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TSS #021: How to Get Better as a Writer Every Day — and write like Stephen King

by | Oct 15, 2022

Read Time: 5 minutes

I used to think Stephen King was an idiot.

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 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 mean I could still become a great writer without changing my ways. 

But I’ve come to appreciate King’s wisdom. And I can finally repeat his recommendations without being a hypocritical fool.

So without further ado, here are seven core practices and approaches that Stephen King and I agree will help you get better as a writer, every day. 

    • Special Note: Mr. King was kind enough to provide all quotes included below. 🙂

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.”

— Stephen King

Bet on yourself and take risks.

^^That sentence^^ is always easier to write than execute.

I used to be one of the countless writers playing in the middle, but I finally discovered it’s the unsafe edges that welcome higher potential and bigger payoffs.

Would you rather paint by numbers amongst the common offerings or would you rather produce outside the lines with different 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 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.”

— Stephen King

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 mind with different ideas.

Writing every day solidifies the cadence of your voice while beautifying the pretty prose you imprint on the page. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does improve potential.

But 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 stay the novice waiting for the muse.

Become the real 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.”

— Stephen King

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 my fair share of vino, scotch, and cognac while writing many trunked pages. While that’s not the sole reason those pages were trashed, alcohol was not helping me finish projects.

Of course, there are many substances to access which can become part of a writing ritual. They may feel like mental motivation or 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 meet 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.”

— Stephen King

My previous compulsion for dishonoring this advice = Fear, of course.

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 total likes or comments on social media 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 everyday 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.”

— Stephen King

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.

The work becomes easier when it’s something you enjoy. If you lack fun in the process, you may not want to put in the work it requires to get better at writing .

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.”

— Stephen King

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 or exposition.

All readers ask from you is a loose framework… because they want to fill in the rest using their own 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, every day.

7. Trust that you can fix the words later.

“To write is human, to edit is divine.”

— Stephen King

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. Write a paragraph, rewrite 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 how Mr. King delivers daily value to your writing.

There’s no doubt that many of these approaches can take time to process and implement — er, years — but I contend that striving for each one will advance your craft in a meaningful way.

Idiot or not (him or me), I’m grateful for Stephen King’s advice, every day. 🙂

That’s it for this Saturday.

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See ya next week!

— David