10 tips from Stephen King:
1. Write Sober
Ernest Hemingway and Hunter S. Thompson might make writers think that getting high or drunk is an essential to the writer’s toolkit – but here’s the thing: it isn’t. Addiction does damage, and as King points out in a Rolling Stone interview, it can really mess you up.
“The Tommyknockers is an awful book. That was the last one I wrote before I cleaned up my act. And I’ve thought about it a lot lately and said to myself, “There’s really a good book in here, underneath all the sort of spurious energy that cocaine provides, and I ought to go back.” The book is about 700 pages long, and I’m thinking, “There’s probably a good 350-page novel in there.” ~Rolling Stone (2014)
2. Avoid Distraction When Writing
Don’t get lost in the related link loop for hours when you could (or should) be writing. Distractions are best avoided when you’re in writing mode. Even Stephen King has to admit that YouTube can be a burden sometimes.
“YouTube is very addictive. I refused to put it on my favourite places because it’s too easy to go there.” ~Stephen King Visits YouTube
3. Listen To Critics
Don’t shut out the critics. Critics have pretty useful advice that can better your writing and guide your next pitch or paragraph. When asked about the worst writing advice he’s ever received, King brought up being told not to listen to critics.
“The worst advice? “Don’t listen to the critics.” I think that you really ought to listen to the critics, because sometimes they’re telling you something is broken that you can fix. I think the advice “Don’t listen to the critics” is a sort of defensive thing that says if you stick your head in the sand, you won’t have to hear any bad news and you won’t have to see any bad news and you won’t have to change what you’re doing. But if you listen, sometimes you can get rid of a bad habit.” ~Writers Digest, 1991
4. Write A First Draft (In Three Months)
How long have you been working on the first draft of your novel or short story? King says it should take no more than three months to wrap up what you’ve got for the basics.
“The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.” ~On Writing
5. Avoid Using Adverbs
Fans who know Stephen King should already know that he doesn’t love the use of adverbs. There are several quotes pertaining to them, but in this one he says exactly why they aren’t appropriate.
“The adverb is not your friend. Consider the sentence “He closed the door firmly.” It’s by no means a terrible sentence, but ask yourself if ‘firmly’ really has to be there.” ~On Writing
6. Remember Why You Write
Why do you write? Doing it for the right reasons can make the entire process an easier one. Stephen King has his reasons – and so should you. Again from the great On Writing, here’s what King had to say about it.
“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.” ~On Writing
7. Write Great Opening Lines
Opening lines hook readers, or puzzle writers and editors. Stephen King has mastered the art of writing a great opening line for chapters and paragraphs – and in an interview for The Atlantic, King bares all.
For readers: “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”
For writers: “We’ve talked so much about the reader, but you can’t forget that the opening line is important to the writer, too. To the person who’s actually boots-on-the-ground. Because it’s not just the reader’s way in, it’s the writer’s way in also, and you’ve got to find a doorway that fits us both.” ~The Atlantic
8. See Stories As Unfound Relics
Where ideas come from is one of the largest great mysteries of the creative world. King says in On Writing that stories are relics – and that all writers really have to do is learn how to find them.
“Stories aren’t souvenir tee-shirts or Game Boys. Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible. Sometimes the fossil you uncover is small; a seashell. Sometimes it’s enormous, a Tyrannosaurus Rex with all the gigantic ribs and grinning teeth. Either way, short story or thousand page whopper of a novel, the techniques of excavation remain basically the same.” ~On Writing
9. Don’t Obsess About Genres
A lot of writers get stuck at which genre they’re writing. Don’t. Sometimes genre writing can be restrictive. During an NPR interview, King clarifies how he has managed to transcend genres when he sits down to do his thing.
“People can call me a horror writer if they want to, and that’s fine — as long as the checks don’t bounce, I’m happy with that. But I think that I do a lot more, and I’m interested in the mystery of what we are and what we’re capable of doing.” ~NPR
10. Avoid Phases Like…
Writers should keep an eye on King’s official Twitter account, where he occasionally voices thoughts and drops nuggets of writing advice – like this one on an overused phrase.