These seven writing tips from Stephen King will help you write a better book, blog post, or magazine article. Learn to write from than the King of Horror Writing (not the king of horrible writing!).
I’ve navigated oceans of praise about Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft— and indeed, it can improve your writing immensely. He says this book was very difficult for him to write – and, truthfully, the first half was difficult for me to read! I thought it meandered, and was more of a reflection on his life than a “how to write” guide. But, I guess that’s why he called it a “memoir”, right?
Nevertheless, I’ve pulled several good writing quips and tips from it…
Stephen King’s Writing Tips – How Write a Better Book
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things about all others: read a lot and write a lot,” writes King. “Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life. I take a book with me everywhere I go, and find there are all sorts of opportunities to dip in.”
1. Read bad writing
“One learns most clearly what not to do by reading bad prose – one novel like Asteroid Miners (or Valley of the Dolls, Flowers in the Attic, and The Bridges of Madison County, to name just a few) is worth a semester at a good writing school, even with the superstar guest lecturers thrown in,” writes King.
I think it’s also important to learn why the writing doesn’t work – not just that it doesn’t work.
2. Read good writing
“Good writing teaches the learning writer about style, graceful narration, plot development, the creation of believable characters, and truth-telling,” writes King. “A novel like The Grapes of Wrath [by John Steinbeck] may fill a new writer with feelings of despair and good old-fashioned jealousy – ‘I’ll never be able to write anything that good, not if I live to be a thousand’ – but such feelings can also serve as a spur, goading the writer to work harder and aim higher.”
The trick is not letting good writing scare you from writing your own books.
3. Set — and stick to — your writing schedule
“My own schedule is pretty clear-cut,” writes King. “Mornings belong to whatever is new – the current composition. Afternoons are for naps and letters. Evenings are for reading, family, Red Sox games on TV, and any revisions that just cannot wait. Basically, mornings are my prime writing time.”
To write a better book, you need to be a productive writer.
4. Improve your writing with the secret to good description
“The key to good description begins with clear seeing and ends with clear writing, the kind of writing that employs fresh images and simple vocabulary,” writes King. “I began learning my lessons in this regard by reading Chandler, Hammett, and Ross MacDonald; I gained perhaps even more respect for the power of compact, descriptive language from reading T.S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams.”
If you’re a new writer, read 7 Writing Strategies for Beginning Writers.
5. Take six weeks off – a surprising writing tip from Stephen King
“If you’ve never done it before, you’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience,” writes King. “For me, the most glaring errors I find on the re-read have to do with character motivation (related to character development but not the same).”
6. Learn to edit, revise, rewrite your own writing
“During that reading [after the six week layoff], the top part of my mind is concentrating on story and toolbox concerns: knocking out pronouns with unclear antecedents, adding clarifying phrases where they seem necessary, and of course, deleting all the adverbs I can bear to part with,” writes King.
7. Tell a coherent story
“Underneath, however, I’m asking myself the Big Questions. The biggest: Is this story coherent? And if it is, what will turn coherence into a song? What are the recurring elements? Do they entwine and make a theme? What I want most of all is resonance, something that will linger for a little while in the Constant Reader’s mind (and heart) after he or she has closed the book and put it up on the shelf.”
Resonance doesn’t just occur in fiction writing – fellow scribes, you know when a great article or nonfiction book resonates with you.
For more fiction and nonfiction writing tips, read 5 Examples of Using Your Senses in Your Writing.
Do you want write for a living? Join the Writers Work Community and get professional career training, writing tools, an online portfolio, and more. Need encouragement? Sign up for my weekly "Echoes of Joy" email - it's free, short, and energizing. Like me!
What’s your favorite writing from Stephen King? Comments welcome below…