found things, like fossils in the ground.”

“Stoked on cup after cup of tea, I drank it by the gallon when I wrote.”

“A strong enough situation renders the whole question of plot moot, which is fine with me. The most interesting situations can usually be expressed as a What -if question.”

“Whenever I see a first novel dedicated to a wife (or husband) I smile and think, There’s someone who knows. ”

“If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all else: read a lot and write a lot.”

“I believe the first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season. Any longer and—for me, at least—the story begins to take on an odd foreign feel, like a dispatch from the Romanian Department of Public affairs.”

“Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story. Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot.”

“The key to good description begins with clear seeing and ends with clear writing, the kind of writing that employs fresh images and simple vocabulary. I began learning my lessons in this regard by reading Chandler, Hammett, and Ross Macdonald.”

“The structure of  A Wild Sheep Chase was deeply influenced by Raymond Chandler. I am an avid reader of his books and have read some of them many times. I wanted to use his plot structure in my new novel.”

“Raymond Chandler once confessed that even if he didn’t write anything he made sure he sat down at his desk every single day and concentrated.”

“You’ll naturally learn both concentration and endurance when you sit down every day at your desk and train yourself to focus on one point.

“Basically I agree with the view that writing novels is an unhealthy type of work. To deal with something unhealthy, a person needs to be as healthy as possible.”

“The sort of work second drafts were made for are symbolism and theme.”

“Symbolism exists to adorn and enrich, not to create a sense of artificial profundity.”

“Now let’s talk about revising the work—how much and how many drafts? For me the answer has always been two drafts and a polish.”

“2cnd Draft=1st Draft minus 10%”

“Boredom can be a very good thing for someone in a creative jam.”

“If there is one thing I love about writing more than the rest, it’s that sudden flash of insight when you see how everything connects.”

“On some days those 10 pages come easily and I’m up and out doing errands by eleven-thirty in the morning, perky as a rat in liverwurst.”

“When the reader hears strong echoes of his or her own life and beliefs, he or she is apt to become more invested in the story.”

“Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, relationships, sex, and work. Especially work. People love to read about work. God knows why, but they do.”

“Every time I begin a new novel, I have to dredge out another new, deep hole.”

“I generally concentrate on work for three or four hours every morning. I sit at my desk and focus totally on writing. I don’t see anything else, I don’t think about anything else.”

“Your schedule—in at about the same time every day, out when your thousand words are on paper or disk—exists in order to habituate yourself, to make yourself ready to dream just as you make yourself ready to sleep by going to bed at roughly the same time each night and following the same ritual as you go.”

“I stop every day right at the point where I feel I can write more. Do that, and the next day’s work goes surprisingly smoothly. I think Ernest Hemingway did something like that. To keep going, you have to keep up a rhythm. This is the important thing for long-term projects. Once you set the pace, the rest will follow.”

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