A Guest Blog from Stephen King—Yes, that Stephen King

wStephenKingcolorOkay, let’s get a few things straight right from the top:

  • This is going to be a very long post, but I’m not going to apologize for it because: 1—I need to brag about how I know Mr. King; 2—I promise it’ll be content-rich; 3—You’re going to learn Voice merely by osmosis, beyond what he’s teaching overtly; and 4—You’ll be glad you invested the time. So grab your favorite beverage and settle in…
  • Though I work the inspirational side of the fiction writing fence and he the horror, we at one time happened to share the services of the same audio reader, the legendary Frank Muller, who remains, even post mortem, the unquestioned creme de la creme of that field.
  • We first met by phone when Stephen called one day to discuss how we might aid Frank’s family after he suffered a motorcycle accident that would eventually take his life. Then Stephen and I met personally in 2004 when we visited Frank in rehab, where he lingered for several years.
  • Stephen and I share a rabid love of baseball (he the Boston Red Sox, I the Chicago Cubs).
  • I have been accused of trying to scare readers out of Hell.
  • Stephen has been accused of trying to scare the hell out of readers.
  • We read each other’s work and respect each other and still keep in touch via email.
  • Writer’s Digest considered us strange enough bedfellows to feature us in a cover story.
  • I will insert myself into Stephen’s blog only occasionally to adjust for the fact that the piece is nearly 30 years old, yet remains poignantly applicable.
  • I expect it to stimulate spirited conversation, however be advised that my team and I will excise any off-topic comments. This is not the place to discuss Stephen’s use of naughty words, or his political, cultural, or religious views. Let’s stick to the subject of fiction writing.

I asked if I could share with you sections of his iconic piece from the 1986 issue of The Writer magazine, wherein he promised to tell budding fiction writers everything they needed to know about writing successfully in ten minutes. Much of it has been floating around the Internet ever since, and you may have seen it.

He kindly said, “Feel free to use as much of it as you’d like.”

And so, with thanks for that generous offer, here is all of it with a few notes:

 

Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully—in Ten Minutes 

By Stephen King

I. The First Introduction
THAT’S RIGHT. I know it sounds like an ad for some sleazy writers’ school, but I really am going to tell you everything you need to pursue a successful and financially rewarding career writing fiction, and I really am going to do it in ten minutes, which is exactly how long it took me to learn.

It will actually take you twenty minutes or so to read this essay, however, because I have to tell you a story, and then I have to write a second introduction. But these, I argue, should not count in the ten minutes.


II. The Story, or, How Stephen King Learned to Write

When I was a sophomore in high school, I did a sophomoric thing which got me in a pot of fairly hot water, as sophomoric didoes often do. I wrote and published a small satiric newspaper called The Village Vomit. In this little paper I lampooned a number of teachers at Lisbon (Maine) High School, where I was under instruction. These were not very gentle lampoons; they ranged from the scatological to the downright cruel.

Eventually, a copy of this little newspaper found its way into the hands of a faculty member, and since I had been unwise enough to put my name on it (a fault, some critics argue, of which I have still not been entirely cured), I was brought into the office.

The sophisticated satirist had by that time reverted to what he really was: a fourteen-year-old kid who was shaking in his boots and wondering if he was going to get a suspension—what we called “a three-day vacation” in those dim days of 1964.

I wasn’t suspended. I was forced to make a number of apologies—they were warranted, but they still tasted like dog-dirt in my mouth—and spent a week in detention hall. And the guidance counselor arranged what he no doubt thought of as a more constructive channel for my talents.

This was a job—contingent upon the editor’s approval—writing sports for the Lisbon Enterprise, a twelve-page weekly, the sort with which any small-town resident will be familiar. This editor was the man who taught me everything I know about writing in ten minutes. His name was John Gould—not the famed New England humorist or the novelist who wrote The Greenleaf Fires, but a relative of both, I believe.

He told me he needed a sports writer and we could “try each other out” if I wanted.

I told him I knew more about advanced algebra than I did sports.

Gould nodded and said, “You’ll learn.”

