Stephen King, l’un des écrivains les plus vendus du monde, fait partie de ceux qui affirment que pour réussir… l’argent ne doit jamais être un facteur de motivation. Il faut d’abord aimer ce que l’on fait.

Dans son seul ouvrage de « non-fiction », il propose une réflexion sur l’art d’écrire et répond aux questions que tout le monde lui pose… et aussi à celles qu’il aimerait qu’on lui pose. Quand un professionnel compétent prend le temps d’expliquer ce qu’il fait et comment, c’est forcément intéressant. Allez-vous laisser passer cela ? En plus c’est court.

L’ouvrage couvre notamment

  • Les trente premières années de sa vie sous forme de vignettes. C’est bien écrit et explique clairement d’où vient l’auteur, son inspiration et ce qu’il apprécie.
  • Ses convictions sur l’art d’écrire exprimées dans un style très direct. Elle sont fondées sur l’excellent « The Elements of Style » de William Strunk, mais pas uniquement.
  • Quelques conseils pour être publié (attention, c’est très anglo-saxon avec un système d’« agents littéraires » étranger à bien des autres pays)
  • Une réflexion plus large liée à son grave accident, survenu justement pendant l’écriture de On Writing
  • Un exemple réel d’écriture et de révision d’écriture : un premier jet pour une histoire, puis les notes de Stephen King sur son premier jet et l’explication de la seconde version. Comme si un magicien vous dévoilait ses trucs. Rare, donc précieux.

Si vous n’avez jamais rien lu de King, certains passages pourraient vous paraître obscurs. Mais si vous aimez composer et appréciez l’œuvre de Stephen King… Lire On Writing est un plaisir.

Bonne découverte !

PS : ci-dessous mes notes Kindle. Ce sont des passages que j’ai surlignés pour pouvoir y revenir. Prenez le temps de lire le livre pour sélectionner les vôtres !

Curatus est une initiative pour faire lire aux professionnels plus d’ouvrages… professionnels. Lisez le manifeste. C’est aussi une sélection d’excellents livres pros regroupés au sein du Guide Curatus. Et une maison d’édition qui édite par exemple les Règles du jeu professionnel. Rejoignez le mouvement !

When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story,’ he said. ‘When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.’

write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right–as right as you can, anyway–it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it.

Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.


the basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful.

Even William Strunk, that Mussolini of rhetoric, recognized the delicious pliability of language. ‘It is an old observation,’ he writes, ‘that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric.’ Yet he goes on to add this thought, which I urge you to consider: ‘Unless he is certain of doing well, [the writer] will probably do best to follow the rules.’

Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition

You should avoid the passive tense. I’m not the only one who says so; you can find the same advice in The Elements of Style.

The adverb is not your friend.

I insist that you use the adverb in dialogue attribution only in the rarest and most special of occasions … and not even then, if you can avoid it.

I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.

while to write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is divine.

Writing is refined thinking.

to make him/ her forget, whenever possible, that he/ she is reading a story at all.

The single-sentence paragraph more closely resembles talk than writing, and that’s good.

I would argue that the paragraph, not the sentence, is the basic unit of writing–the place where coherence begins and words stand a chance of becoming more than mere words.

but as we move along, you’d do well to remember that we are also talking about magic.

On Writing

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.

I don’t read in order to study the craft; I read because I like to read.

I’d like to suggest that turning off that endlessly quacking box is apt to improve the quality of your life as well as the quality of your writing.

Basically, mornings are my prime writing time.

I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words. That’s 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book

I’ll also suggest that you can take one day a week off, at least to begin with. No more; you’ll lose the urgency and immediacy of your story if you do.

Book-buyers aren’t attracted, by and large, by the literary merits of a novel; book-buyers want a good story to take with them on the airplane, something that will first fascinate them, then pull them in and keep them turning the pages.

People love to read about work. God knows why, but they do.

What you need to remember is that there’s a difference between lecturing about what you know and using it to enrich the story. The latter is good. The former is not.

And remember that plumbers in space is not such a bad setup for a story.

In my view, stories and novels consist of three parts: narration, which moves the story from point A to point B and finally to point Z; description, which creates a sensory reality for the reader; and dialogue, which brings characters to life through their speech.

I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.

my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves.

The situation comes first. The characters–always flat and unfeatured, to begin with–come next.

And why worry about the ending anyway? Why be such a control freak? Sooner or later every story comes out somewhere.

I went back upstairs to catch a few hours’ sleep, thinking of how often we are given information we really could have done without.

Edgar Wallace Plot Wheel.

And none of the story’s details and incidents proceeded from plot; they were organic, each arising naturally from the initial situation, each an uncovered part of the fossil.

A strong enough situation renders the whole question of plot moot, which is fine with me.

Story is honorable and trustworthy; plot is shifty, and best kept under house arrest.

You can learn only by doing.

we’ve all heard someone say, ‘Man, it was so great (or so horrible/ strange/ funny) … I just can’t describe it!’ If you want to be a successful writer, you must be able to describe it, and in a way that will cause your reader to prickle with recognition.

Thin description leaves the reader feeling bewildered and nearsighted. Overdescription buries him or her in details and images. The trick is to find a happy medium. It’s also important to know what to describe and what can be left alone while you get on with your main job, which is telling a story.

