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Stephen King’s Top 7 Writing Tips

Stephen King is one of the greatest fiction authors of the 20th and 21st centuries. In all, he’s sold over 350 million copies of his books. Many of them have been adapted into films and television series. He’s published 62 novels, five non-fiction books, and about 200 short stories in book collections.

Even though King is mainly a horror fiction writer, anyone can benefit from his advice, no matter what kind of writer you are.

Here are his 7 top tips from his book On Writing that will help you write better. If you’re an aspiring writer looking to improve your writing skills, you’ll find them helpful.

1. Get to the point.

Before you you start writing anything, make sure you have a solid topic in mind. That way, you can get to the point right away. Spending some time brainstorming your topic and thinking it through will help you get a clear picture of what you will be writing.

If you waste too much time writing outside of your topic, the reader may lose interest and move on. In that case, prewriting may help you lay down your ideas so you have a better sense of your topic.

When you start writing, avoid long intros and long personal introductions. Starting your article with a personal anecdote is fine — as long as it’s not too long and won’t bore the reader.

2. Write a draft first. Edit later.

It’s probably a no-brainer, but so many people still write their first draft and then hit publish. And this is the opposite of what you should do.

You have to write your first draft, then set it aside — it could be a day or just a few hours. King puts his manuscripts away for several months before rereading and starting the editing process. This practice helps him read them with a fresh pair of eyes.

Here’s how I approach my writing process. I first write a few articles in a row (I like to use the fill-in method during the week and add more content as I go). And as I finish each of them, I set them aside and come back to edit later, one at a time. So anything you create, just remember the rule — write first, edit later. Never combine the two in one sitting.

3. Cut down your text.

When it’s time to edit your text, be ruthless. Eliminate unnecessary fluff and filler words and sentences. As King says, “kill your darlings.” When you edit your text, don’t remove too much, though. You don’t want to go overboard and remove the juicy parts either. Aim at cutting down 10 percent, as King recommends. He has followed this advice himself for decades after he received his first rejection letter.

4. Be authentic.

Being authentic helps you connect with your readers on an emotional level. That’s why when you write, don’t limit yourself and let your imagination flow. Even though King is a fiction writer and most of his works have unusual plots and strange characters, he doesn’t fail to bring out his authenticity in his stories. He has an honest voice and is not afraid to reveal both the good and the bad sides of his characters. Above all, his characters are human.

Being honest is part of what makes you relatable to your readers. And if you’re honest — no matter how you portray yourself or whether you bring out both good or bad experiences — people will relate. The more emotion you can evoke in your reader, the stronger the connection will be.

Another way you can make your writing more authentic is by being conversational and using language that’s easy to understand. Don’t make the language be a barrier between your writing and your reader’s understanding.

5. Ignore the critics.

It’s easy to be carried away when someone has an emotional reaction to your writing. But emotions — no matter good or bad — are a good thing. When someone criticizes your writing it means your message pulled someone’s heartstrings. So when critics come along and comment on your work, it means your writing is great. Don’t succumb to their negative criticism. Embrace it and celebrate the fact that your words affected someone’s emotional state.

King doesn’t hide the fact that the emotional feedback he receives in response to his writing touches his heart. For example, when his wife reads his new story for the first time, she may laugh or cry depending on how it’s affected her. And her emotions touch Stephen’s heart, in a good way of course.

But it’s not to say that he never received negative feedback from people. In fact, during his career, he used to get loads of rejections from his literary critics who disapproved of his writing. They thought his writing came on too strong and his characters were plain lunatics. But this didn’t stop King in his tracks and he kept on writing, despite the harsh criticism he received. So he’d continue sitting at his desk every morning pouring his heart out.

The message here is don’t listen to your critics — listen to yourself.

Because when you worry too much about what other people think, it will reflect in your writing. You may start doubting yourself and attempt to change something about yourself. You won’t be as authentic and your writing will suffer. The best thing you can do is ignore the critics and be yourself. And remember, the only critic of your writing is you. Let your “you” come through when you write.

6. Read a lot.

If you want to develop your writing ability, then the first thing you can’t afford to overlook is reading. And King stresses it in his book On Writing. Reading allows you to enrich your knowledge and broaden your horizons. It makes you think. It also helps you fill your creative tank with ideas. And I can almost guarantee you’ll beat your writer’s block once you start reading regularly.

Reading helps you form an opinion on a topic and get a fresh perspective on how you see the world. As far as reading, don’t limit yourself to one genre. Of course, you can focus on the genre you want to improve on, but with the internet at your fingertips, you can read pretty much anything that sparks your curiosity. Make reading one of your daily habits and you’ll see how you start writing better.

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
― Stephen King

7. Write a lot.

When I first started writing about a year ago, I had no writing skills whatsoever. I don’t have a formal degree in writing and I’ve never taken a writing course. Most of the skills I’ve learned I picked up along the way. In short, I learned how to write by writing every day.

Regular habits practiced daily — such as writing — can slowly but surely help you evolve and transition to a new place. That’s the secret of all amazing masters of their craft, take Michael Jordan, for example, or Tom Brady.

Success comes to those who put in the work and who are patient. Your time, commitment, and dedication to your craft are what will help you shine. The more you’re willing to practice your skills, the greater your writing will be. Every time you write you sow a tiny seed on the ground, that in time will grow into a large tree blossoming into fresh fruit. But unless you build that tree with diligence, you won’t get any fruit from it.

As my experience has shown, the biggest roadblock to procrastination is looking for perfect conditions or inspiration to write. Ironically, the best remedy to such problems is writing. And I can almost guarantee that if you put down a few words and start writing today, you’ll kick the crippling habit of procrastination to the curb.

The real magic will happen when you start writing and you become inspired to continue. So don’t put off writing until another day. Pen words on paper and start writing. Once you do that, you’ll see the inspiration flowing like a river.

Don’t chase inspiration — let the inspiration chase you.

The takeaway

You won’t become a better writer overnight. Writing is a skill that takes time, dedication, and practice. If you want to improve, follow the advice of the best. Stephen King is a great example to those seeking advice and inspiration. If you follow in his footsteps and implement his tips consistently, your writing will shine.

Recommended1 Simily SnapPublished in Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Horror