5 Ways Stephen King Can Make You a Better Writer

Spread the love

1. Commit

King was writing short stories for his school classmates, then for publication in the pulps, then for submission to publishers–all the time writing in uncomfortable makeshift spaces (he’s tall and the desks he used were not).

He wrote “Carrie” in a corner closet of a doublewide trailer in rural Maine. His commitment, despite his discomfort, led to better writing and boosted the confidence of people who might help him.

2. Get A Mentor…or a Muse

Have someone who can show you the ropes. For King, this was a small-town newspaperman who accepted his first submission and offered unforgettable advice on the craft:

“When you are writing a story, you are telling yourself the story,” he said. “When you re-write, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”

Let the ghost of this man haunt entrepreneurs who over-use Powerpoint.

Another influence was more of a muse: his wife Tabitha, who found three pages of what might have become an unfinished idea for “Carrie” in the garbage. She smoothed out the pages and encouraged him to finish the book.

Please, God, send us all someone who is willing to root around in the waste basket to keep us from our mistakes.

3. Technique–or Technology?

Stephen King has an unshakable philosophy on plotting a story: don’t. That is, he finds pre-plotted stories to be predictable.

So he developed a technique of setting a few characters in a unique situation, then working with them, 2,000 words at a time, to see what happens. He says the situation, not the characters, comes first.

Here’s an example: A woman comes home to an empty house, finds it funny that for a second she got a whiff of her very dangerous ex’s hair tonic. Not possible–he’s in jail. She turns on the TV, finds out about the jail break. Then she thinks she hears something upstairs…

Here’s another example: What if the person coming home were a man? The one in jail, a woman?

This is killer plot technique. His technique–how he does things–provides his value. Lesson: to succeed, do things your way.

4. Master Your Toolbox

King tells the story of his uncle dragging a huge, hand-made toolbox with him on every carpentry job, even small ones that barely needed a couple of turns of a screwdriver. Why? Because you never know what tool you might need.

The lesson for writers is in mastering grammar, dialog and re-writes. For entrepreneurs, the lesson leads to better planning, organization and marketing.

Don’t start a job unless you have the tools to finish.

5. Produce…Joy!

King’s minimum daily writing output is ten pages. Every day, even Christmas. He doesn’t expect genius from himself. He just expects production.

But the flip side of this work ethic is a surprising one: He doesn’t write for the money. He accepts the dough gladly, but that is not why he puts himself behind a desk. He does that for the joy of it.

That’s a lesson for those of us who write. And for those of us who have other daily tasks that might bring joy.