Stephen King’s writing tips: Learning from the greats

king_fearStephen King is one of the most popular writers of all time, and his book On Writing is widely considered one of the best books on the topic. Here is a distillation of some of his top tips for writers in any genre.

• Grammar matters, but it isn’t everything. King urges writers to avoid adverbs – particularly after dialogue tags – and the passive voice. However, he cautions against writers who enslave themselves to grammar. The primary purpose of grammar and language in general is communication; a writer should make the choice that does that best.

• A writer needs to learn to be selfish. By the very nature of what they do, writers generally end up making someone unhappy anyway, so King argues that writers should write for themselves and focus on their own happiness.

• A writer should cultivate a certain type of lifestyle. King credits his own physical health and long-lasting marriage among other factors for his success. He also believes that a writer should turn off the television and read as much as possible. In fact, reading and writing as much as possible is crucial, and in addition to the television, the writer should eliminate distractions from the writing space including phones. The Internet was less distracting when King wrote his book, but that should probably go, too; King argues that even windows should be covered.

• A writer needs discipline but also needs to know when to take breaks. King says the first draft should be completed in a short time. He suggests three months, but even if you can’t manage a first draft quite this quickly due to other obligations, it’s better to put the pressure on yourself with a deadline than to tinker endlessly with the first few chapters of your book. Furthermore, any novel of any length is written in the same way: one word at a time. However, once the novel is finished, it should be set aside for several weeks. That will allow you to come back to it and appreciate it with a fresh eye.

• One of a writer’s greatest strengths is who they are and what they uniquely have to offer. King argues that fear and a lack of confidence lead to bad writing. A writer must find her own style and stories within.

• King also reiterates advice many writers may have heard often. One of those pieces of advice is to murder your darlings; in other words, you have to cut the parts of your book that you love the most if they are not working toward the overall cohesion of the story. Sometimes, these can be the most difficult parts to eliminate or see the problems with due to your affection toward them. You also must be careful that you don’t overdo research or use it as a substitute for the actual writing.

• Finally, writing needs to be its own reward. Writing rarely leads to wealth or celebrity, and even if it does, the act of writing and sharing that writing with others needs to be the most important part.
What tips here from King speak to you the most, and if you have read On Writing and found it useful, what about it resonated with you

Get more tips and tricks on being a more disciplined writer, managing your time more effectively and Celebrating small successes in writing

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