How Stephen King's Car Accident Affected His Writing

On June 19, 1999, horror maestro Stephen King was struck by a van and nearly killed while on his daily walk. The author had already become a massive hit with a staggering number of best-sellers - many of which were adapted into big Hollywood movies - but the accident forced some changes on King.

From writing himself and the accident into the final three Dark Tower books (while writing them back-to-back to ensure they were finished) to having to write some initial post-surgery books by hand because he couldn't sit at his desk, these are the ways that fateful day changed the way King wrote his stories.


  • He Wrote 'Dreamcatcher' By Hand Because He Couldn't Be At His Desk For More Than An Hour Without Pain
    Photo: Dreamcatcher / Warner Bros. Pictures

    He Wrote 'Dreamcatcher' By Hand Because He Couldn't Be At His Desk For More Than An Hour Without Pain

    After the accident, Stephen King didn't get back to writing for five weeks, and when he did, the process was anything but comfortable. In an essay he wrote for The New Yorker, the writer detailed the immense pain he suffered after his numerous surgeries:

    I didn’t want to go back to work. I was in a lot of pain, unable to bend my right knee. I couldn’t imagine sitting behind a desk for long, even in a wheelchair. Because of my cataclysmically smashed hip, sitting was torture after forty minutes or so, impossible after an hour and a quarter. How was I supposed to write when the most pressing thing in my world was how long until the next dose of Percocet?

    Eventually, his wife Tabitha got him back to writing by installing a small desk near the couple's pantry. Even with that accommodation, King couldn't be at the desk for more than a couple of hours before the pain grew too much. This led him to write the entire first draft of Dreamcatcher in longhand between November 1999 and May 2000.

  • He Wrote The Final Three 'Dark Tower' Books Back-To-Back To Make Sure He Finished The Series
    Photo: The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower / Grant

    He Wrote The Final Three 'Dark Tower' Books Back-To-Back To Make Sure He Finished The Series

    Following the news that King was going to pull through his injuries, most fans moved from being concerned for the well-being of their favorite author to the status of a number of his books.

    At the forefront of many Constant Readers' minds was if King would be able to finish his magnum opus, the Dark Tower series. To that point, only four books in the series had been published, and the fourth book - Wizard and Glass - had been out for two years and had ended on a cliffhanger.

    Shortly after King returned to writing, he knew he not only had to continue the series, but he had to write them in succession to guarantee his story was finished. The final three Dark Tower novels - Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, and The Dark Tower - were written together, with book five being published in 2003 and books six and seven both published in 2004.

  • He Wrote Himself And The Accident Into 'The Dark Tower' Series
    Photo: The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah / Grant

    He Wrote Himself And The Accident Into 'The Dark Tower' Series

    Not only did King hit warp speed on his beloved Dark Tower series after his accident to ensure it was finished in time, but he also went full meta when he wrote himself and the incident on June 19, 1999, directly into the story.

    To close readers, it seemed plausible that he might write himself into the narrative before his accident, but the end result included two members of Roland's Ka-Tet there on the day he was hit.

    In the story, Roland and Jake arrive in Bridgton, ME, on the day in question with enough time to act and save the writer's life so he can finish his Dark Tower series and protect the Tower itself. Jake actually dives in front of the van - a version of Bryan Smith unknowingly controlled by the Crimson King to kill the writer - and is killed in his place.

    While the whole scene read as odd even to King's most devoted Constant Readers, it's also one of the writer's more heart-wrenching moments as Jake dies in Roland's arms asking if he saved King.

  • His Immediate Books Post-Accident Were More Autobiographical And And A Bit Weird - Even For Him
    Photo: It Chapter Two / Warner Bros. Pictures

    His Immediate Books Post-Accident Were More Autobiographical And And A Bit Weird - Even For Him

    Nearly being killed in a car accident would make anyone examine their life, and King was no different. The first full book King wrote after his accident was his writing advice book On Writing, which ended up serving as a partial biography of King's life, and an entire section of the book was dedicated just to the events on June 19.

    He also examined different elements of the accident and how it affected his will to write when he wrote himself into the final Dark Tower books and had his characters save him so the fictionalized version of himself could recover and finish the same Dark Tower novels the reader was currently reading.

    Plotlines like that and things like the "sh*t weasels" in Dreamcatcher also hint at the combination of serious post-surgery pain and pain medication leading to some of the author's most famously weird and outlandish stories.

  • He Adapted Parts Of The Accident Into An Episode Of His Show 'Kingdom Hospital'
    Photo: Kingdom Hospital / ABC

    He Adapted Parts Of The Accident Into An Episode Of His Show 'Kingdom Hospital'

    In 2004, King developed a short-lived television series called Kingdom Hospital based on Lars von Trier's The Kingdom. In one of the show's 13 episodes, King's accident was used as partial inspiration. One of the show's main characters is hit by a car while the driver was distracted by a dog - the exact way Bryan Smith hit King in 1999.

    That isn't where the show's connections to the car accident end, though. The titular hospital is located in Lewiston, ME, which is the town King was airlifted to for his own injuries after he was hit.

  • He Wrote 'On Writing' Partially As A Way To Reckon With The Accident
    Photo: On Writing / Scribner

    He Wrote 'On Writing' Partially As A Way To Reckon With The Accident

    In 2000, King published his first book post-accident called On Writing. King told Katie Couric in an NBC interview that he struggled with writing after the accident more than he anticipated:

    After the accident, I was totally incapable of writing. At first it was as if I'd never done this in my life. ... It was like starting over again from square one.

    The book morphed from just advice on writing to a pseudo-memoir. The last chunk of the book is titled "On Living," and King goes into detail about the accident and begins to reckon with it. As the book's launch approached, King posted a blog on his website that explained finishing the novel had bolstered his spirits about his career returning to normal:

    My endurance is much less than it was and my output has been cut in half, but I am working.