I said I would at least try to learn. Gould gave me a huge roll of yellow paper and promised me a wage of 1/2¢ per word. The first two pieces I wrote had to do with a high school basketball game in which a member of my school team broke the Lisbon High scoring record. One of these pieces was straight reportage. The second was a feature article.

I brought them to Gould the day after the game, so he’d have them for the paper, which came out Fridays. He read the straight piece, made two minor corrections, and spiked it.

Then he started in on the feature piece with a large black pen and taught me all I ever needed to know about my craft. I wish I still had the piece—it deserves to be framed, editorial corrections and all—but I can remember pretty well how it looked before and after he had finished with it.

Here’s an example:

[Note: King’s original copy showed Mr. Gould’s edit marks.]

Last night, in the well-loved gymnasium of Lisbon High School, partisans and Jay Hills fans alike were stunned by an athletic performance unequaled in school history: Bob Ransom, known as “Bullet” Bob for both his size and accuracy, scored thirty-seven points. He did it with grace and speed … and he did it with an odd courtesy as well, committing only two personal fouls in his knight-like quest for a record which has eluded Lisbon thinclads since 1953….

[With Mr. Gould’s edits applied.]

Last night, in the Lisbon High School gymnasium, partisans and Jay Hills fans alike were stunned by an athletic performance unequaled in school history: Bob Ransom scored thirty-seven points. He did it with grace and speed … and he did it with an odd courtesy as well, committing only two personal fouls in his quest for a record which has eluded Lisbon’s basketball team since 1953….

When Gould finished marking up my copy in the manner I have indicated above, he looked up and must have seen something on my face. I think he must have thought it was horror, but it was not: it was revelation.

“I only took out the bad parts, you know,” he said. “Most of it’s pretty good.”

“I know,” I said, meaning both things: yes, most of it was good, and yes, he had only taken out the bad parts. “I won’t do it again.”

“If that’s true,” he said, “you’ll never have to work again. You can do this for a living.” Then he threw back his head and laughed.

And he was right; I am doing this for a living, and as long as I can keep on, I don’t expect ever to have to work again.


III. The Second Introduction

All of what follows has been said before. If you are interested enough in writing to be a purchaser of this magazine, you will have either heard or read all (or almost all) of it before. Thousands of writing courses are taught across the United States each year; seminars are convened; guest lecturers talk, then answer questions, then drink as many gin and tonics as their expense-fees will allow, and it all boils down to what follows.

I am going to tell you these things again because often people will only listen—really listen—to someone who makes a lot of money doing the thing he’s talking about. This is sad but true. And I told you the story above not to make myself sound like a character out of a Horatio Alger novel but to make a point: I saw, I listened, and I learned.

Until that day in John Gould’s little office, I had been writing first drafts of stories which might run 2,500 words. The second drafts were apt to run 3,300 words. Following that day, my 2,500-word first drafts became 2,200-word second drafts. And two years after that, I sold the first one.

So here it is, with all the bark stripped off. It’ll take ten minutes to read, and you can apply it right away—if you listen.


IV. Everything You Need to Know About Writing SuccessfullyStephen King

1. Be talented
This, of course, is the killer. What is talent? I can hear someone shouting, and here we are, ready to get into a discussion right up there with “what is the meaning of life?” for weighty pronouncements and total uselessness.

For the purposes of the beginning writer, talent may as well be defined as eventual success—publication and money. If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.

Now some of you are really hollering. Some of you are calling me one crass money-fixated creep. And some of you are calling me bad names. Are you calling Harold Robbins talented? someone in one of the Great English Departments of America is screeching. V.C. Andrews? Theodore Dreiser? Or what about you, you dyslexic moron?

Nonsense. Worse than nonsense, off the subject. We’re not talking about good or bad here. I’m interested in telling you how to get your stuff published, not in critical judgments of who’s good or bad. As a rule the critical judgments come after the check’s been spent, anyway. I have my own opinions, but most times I keep them to myself.

People who are published steadily and are paid for what they are writing may be either saints or trollops, but they are clearly reaching a great many someones who want what they have. Ergo, they are communicating. Ergo, they are talented.

