Stephen King on Writing Everyday, Writing in Longhand, and Rewriting Drafts

INTERVIEWER
How important are your surroundings when you write?

KING
It’s nice to have a desk, a comfortable chair so you’re not shifting around all the time, and enough light. Wherever you write is supposed to be a little bit of a refuge, a place where you can get away from the world. The more closed in you are, the more you’re forced back on your own imagination. I mean, if I were near a window, I’d be OK for a while, but then I’d be checking out the girls on the street and who’s getting in and out of the cars and, you know, just the little street-side stories that are going on all the time: what’s this one up to, what’s that one selling? My study is basically just a room where I work.

INTERVIEWER
You mentioned wanting your study to feel like a refuge, but don’t you also like to listen to loud music when you work?

KING
Not anymore. When I sit down to write, my job is to move the story. If there is such a thing as pace in writing, and if people read me because they’re getting a story that’s paced a certain way, it’s because they sense I want to get to where I’m going. I don’t want to dawdle around and look at the scenery. To achieve that pace I used to listen to music. But I was younger then, and frankly my brains used to work better than they do now. Now I’ll only listen to music at the end of a day’s work, when I roll back to the beginning of what I did that day and go over it on the screen. But even more than place, I think it’s important to try to work every day that you possibly can.

INTERVIEWER
You use a computer?

KING
Yes, but I’ve occasionally gone back to longhand because I wanted to see what would happen. It changed some things. Most of all, it made me slow down because it takes a long time. Every time I started to write something, some guy up here, some lazybones is saying, Aw, do we have to do that? I’ve still got a little bit of that scholar’s bump on my finger from doing all that longhand. But it made the rewriting process a lot more felicitous. It seemed to me that my first draft was more polished, just because it wasn’t possible to go so fast. You can only drive your hand along at a certain speed. It felt like the difference between, say, rolling along in a powered scooter and actually hiking the countryside.

INTERVIEWER
Do you ever do extensive rewrites?

KING
One of the ways the computer has changed the way I work is that I have a much greater tendency to edit “in the camera”—to make changes on the screen. With Cell that’s what I did. I read it over, I had editorial corrections, I was able to make my own corrections, and to me that’s like ice skating. It’s an OK way to do the work, but it isn’t optimal. With Lisey I had the copy beside the computer and I created blank documents and retyped the whole thing. To me that’s like swimming, and that’s preferable. It’s like you’re writing the book over again. It is literally a rewriting.

Every book is different each time you revise it. Because when you finish the book, you say to yourself, This isn’t what I meant to write at all. At some point, when you’re actually writing the book, you realize that. But if you try to steer it, you’re like a pitcher trying to steer a fastball, and you screw everything up. As the science-fiction writer Alfred Bester used to say, The book is the boss. You’ve got to let the book go where it wants to go, and you just follow along. If it doesn’t do that, it’s a bad book.

Stephen King, in an interview with Paris Review

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Recovering creative re-learning how to create a daily writing and sketching practice for the second half of life