Top 10 Writer Tips From Stephen King
Updated: Mar 18, 2021
Saw a video someone posted of Stephen King talking, dishing out his tips to new writers. Thought I would type them up and post them here. Great motivational stuff for beginners.
#1 - If You Don't Succeed, Get A Bigger Nail
As he explains it, when he was 17 or so, he decided he wanted to be a writer. He started sending off manuscripts and getting rejection letters. To help motivate himself, he actually nailed them to a wall. He would see them and use that to push himself harder. After some time, they really started to pile up. One day, there were so many that the weight of them pulled the nail out of the wall. His solution was to get a bigger nail. What I take from this is that you can't give up. Use any setbacks as motivation. Learn from them what you can to improve yourself, but keep after it. Eventually, they don't become the motivation for you to press on, but rather a trophy you have hung on the wall to show off.
#2 - Write 6 Pages A Day
George R. R. Martin had Stephen King on a stage and they were asking each other questions. George asked him how he managed to write so many books in such a short amount of time. The actual question was rather crude, but I'll post it anyway. He asked, "How the F---k do you write so many books?" His answer was to set a small goal of 6 pages a day. I have adopted this recently in my own life. Sure, it is a struggle to get started sometimes. I get writer's block almost daily, but if I sit down and get a few sentences out, then it just starts to flow. My personal goal is 1,000 words. If you do the math, that is a book every three months. One of the keys to success in this business is Quantity and Quality. Make it good, and get it out there.
#3 - Go Where The Story Leads You
He tells a story of hearing another prominent writer claim that the first thing he does when he sits down to write a new story is to write the last line. Stephen explains that hearing this made him want to gag himself with his own finger. He believes he should go where the story leads him. He starts with a bit of an idea, but then just sees where it takes him organically. What happens, is what happens. If the good guy dies at the end, so be it. I write exactly the same way. I have a general idea of where I am going and am often just as surprised at the turn of events as you are. Stephen said that worrying about the plot is the hallmark of a bad writer. Now this is just his opinion, and you are free to have your own, but I will tell you that I largely agree. Let the thing happen. You can't plan out your life and think it will go according to the script. The same is true with writing a great story. My 2 cents.
#4 - The Good Ideas Will Stay With You
Someone once asked him if he kept a notebook where he jotted down ideas. He said, "I think a writer's notebook is the best way to immortalize bad ideas. My idea of a good idea is one that sticks around, and sticks around, and sticks around." Think about that. If it is a good idea, it will bother you, needling at the back of your mind until you do something with it, refusing to go away until you do. Don't sit down and brainstorm a bunch of crap and write it down. Then, force one of them to happen. A good idea should pop into your head one day and nag the bat crap out of you until you turn it into something fun.
#5 - Read And Copy Others. Then, Little By Little, You Develop Your Own Style
According to Stephen, the best writers are voracious readers who then try to copy someone they feel they have a connection with, whose stories speak to them. In short, write what you know. If you are a huge fan of a particular writer, you have been to school already. You have ingrained that other writer's style and flow into who you are. Just copy them. Over time, you will develop your own style as a spin-off of those other authors.
#6 - You Need A Routine
When you think about tip #2, it goes hand in hand. Set up a routine for yourself. From where you write, to when you write. Do you sip on coffee or a cocktail when you do? Once you have mapped out a routine in your head for the writing process, it will just become second nature to sit down and write. So, what is your routine? Don't have one, then make one up and stick to it. By doing so, you will, according to Stephen, place yourself into a sort of self-hypnosis and the process becomes so much easier.
#7 - Start Small
If you are new to all of this, chances are you don't have the skills required to write a full-length novel. So start small. Write short stories and let them develop into something bigger later. This gives you the chance to exercise your creativity, learn the do's and don'ts of grammar, and develop that routine we talked about above. You have to crawl before you can walk. You must walk before you run. So start smaller, setting yourself easy to reach goals, and grow your abilities over time. In Stephen's case, many of his short story ideas bloomed into something bigger. Misery, for example, was a short story that blew up.
#8 - Learn To Write For Different Mediums
Stephen thinks you should expand your writing by writing for different types of reading. A screenplay follows a different mindset. An informational article about an athlete for a magazine has a different goal and flow. By stretching yourself to write in different formats, you expand your mind and grow as a writer.
#9 - Look For Ideas You Would Enjoy Writing For Longer Periods
His idea here is to focus on books where, when you get to the end, you don't say, "Man, I'm glad that's over." Focus on the books that make you happy. Indulge yourself and not your audience. Get to the end and say, "Man, I don't want to say goodbye to these people." Write for yourself first, and the audience will follow. In fact, I will argue they will thank you for the journey.
#10 - Get Immersed In Your Writing Process Until The Outside World Is Gone
Stephen says he gets asked all the time where he gets his idea. He truly doesn't know. And he wouldn't tell us if he did. "All I know, is I sit down, and I turn on the machine, and there's always that first 10 minutes that's like smelling a dead fish or walking into a monkey house. All at once, something will click, that tiny little bit, and that leads to something else." The next thing he knows, the thought grows and he is going faster and faster. After a few minutes, the normal world is gone. The mundane real-life world has vanished. He is living in the book he is writing. Forgotten, is the fact he had to wash the dishes or take a kid to the dentist. He is truly immersed in his fictional world. If you can get to that point, and you can if you focus on the tips above, magic will happen.