On Daily Routines, we profile successful leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, executives and athletes to explore their routines, schedules, habits and day in the life.
For a majority of Stephen King’s early career, he was writing his novels buzzed. After developing a drinking problem in the early 1970s, King’s addiction quickly escalated to include drugs and would remain a serious issue for over the next decade.
In his 2000 memoir, On Writing, King admitted he barely remembers writing his 1981 psychological horror novel, Cujo, and recounts the time his friends and family staged an intervention; confronting him with all the signs of his addiction problem: beer cans, cigarette butts, grams of cocaine, Xanax, Valium, NyQuil, Robitussin, and mouthwash.
Following the intervention, King quit all drugs and alcohol in the late 1980s and has remained sober ever since. These days, the only addiction King has is to writing. No real surprise there, considering the author’s prolific output over his writing career, which includes 62 novels, five non-fiction books and 200 short stories.
“I love it. And it’s one of the few things where I do it less now and get as much out of it,” King said in an interview with Rolling Stone. “Usually with dope and booze, you do it more and get less out of it as time goes by. It’s still really good, but it’s addictive, obsessive-compulsive behavior.”
“So I’ll write every day for maybe six months and get a draft of something – and then I make myself stop completely for 10 days or 12 days in order to let everything settle. But during that time off, I drive my wife crazy.”
I have a routine because I think that writing is self-hypnosis and you fall into kind of a trance if you do the same passes over and over.Stephen King: ‘Writing is hypnosis’ | CNN
Stephen King’s writing routine
As the years have gone by, King’s daily writing routine has slowed down. He still writes every day, even on the weekends, but as he says, “I used to write more and I used to write faster – it’s just aging. It slows you down a little bit.” Earlier on, he used to pump out 2,000 words a day, but these days, he aims to write for about four hours each day and gets down about 1,000 words.
He described an example writing routine in a 2014 interview:
I wake up. I eat breakfast. I walk about three and a half miles. I come back, I go out to my little office, where I’ve got a manuscript, and the last page that I was happy with is on top. I read that, and it’s like getting on a taxiway. I’m able to go through and revise it and put myself – click – back into that world, whatever it is. I don’t spend the day writing. I’ll maybe write fresh copy for two hours, and then I’ll go back and revise some of it and print what I like and then turn it off.Stephen King: The Rolling Stone Interview | Rolling Stone
King also used to listen to music when he wrote, usually having the same song on loop while he worked. As he explains to The Paris Review, “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.”
Writing out of his workspace, which as he describes in the same Paris review interview is “basically just a room where I work,” King uses a computer but likes to go back to longhand writing, like he did when working on 1998’s Bag of Bonesand 2001’s Dreamcatcher.
“I’ve still got a little bit of that scholar’s bump on my finger from doing all that longhand,” he revealed. “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.”
20 hours a day, I live in the same reality that everybody else lives in. But for four hours a day, things change. And if you ever ask me how that happens or why it happens, I’d have to tell you, it’s as much a mystery to me as it is to anybody else.Stephen King Is Sorry You Feel Like You’re Stuck In A Stephen King Novel | NPR
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Check out more daily routines from Barack Obama, Joe Rogan, Jeff Bezos, Michelle Obama, Sheryl Sandberg, Richard Branson, Warren Buffet and plenty others.