I can’t remember many cases where I felt I had to describe what the people in a story of mine looked like–I’d rather let the reader supply the faces, the builds, and the clothing as well.

If I tell you that Carrie White is a high school outcast with a bad complexion and a fashion-victim wardrobe, I think you can do the rest, can’t you? I don’t need to give you a pimple-by-pimple, skirt-by-skirt rundown. We all remember one or more high school losers, after all; if I describe mine, it freezes out yours, and I lose a little bit of the bond of understanding I want to forge between

I think locale and texture are much more important to the reader’s sense of actually being in the story than any physical description of the players.

So spare me, if you please, the hero’s sharply intelligent blue eyes and outthrust determined chin; likewise the heroine’s arrogant cheekbones. This sort of thing is bad technique and lazy writing, the equivalent of all those tiresome adverbs.

In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it ‘got boring,’ the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling.

I’m in my fifties now, and there are a lot of books out there. I don’t have time to waste with the poorly written ones.

one of the cardinal rules of good fiction is never tell us a thing if you can show us, instead:

Dialogue is a skill best learned by people who enjoy talking and listening to others–particularly listening, picking up the accents, rhythms, dialect, and slang of various groups.

If you substitute ‘Oh sugar!’ for ‘Oh shit!’ because you’re thinking about the Legion of Decency, you are breaking the unspoken contract that exists between writer and reader–your promise to express the truth of how people act and talk through the medium of a made-up story.

writing fiction in America as we enter the twenty-first century is no job for intellectual cowards.

There are lots of would-be censors out there, and although they may have different agendas, they all want basically the same thing: for you to see the world they see … or to at least shut up about what you do see that’s different. They are agents of the status quo. Not necessarily bad guys, but dangerous guys if you happen to believe in intellectual freedom.

I think the best stories always end up being about people rather than the event, which is to say character-driven.

I think you will find that, if you continue to write fiction, every character you create is partly you.

My job (and yours, if you decide this is a viable approach to storytelling) is to make sure these fictional folks behave in ways that will both help the story and seem reasonable to us, given what we know about them (and what we know about real life, of course).

if you do your job, your characters will come to life and start doing stuff on their own. I know that sounds a little creepy if you haven’t actually experienced it, but it’s terrific fun when it happens. And it will solve a lot of your problems, believe me.

practice is invaluable (and should feel good, really not like practice at all)

Skills in description, dialogue, and character development all boil down to seeing or hearing clearly and then transcribing what you see or hear with equal clarity (and without using a lot of tiresome, unnecessary adverbs).

you should use anything that improves the quality of your writing and doesn’t get in the way of your story.

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

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

Good fiction always begins with story and progresses to theme; it almost never begins with theme and progresses to story.

But once your basic story is on paper, you need to think about what it means and enrich your following drafts with your conclusions.

let me urge that you take your story through at least two drafts; the one you do with the study door closed and the one you do with it open.

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 at the same time outrun the self-doubt that’s always waiting to settle in.

your first reader or readers will promise not to talk to you about the book until you are ready to talk to them about it. This may sound a little high-handed, but it’s really not. You’ve done a lot of work and you need a period of time (how much or how little depends on the individual writer) to rest. Your mind and imagination–two things which are related, but not really the same–have to recycle themselves, at least in regard to this one particular work. My advice is that you take a couple of days off–go fishing, go kayaking, do a jigsaw puzzle–and then go to work on something else. Something shorter, preferably, and something that’s a complete change of direction and pace from your newly finished book.

you’re not ready to go back to the old project until you’ve gotten so involved in a new one (or re-involved in your day-to-day life) that you’ve almost forgotten the unreal estate that took up three hours of your every morning or afternoon for a period of three or five or seven months.

With six weeks’ worth of recuperation time, you’ll also be able to see any glaring holes in the plot or character development.

(I hate and mistrust pronouns, every one of them as slippery as a fly-by-night personal-injury lawyer),

Most of all, I’m looking for what I meant, because in the second draft I’ll want to add scenes and incidents that reinforce that meaning. I’ll also want to delete stuff that goes in other directions.

In addition to Tabby’s first read, I usually send manuscripts to between four and eight other people who have critiqued my stories over the years.

‘Not bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft–10%. Good luck.’

Back story is all the stuff that happened before your tale began but which has an impact on the front story.

Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier,

The most important things to remember about back story are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting. Stick to the parts that are, and don’t get carried away with the rest.

Non-specific critiques won’t help when you sit down to your second draft, and may hurt.

The pressure to explain is always on, and a lot of your creative energy, it seems to me, is therefore going in the wrong direction.

Now I’d like to face it head-on. It’s a question that people ask in different ways–sometimes it comes out polite and sometimes it comes out rough, but it always amounts to the same: Do you do it for the money, honey? The answer is no. Don’t now and never did. Yes, I’ve made a great deal of dough from my fiction, but I never set a single word down on paper with the thought of being paid for it.

I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.

On Living: A Postscript

You try to tell yourself that you’ve been lucky, most incredibly lucky, and usually that works because it’s true. Sometimes it doesn’t work, that’s all. Then you cry.

Writing fiction was almost as much fun as it had ever been, but every word of the nonfiction book was a kind of torture.

Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. 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. 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.

There’s an old rule of theater that goes, ‘If there’s a gun on the mantel in Act I, it must go off in Act III.’