The biggest part of writing successfully is being talented, and in the context of marketing, the only bad writer is one who doesn’t get paid. If you’re not talented, you won’t succeed. And if you’re not succeeding, you should know when to quit.

When is that? I don’t know. It’s different for each writer. Not after six rejection slips, certainly, nor after sixty. But after six hundred? Maybe. After six thousand? My friend, after six thousand pinks, it’s time you tried painting or computer programming.

Further, almost every aspiring writer knows when he is getting warmer—you start getting little jotted notes on your rejection slips, or personal letters . . . maybe a commiserating phone call.

It’s lonely out there in the cold, but there are encouraging voices—unless there is nothing in your words which warrants encouragement. I think you owe it to yourself to skip as much of the self-illusion as possible. If your eyes are open, you’ll know which way to go—or when to turn back.

2. Be neat
Type. Double-space. Use a nice heavy white paper, never that erasable onion-skin stuff. If you’ve marked up your manuscript a lot, do another draft.

[Of course, today Stephen would say to use a large, serif type and transmit only work with which you’re entirely happy, spell checked and properly formatted.]

3. Be self-critical
If you haven’t marked up your manuscript a lot [or, today, carefully edited and rewritten it], you did a lazy job. Only God gets things right the first time. Don’t be a slob.

4. Remove every extraneous word
You want to get up on a soapbox and preach? Fine. Get one and try your local park. You want to write for money? Get to the point. And if you remove all the excess garbage and discover you can’t find the point, tear up what you wrote and start all over again—or try something new.

5. Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft
You want to write a story? Fine. Put away your dictionary, your encyclopedias, your World Almanac, and your thesaurus. Better yet, throw your thesaurus into the wastebasket. The only things creepier than a thesaurus are those little paperbacks college students too lazy to read the assigned novels buy around exam time.

Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule. You think you might have misspelled a word? O.K., so here is your choice: either look it up in the dictionary, thereby making sure you have it right—and breaking your train of thought and the writer’s trance in the bargain—or just spell it phonetically and correct it later. Why not? Did you think it was going to go somewhere?

And if you need to know the largest city in Brazil and you find you don’t have it in your head, why not write in Miami, or Cleveland? You can check it—but later. When you sit down to write, write. Don’t do anything else except go to the bathroom, and only do that if it absolutely cannot be put off.

6. Know the markets
Only a dimwit would send a story about giant vampire bats surrounding a high school to McCall’s. Only a dimwit would send a tender story about a mother and daughter making up their differences on Christmas Eve to Playboy—but people do it all the time. I’m not exaggerating; I have seen such stories in the slush piles of the actual magazines.

If you write a good story, why send it out in an ignorant fashion? Would you send your kid out in a snowstorm dressed in Bermuda shorts and a tank top? If you like science fiction, read the magazines. If you want to write confession stories, read the magazines. And so on.

It isn’t just a matter of knowing what’s right for the present story; you can begin to catch on, after awhile, to overall rhythms, editorial likes and dislikes, a magazine’s entire slant. Sometimes your reading can influence the next story, and create a sale.

7. Write to entertain
Does this mean you can’t write “serious fiction”? It does not. Somewhere along the line pernicious critics have infested the American reading and writing public with the idea that entertaining fiction and serious ideas do not overlap.

This would have surprised Charles Dickens, not to mention Jane Austen, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Bernard Malamud, and hundreds of others. But your serious ideas must always serve your story, not the other way around. I repeat: if you want to preach, get a soapbox.

8. Ask yourself frequently, “Am I having fun?”
The answer needn’t always be yes. But if it’s always no, it’s time for a new project or a new career.

9. How to evaluate criticism
Show your piece to a number of people—ten, let us say. Listen carefully to what they tell you. Smile and nod a lot. Then review what was said very carefully. If your critics are all telling you the same thing about some facet of your story—a plot twist that doesn’t work, a character who rings false, stilted narrative, or half a dozen other possibles—change that facet.

