9 Writing Tips from Stephen King

1. Read, read, read!


If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut. If you’re serious about being a writer, you need to read a lot. Expose yourself to different genres, writers, and writing styles to learn what’s effective and what’s not.


It’s your mind’s equivalent of going to the gym and bench pressing. Whatever you read, consider what you can take away and what to avoid— from the narrative’s construction, the characters’ dialogue, to the atmosphere.


The more you read, the better you understand the writer’s craft and how to go about it. Soon, you’ll be able to identify what’s good writing and what’s bad.


2. Avoid adverbs

I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. Well, you don’t have to avoid them entirely. But it’s best if you learn when to use them and when not to. They’re much more effective when used sparingly.


Newbie writers tend to use lots of adverbs to make their writing sound livelier and full. In reality, adverbs can distract a reader from what you want to say and dilutes the quality of your work. When in doubt, keep it simple.


The writer is telling you, instead of showing you, that someone feels cheerful. It takes away the emotion from the character’s voice, thus weakening the dialogue’s effect.


3. Remove the unnecessary

So you’ve finished your first draft! Don’t get cocky now, rarely does the first draft turn out amazing. Now it’s time to edit your writing.


The 10% that King’s talking about is the amount of words and phrases that don’t add quality to your work. They just make your writings a cumbersome read. Omit needless words and shorten sentences when you can. The result is crisp and clear writing.


4. Try to write every day.

I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words. That’s 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book—something in which the reader can get happily lost, if the tale is done well and stays fresh.


If you want to be a strong writer, you need to develop your writing process. To do that, you’ll have to figure out what works best for you. And to know what works best for you, you need to write constantly.


King writes in the morning, naps and drinks tea in the afternoon, and hangs out with family in the evening. You don’t have to follow this. What matters is that you find time to write. Make it a goal to write a certain amount of words and slowly build those numbers up.


5. Use simple words

One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones.


Don’t dress up your vocabulary to beautify your prose. It comes out stuffy and awkward. Write in a natural style that’s recognizably human rather than a machine randomly picking words from the human language.


If something can be said in a simpler manner, go for it. Rather than using complex words, use simple words in powerful ways. Purple prose will only make your writing hard (and annoying) to read. The last thing you want is for your readers to spend half their time looking up words in a dictionary.


6. Write for yourself first

Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Forget about the audience and focus on your story. What the readers love doesn’t matter at this stage. It’s your story, do whatever you want with it.


Only when you’re done should you show it to someone else. Who wants to read a half-baked story, right? Once you’ve shown it to someone else, it’s no longer just yours. They’ll form opinions, have suggestions, and influence the direction of the story.


So the first draft is solely yours to write according to your vision. The second draft is when you take the readers’ side into consideration.


7. Don’t use the passive voice

I think timid writers like them for the same reason timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe. The passive voice, though not illegal, is a winding way of saying something. That weakens your narrative, especially when you’re writing actions into the story.


The active voice carries a sense of authority because it generates a stronger connection to the action. It also moves the narrative faster, allowing for a more engaging read.


8. Don’t over-describe

Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s. It’s easy to fall into the trap of over-description. You want to show off your writing skills, include cool details, and so on. But that makes your story a lengthy read.


Choose a few important details that will support the entire structure of what you want to convey. Let the reader fill in the gaps using their imagination. This way, you’re not restricting them, but encouraging them into engaging more with your story.


9. Failure is motivation

By the time I was fourteen (and shaving twice a week whether I needed to or not) the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.


Everyone goes through failure and is given a choice: give up or keep on going. People rarely go for the second. Failure is one powerful fear we struggle to conquer. But the more experience you accumulate, the better you improve. Keep at it and you’ll soon be selling more stories than getting rejected.