Writing Advice from Stephen King

Love him or hate him, Stephen King is a prolific writer. But he’s a damn good writer.

I recently posted a link on Twitter to his advice on writing, which he gave in 1986. And even though the advice seems dated, it is still perfectly applicable today. I encourage you to read the entire entry, but I highlight the most important parts below.

Stephen King makes a great point about giving advice (and who listens to it):

I am going to tell you these things again because often people will only listen – really listen – to someone who makes a lot of money doing the thing he’s talking about.

King writes that talent is absolutely essential to write well. But I like how he factors the importance of rejection into the mix:

If you’re not talented, you won’t succeed. And if you’re not succeeding, you should know when to quit. When is that? I don’t know. It’s different for each writer. Not after six rejection slips, certainly, nor after sixty. But after six hundred? Maybe. After six thousand? My friend, after six thousand pinks, it’s time you tried painting or computer programming.

Don’t rely on reference book(s) when doing the first draft:

You want to write a story? Fine. Put away your dictionary, your encyclopedias, your World Almanac, and your thesaurus. Better yet, throw your thesaurus into the wastebasket. The only things creepier than a thesaurus are those little paperbacks college students too lazy to read the assigned novels buy around exam time.

In this day, just substitute the World Almanac and encyclopedias for Wikipedia, and you’ve essentially got the same advice.

This is the kicker for me:

Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word.

Don’t be afraid to kill things if they’re bad:

When it comes to people, mercy killing is against the law. When it comes to fiction, it is the law.

You can read the entire piece in ten minutes (which is Stephen King’s intention). Highly, highly recommended.

5 thoughts on “Writing Advice from Stephen King

  1. Not to brag, but this is the piece that Stephen King sent to me in reply to a letter I wrote to him when I was ten years old. I printed out the twelve pieces of advice he gives; they currently reside on a sheet of paper that sits on the top shelf of my desk. I have only to look up to read the sheet of paper.

    So yes, I have read this piece 🙂

    Also, his ON WRITING is what motivated me to completely rewrite my novel from the beginning, this time without outlining first. That, and THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE, should be on every writer’s bookshelf.

  2. WOW, that’s pretty amazing, Litdreamer!

    I do need to read On Writing. Of course, The Elements of Style is one of the most important books I’ve ever read, and I keep it within close reach on my bookshelf.

    Thanks for the comment!

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