It doesn’t matter if you really liked that twist of that character; if a lot of people are telling you something is wrong with your piece, it is. If seven or eight of them are hitting on that same thing, I’d still suggest changing it. But if everyone—or even most everyone—is criticizing something different, you can safely disregard what all of them say.

10. Observe all rules for proper submission
Return postage, self-addressed envelope, all of that. [Obviously, this is different today, but the sentiment remains: follow editorial guidelines.]

11. An agent? Forget it. For now.
Agents get 10% of monies earned by their clients. [Today 15% is standard.] 10% of nothing is nothing. Agents also have to pay the rent. Beginning writers do not contribute to that or any other necessity of life.

Flog your stories around yourself. If you’ve done a novel, send around query letters to publishers, one by one, and follow up with sample chapters and/or the manuscript complete.

And remember Stephen King’s First Rule of Writers and Agents, learned by bitter personal experience: You don’t need one until you’re making enough for someone to steal—and if you’re making that much, you’ll be able to take your pick of good agents.

12. If it’s bad, kill it
When it comes to people, mercy killing is against the law. When it comes to fiction, it is the law.

That’s everything you need to know. And if you listened, you can write everything and anything you want. Now I believe I will wish you a pleasant day and sign off.

My ten minutes are up.

Isn’t it interesting how much of this advice holds up after nearly 30 years? What is your favorite of Stephen’s tips?

Related Posts:

How to Write a Book: Everything You Need to Know in 20 Steps

How to Write a Memoir: A 3-Step Guide

How to Write Short Stories That Captivate Your Reader

  • My Two Cents

    Thanks so much for sharing this! I liked #5: just write! Over-editing as I write is my Achilles heel. Thanks for the assistance you offer us in these articles. God bless!

    • Yes, it’s not always easy to silence our inner editor when we’re getting that first draft down, but it’s nice to know a superstar advises it too.

  • Barbara Eubanks

    If it’s bad, kill it was my favorite Stephen King tip. We often love our words too much.

  • trainingwiz

    Pithy. On point. Practical. My favorite – “If it’s bad, kill it.” Tough to kill your darlings, but oh so necessary. Thanks, Jerry. An educational and entertaining way to start my day.

  • Favorite? They are all good. My favorite is the way he modeled what he wrote. It was interesting and entertaining as well as good stuff. It wasn’t long at all, because his style pulled me through.

  • Sally Larkin Green

    My favorite is: When you sit down to write, write. So many times I tend to overthink, research, and criticize myself.

  • Janice G

    I’m with what My Two Cents said about #5. Spelling and precise definitions are important to me.

    Hide the reference books for a first draft…but then I might not find them again! The internet makes it easier though. No problem.

    Thank you for these thoughtful helps for writers.

  • LOVE: Only God gets things right the first time. Don’t be a slob.

  • Vikki Ellison

    My favorite advice is within tip #5, about not breaking your train of thought: When writing, just write.

    • Yes, Vikki. That helped me a lot too. Turn off that internal editor and get that first draft down.

  • Johnese Burtram

    # 9 The critics do make my head swim. I’ve had praise and pan over the same section of my writing. As a learner, I want to pay attention to the “experts,” whoever they are. Thanks for sharing this. Great stuff!!

    • Thanks, Johnese. I liked #9 too. Puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

  • Jeff Miller

    It’s all good. But I have a question. Is his point regarding agents still relevant? In this day and age, most publishers won’t even look at your query if you don’t have an agent.

    • That’s true, Jeff. It’s getting harder and harder to break in without an agent, especially to the big traditional houses. And it’s almost as hard to find an agent as it is to land a publisher–and for the same reasons. Competition and they’re looking for moneymakers.

  • CRK

    #4!! Remove every extraneous word. Much like pruning an apple tree, you hate to cut away what seems like a productive branch but do it anyway because it makes the rest of the tree that much stronger and produces a greater product.

