Stephen King:

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. . . .

It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but didn’t have time to read, I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.

You can read the full chapter section after the jump:

On Writing by Stephen King, an excerpt

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23 thoughts on “If You Want to Be a Writer You Have to Be a Reader”

  1. Staci Eastin says:

    One of my favorite books on writing.

  2. I was given the same advice by a friend. Luckily I love to read and write. I am currently working on writing a book myself. I will have a draft of the first chapter posted on my website soon.

  3. Paul Johnston says:

    Just want to say Thank You for your blog. I read it every day and find the posts informative and very helpful personally.
    Paul J

    1. Marla says:

      My thoughts exactly. Thanks Justin.

  4. Reg Schofield says:

    One of my English teachers in the past said the same thing.He told the class if you want to write well , read well . Sound advice .

  5. Frank! says:

    Glad (and surprised!) to see Stephen King show up on the Gospel Coalition. As an aspiring writer, his book really got to me some time ago. It will be on my reading list again this year. I should add, it’s got a lot of great insights on writing. Just be warned, he ain’t saved, and the language shows!

  6. Haha so true! But most people in this day and age would also rather talk rather than listen 80% of the time. I think there are some very interesting parallels between listening/talking – reading/writing.

  7. john says:

    similarly:

    you can’t be a good speaker unless you listen to lots of good speakers…and do lots of speaking

    READING about speaking … can be helpful but is very limited.

  8. David says:

    Keeping Holiday was mentioned on Dec. 10th

    It’s $2.99 at Christianbook.com as a bargain.

    How to Argue like Jesus is available there for $2.99 as well.

  9. Reading is virtually a luxury for me and has been for over 60 years. I suppose I have read between 20,000-30,000 volumes of books. In some areas I speed read, but speed reading will not work too well, if the material is very technical. My reading is usually outside the box, due to my training, for example, in Black History. Having advanced degrees in three areas, history, theology, and counseling, is also helpful in providing incentives for exploring other areas. Interestingly enough, I have taught in at least two areas outside the three in which I received my degrees, one of the blessings of history is that it introduces the historian to many areas of life. A life long practice has been that of reading sci/fi works. You all might be interested to know that Polaroid patented their land camera with its self-developing pictures in ’47, and I have a short story in my library about a fellow finding an object on an alien space craft, pressing a button, and taking his own picture which startled him as it came out of the camera. That short story was copyrighted in ’43 by a fellow who had, I think, a Ph.D. and was in Canadian Intelligence during WWII. Life is shore interesting. The weekend I found out that my great grandfather was a trail driver, horse wrangler, gunman, knew Billy the Kid and Jesse James, that very weekend, Louis L’amour kicked the bucket. That’s gratitude for you….after I had read his westerns for more years than I could remember.

    1. Mike Johnson says:

      Wow, that’s impressive. If you’ve read 30,000 books in the last 60 years, then you read about a book a day.

      1. Stephen says:

        more than a book a day. A book a day for 60 years: 60*365.25 = 21,915. I’ve never speed-read anything, but I doubt that is an effective method of really wrestling with language in order to be a better producer of it.

  10. Jesse Carr says:

    All things serve the beam.

  11. Jay Beerley says:

    @Jesse New DT book in April. Pumped.

  12. Depending on the book, the nature of the book in particular, and my aim in reading it. Some works I take notes on, copious notes. For example, I have taken notes on several Doctoral Dissertations like one on Lollardy at the Univ. of Mo. It is not the number of books read so much as the quality of the reading. Note taking ensures a better grasp of what is written. I took 3000 5×8 notecards in church history covering more than 250 sources (this was over a 6 years period inthe 60s). In depth research and detailed and comparative study is the best way to get an understanding of the way ideas work, especially theological ideas…and no doubt others. On I Cors.13 I did two years of research which led to a 50 page term paper with 305 footnotes. such efforts afford interesting insights into the nature and application of the precepts concerning agape love revealed in the words of the Bible.

  13. Chuck says:

    Just read this book. Actually, it’s the best thing I’ve read by King. I found his contention that honesty is the crucial goal in fiction intriguing.

  14. Stephen says:

    Justin, do you think there’s an analogy here for our Christian walk? Too often we just want to “do ministry” (or our poor excuse for it) yet we claim we do not have time to sit in devotion to the Lord, giving ourselves to prayer and Scripture.

  15. donsands says:

    Thanks. Looks like a great read, for a few good reasons. I am not the best reader, but I like to read. My son-in-law gave me ‘Moby Dick’ this Christmas, and my wife gave me ‘Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy’. Both of these books are excellent books, but look like hard work. I have some easier books as well for Christmas: Tebow, ‘Through my Eyes’, and a book on Landry and Lombardi.

    I like what King said here: “If there’s no joy in it, it’s just no good. It’s best to go onto some other area, where the deposits of talent may be richerand the fun quotient higher.”

  16. Justin, and his readers,

    Please take a few minutes to read this blog. My testimony is powerful. I write well, considering. But I need help to be heard. Your advise is appreciated.

    http://wsimpson.wordpress.com/2012/01/03/our-world-desperately-needs-the-touch-of-its-creator/

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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