I used to think Stephen King was an idiot.
Many years ago, I consumed King’s memoir, On Writing, which offered advice for emerging storytellers. At the time of its digestion, I was simultaneously devouring a handful of King’s novels, from The Long Walk (underrated IMO) to The Stand (epic, but too epically long IMO).
I found King’s fiction to be entertaining and engaging, but his guidance within On Writing felt unworthy of the praise being spread throughout forums and blogs.
Well, it turns out I was the idiot.
I suppose I secretly wanted King’s advice to be wrong — because that would have meant I could still become a great writer without changing my ways.
Again, I was kind of an idiot at the time.
So, since I can finally regurgitate these recommendations without being a hypocritical fool, I’m here to broadcast seven core practices and approaches that Stephen King and I agree will help you get better as a writer, every day. — Mr. King was kind enough to provide the below quotes as well. 🙂
1. Don’t play it safe.
“Try any goddamn thing you like, no matter how boringly normal or outrageous. If it works, fine. If it doesn’t, toss it.”
My previous logic for hatorading this advice = I’m already trying things my way.
Bet on yourself and take risks.
^^That sentence^^ is always easier to write than execute.
I was one of the countless writers playing in the middle for far too long, but recently, I’ve discovered it’s the edges that welcome higher potential for bigger payoffs.
Would you rather paint by numbers amongst the common offerings or take a shot and produce outside the lines with stronger opportunities to standout?
You must compel yourself to innovate and broadcast your oddities. Don’t be different just for different’s sake. Be different because you’re different.
Be unlike the rest. Be uncommon. Be unsafe. Be you, every day.
2. Read and write a lot.
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
My previous reason for detesting this advice = It’s so simple, it’s silly!
Reading every day empowers you to absorb new styles, broaden your vocabulary, and challenge your mindset with new/different ideas.
Writing every day solidifies the cadence of your writing voice while beautifying the pretty prose you imprint on the page. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does improve potential.
Except the words you read do not have to be the kind you write.
And the words you write do not have to be the kind you read.
Don’t be a simple amateur like I used to be while waiting for inspiration to strike.
Become the silly pro by reading and writing a lot, every day.
3. Abstain from substances.
“The idea that the creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time.”
My previous rationale for disrespecting this advice = I enjoyed partaking in my alcoholic elixirs.
More than creative juices can flow during the writing process.
I drank more than my fair share of vino, scotch, and cognac during the creation of many trunked pages. While that’s not the sole reason those pages were trashed, alcohol was not helping me finish my projects.
Of course, there are many substances to access which can become part of a writing ritual. And they may feel like mental motivation/stimulation in the beginning, but they can quickly transform into an unhealthy habit or unproductive dependency.
So, what if you sampled sobriety?
Maybe it’ll expedite your path to becoming the writer you’re meant to be, every day?
4. Prepare to receive failure and criticism.
“If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it.”
My previous compulsion for dishonoring this advice = Fear, of course.
This one connects to #1 above when it comes to not playing it safe.
Rejection is something every writer will experience, but most writers do everything to avoid it.
Creative misfires and negative feedback are inevitable — assuming you’re sharing your work.
Come on, you’re already feeling a degree of failure when you’re comparing the number of likes or comments on social media posts from one day to the next. So why not raise the stakes and prepare for failure with your writing?
Get your adult writing pants on and prepare for the criticism — because it’s coming.
Yes, failure and criticism may not appear every day, but you should remember every day that your writing is not for everyone. Your words are only meant for those who can connect with them.
So every day, you must recognize that you’re going to take hits big and small, but it’s this everyday preparation that will equip you to swallow them all.
5. Write for fun.
“I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.”
My previous inability to support this advice = I forgot why I started writing in the first place.
If you do not love the craft, then I encourage you to risk time and money elsewhere.
But assuming you’re open to an unpaid internship at the keyboard, then you better remember to have fun, and create for yourself while honing your skillset.
Because writing for the money is outside yourself.
And writing for fan adoration is outside yourself.
Yet writing for pure fun and joy is inside yourself. At least it needs to be.
Otherwise, you won’t want to put in the work it requires to get better at writing — because the work becomes easier when it’s something you enjoy.
So every day, make this single commitment to yourself, “I promise to have fun.”
A cheesy smile can transform your writing, every day.
6. Believe in your audience.
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”
My previous obstacle to getting behind this advice = I believed I was giving readers what they wanted.
This one is closely tied to the old adage of Show, Don’t Tell.
Readers are smart, meaning that you don’t have to explain your writing or overproduce descriptions, backstory, and exposition.
All readers need is a loose framework. They’ll fill in the rest using their imaginations.
Less is more. A little goes a long way. Cliches, blah, more cliches.
Cliches exist for a reason though.
So every day, you must give credit where credit is due, and believe in your audience’s ability to pick up what you’re putting down.
Hmm, maybe the result will be your audience believing in your writing.
7. Trust that you can fix the words later.
“To write is human, to edit is divine.”
My previous issue with embracing this advice = I didn’t appreciate the different stages of creation.
Write a sentence, delete it. Write a sentence, cut half of it. Write a paragraph, rewrite most of it.
That was my writing process for many years. It’s actually an all-in-one writing-editing process — except I’ve finally learned I write better when they’re separate events.
Yes, a fixed word here or there is helpful in the moment, but pausing every few words or sentences to evaluate, edit, and rewrite will quickly slow or halt the creation process.
So these days, if I find myself compelled to stop and edit, I’ll write the following on a piece of paper, “Trust that you can fix the words later.”
Then I keep it in eyesight until the end of my writing session.
This simple sentence reminds me to keep moving forward and continue filling the page. And that results in more practice to improve potential.
Give this a go every day until you can scribe without revising in the same writing session.
Okay, that’s my revised assessment of the value Mr. King’s On Writing can bring a writer on a daily basis.
There’s no doubt that many of these practices and approaches can take some time to process and implement — err, possibly years — but I contend striving for each one will improve your writing in a meaningful way.
Idiot or not (him or me), I’m grateful for Stephen King’s advice, every day. 🙂