  • Mark Bordner

    #11 is quite true, though it requires going the self-pubbing route to start off, since the big houses no longer accept cold submissions without being repped by an agent. I’ve been getting my feet wet the past couple of years, and finally beginning to see things taking off after much hard work. Selling yourself and your work can actually add up to more time than it actually takes to create the books, but it’s time well invested. So many people knock the self-publishing houses for the fact they require the writer to invest some of their own funds, but having even that kind of representation can be a huge help when starting out, since they know the ropes involving distribution. No matter how successful one gets, you still need to do your own footwork when it comes to publicity. Those agents will indeed come when the time is right, so focus on what’s more important. Your writing! Good advice from Mr. King.

    • Actually, Mark, agents are finding ways to help on the self-pub side too. It’s a different dynamic and arrangement, but their experience can help.

  • Carolyn McBreen Gibbs

    If it’s bad, kill it. As writers we sometimes struggle with thinking, if we wrote it, it’s brilliant. I have to get beyond that ego, and realize so,e of my writing is bad, and does need to be killed. Sad, but true.

  • will schmit

    “It would have surprised Dickens”. Mr King is my favorite author but I’ve only read two of his books. “On Writing a memoir of the craft” and “Faithful” the story of the 2004 Red Sox!

  • Connie Schisler Vellekoop

    Ok–great advice, but why can’t I use a thesaurus when I’m stuck, knowing there has to be a better word? I love my old beat-up, dog-eared copy for that reason!

    • I think he’d say it’s OK as long as it doesn’t slow you or get you out of your creative zone, Connie. You could use whatever word comes to mind and add an asterisk, then use the thesaurus on your editing pass through. But even then, use that to find a good NORMAL alternate word, not one that makes it obvious you consulted a thesaurus.

      • Connie Schisler Vellekoop

        Good suggestion! i DO tend to bog down with self-editing as I go along….

  • All great tips – my choice #4 remove extraneous words. “You want to get up on a soapbox and preach? Fine. Get one and try your local park.” Thanks Jerry and Stephen.

  • Love the story about Mr. Gould and Stephen’s honesty about the craft back then “I told him I knew more about advanced algebra than I did sports” LOL!.

  • Thanks for sharing—my favorite tip: “When you sit down to write, write. Don’t do anything else except go to the bathroom, and only do that if it absolutely cannot be put off.”

    THIS is advice that I need to take!

    The Internet just makes it so easy to pop off and look up this word or that, research a little bit of setting, or (much too often) get sucked into the black hole that is Pinterest (or Facebook, or Twitter, etc.).

    • How true, Jessica. I use Anticsocial.

      • I’ll have to look into that… I’ve never USED Anti-Social, but I AM anti-social… that’s got to count for something, right? ;)

  • Jodie Bailey

    Don’t stop the flow for anything, not even to look up the capital of Brazil. Yes. This is my bad habit that needs to be broken. It’s why I started using a Pomodoro timer. Until the timer goes off, I can’t do ANYTHING but write, not even look up a word. And most of the time I find that, when the timer goes off, I’m in the zone and just keep on going anyway.

  • Deb Neuenschwander

    I loved this–so entertaining while still very helpful, proving #7 is true! But my favorite single line is “only God gets things right the first time.” Good reminder for me that I need to proofread, edit & correct, and a good reminder that God is awesome!

  • I surprised myself by actually loving this article, and I hope I can put all this advice to good use. My favorite tip (and the one I need to remind myself of) is to stop referencing in the middle of writing. I’ve done that too often, and it just kills your progress. In the middle of my second draft, and I need all the help I can get. Awesome advice! Thanks to you and Stephen King for sharing these priceless tips!

  • Jason Sisam

    Wow! Fantastic article. Stephen is still, today, a prolific writer. I’m not the biggest fan of his work, but then man clearly knows and understands the art of writing. I love the part about write. Don’t do anything else but write. You can always fix later. I teach writers to do the same. Throw the words at the wall, see what sticks, and sculpt later. Thanks Jerry for sharing this!

    Jason Sisam

    jbsisam.com

  • Barbara A Derksen

    Remove every extraneous word – This is something that I intend to add when I do my first draft rewrite. I also intend to turn off my auto correct so I’m not Interupted when I write my first draft. Thank you for posting this article. great advice.

    • Definitely turn off autocorrect!

