Last month, I shared J.K. Rowlings top tips on writing and success, and it was a tough choice between her and Stephen King. Those two write such wonderful books because they understand love and fear. Have you read Stephen King’s On Writing? Seen The Shawshank Redemption (my favorite movie ever) or The Green Mile? King is a writer who sees the visceral underbelly of courage and the tenacity of the human spirit.
Here is his “Top Ten” list for writers:
1. Love what you do.
Really, y’all. Why would you do this writing thing if you didn’t love it? Most people don’t line up for the chance to rip their hearts out and show it to friends and strangers. But we do. We not only rip our hearts onto the page, we fight to make that painful process sound like something others may actually want to read. Why would any sane person do this kind of work unless they loved it?
King’s take: “For me, not working is the real work. When I’m writing, it’s all the playground…”
2. Be yourself.
Many years ago I heard literary agent, Natasha Kern, speak about writing. She said, “Every time you put words on the page, you are shouting out, ‘this is who I am.’” Terrifying thought, isn’t it? It’s enough to put you off writing if you let it.
Be who you are and write your truth and your voice will come through. Jill Marie Landis described “voice” to me like this: “Imagine you are sitting in a coffee shop, telling your best pal a story. Your story, your hand gestures, your expressions – they all have rhythms that are uniquely you. That’s voice.” Your voice will permeate everything you write.
3. Explore new ideas.
Don’t worry that it’s all be done before. Your story hasn’t been done before because only YOU can tell it. It’s that voice thing again. The imaginative one-of-a-kind lens you see the world through filters your words into your own one-of-a-kind story. Even if you’re exploring what King calls “the three stories shared by all horror writers,” your take on it will be different from anyone else’s.
4. The good idea stays with you.
Are you one of those writers who always wants to chase the shiny new idea “before it flies away?” One of the most amazing things about creativity is that the stories you are meant to write stick around. They kick at your brain and your heart until you let them out into the world.
This is why we are writers…we’re the designated vaults that hold the stories. We are the ones who care enough to put those stories into words for others.
Note: I’m not talking about those times when you are wading through the pit of despair in your current WIP, wondering when you will get back to “the good stuff.” Everyone goes through that phase, when the shiny new idea seems like a cup of cool water in the middle of a sweltering desert.
5. Love the process.
This bit of advice cracks me up. I don’t know any writers who love the whole process. Maybe they love the beginning and end, but they detest the middle. Maybe they love to plot, but hate to finish. Or they love to write but would rather go to the dentist than revise.
Whether or not I “love the process” pretty much depends on which day you ask me about it. But I always love the words. I always love the process of finding the best words, of teasing out the theme to a story and discovering what I really want to say.
It’s okay if you don’t love the entire process, as long as you love some piece of it so much that it becomes the carrot that draws you through the crappy parts. If you can’t find that carrot for yourself, talk to a writing friend and have them help you find it. It’s there, I promise you.
6. Learn from rejections.
Rejection is something all writers must deal with. Our own Laura Drake went through 417 rejections before she sold. Four. Hundred. Seventeen. That takes stamina and some pretty thick skin. I love her post, Don’t Give Away Your Power, where she discusses how to manage rejection.
7. Look for ideas you enjoy.
King says he never wrote a book where he wanted to say goodbye to the characters. You will be spending quite a bit of time with these people and if you aren’t having a ball, it’s unlikely the reader will either. Your goal is to create worlds and characters that nobody wants to leave, including you.
8. Find your creative process.
The biggest step, at least for me, is putting the booty into the writing chair. Not the social media/blogging/day job chair, the story chair. Stephen King likens the first ten minutes of writing time to “smelling a dead fish or walking through a monkey house.” If you stick with it, he insists that “something will click and lead to something else that sucks you down into the story.”
So, my take on his advice: Butt in the story chair. Stick with it for at least 15 minutes.
A bit of advice from Laura Drake: She has a saying: Nobody gets it all. Stop being greedy, thinking you need that elusive more to be a writer. You were given everything you need to tell your stories. Dig deep and find a process that helps you get the story out.
9. Pass something on.
Frankly, this is the essence of WITS to all of us here behind the scenes. We pass on knowledge because we think it’s important. Whether it’s knowledge, time, or simply a post, it’s important to share your abundance with others. Teach a class. Volunteer. Sponsor NaNoWriMo. Or, like Harley Christensen and Elizabeth Craig, curate knowledge for other writers and share the best damn tweets in the Twitterverse.
King makes an excellent point: it’s not like you can take it with you when you go.
10. Tell great stories.
Read a lot, write a lot and learn. Those are the activities you must engage in if you want to tell great stories. Stephen King writes to entertain himself, but he also never forgets the reader. His take on opening lines: “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”
- Being Successful: 17 Proven Lessons from Stephen King – Life Optimizer
- King’s Top 20 Rules for Writers – Open Culture
- 10 Things I Learned About Writing from Stephen King – The Guardian
- 5 Non-TED Talks From Five Amazing Writers – TurnDog
Stephen King struggled with depression, poverty, addiction and self-doubt, but he kept writing. What is your biggest challenge when it comes to getting words on the page? Which of these ten bits of wisdom do you struggle with the most?
By Jenny Hansen
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