  • CordovaBelle

    “When you sit down to write, write. Don’t do anything else except go to the bathroom, and only do that if it absolutely cannot be put off.”
    Just lived through 30 days of exactly that. Working under an editing deadline for a pastor publishing his first book, even bathroom trips were delayed. Laughed out loud when I read that and plan to send that quote to his executive assistant.

  • CordovaBelle

    4. Remove every extraneous word
    In this, Mr. King precedes William Brohaugh’s advice for authors first published in 1993: “Write Tight.” As an editor, #4 is what I seem to do most.

  • My favorite is “Are you having fun?” And if the answer is always no, you should move on. I moved on into indie publishing because decades of focusing on landing a publishing contract at whatever cost–trying to make my square-shaped novels fit into round holes–had taken away all the joy. Connecting with readers again has brought a lot of the fun back. Now I just have to find the right balance so that marketing and self-promotion and exhaustion don’t take the joy away again.

    • Writing has to be fun, has to be the one thing that makes you happy, or it’s not going to come out right. The best writers are the ones who love it.

  • Anthony Trendl

    It seems that major publishers require an agent. King’s thought ( #11) that beginners/unknowns don’t need an agent seems to conflict with what I’m seeing in the various writer’s market guides. Your thoughts?

    • Karen

      I’m curious about that, too.

    • Gayla Grace

      My question too.

    • SilverthorneCahoon

      I would love to know the answer too. It’s always been a chicken or the egg thing for me.

  • Lamar Ennis

    Jerry, two of Stephen’s pieces of wisdom hit me between the eyes: 1-Remove every extraneous word. I love words, “twenty-dollar words,” and I get carried away with them sometimes. And I get preachy with them, too. 2-Write to entertain. Especially the part that said, big ideas must serve your story, and not the other way around. I am passionate about big ideas, but they aren’t the story. The story is the story.

  • Mary Brown

    Most of his advice is common sense. My favorite #1 (of the moment) is to WRITE. Don’t stop. Just keep writing. Clean up in the edit. Need a city name? Insert the first thing that comes into your mind and edit later. Big help. #2. Verbosity. Need I say more?

  • Bob

    Self-editing used to be difficult for me, but now I see that it is a necessary process. It takes time and you need to slow down and ask yourself, the self-editor, about the sentences you have written. Is this confusing? What do you really mean? Does the sentence or paragraph make sense? How many words aren’t necessary and can be cut out? It is better to be the tough self-editor cutting away the excess, adding what is necessary and revealing the true story on paper. I like what Stephen King said. Amazing, getting to the point, isn’t that what great writing is all about?

  • Becky Haas

    When you write, just write. Don’t stop to research. I’m too easily sidetracked by interesting details.

  • James Robert Wilson

    5. Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft –

    Just thought I’d include the reason why: Your conscious mind dominates your subconscious. The critical, evaluative, spelling/grammar/ordering/outlining talents come from the conscious mind. The creative, combining-known-ideas-into-amazing-stuff comes from the subconscious. So, allow the tender, easily-overpowered subconscious to do its work without the tyrant. The tyrant can come along later and clean up.

    Time for a ‘thank you’. Jerry, I wrote fiction short stories and novels for 40 years, trying to find someone smart enough to recognize my talent. Then I took your 2-year correspondence course and learned a lot more. This month I received a royalty contract from Tate Publishing for 8 of my novels.

    • Karen

      I teach senior English in high school. My students and I call this creator vs. critic. There’s a time for the creator to work and a time for the critic work…and often we have to shush the critic, so we can create. –Also, I am jealous of your royalty contract. :-) Actually, congrats!

      • Getting a royalty contract is like riding a bike. Before you could, it seemed impossible. After, it seemed easy.

        But honestly, my count of pink slips was somewhere near 200, so I guess I just proved Stephen King’s rule.

      • I sent off my earlier comment with little thought. I’d like to share something more helpful for struggling authors.

        I had been trying for decades to get my novels published. Then I heard about createspace.com (one of several print-on-demand companies) and in less than two months had 4 novels print-ready and published. Never before in all my 40+ years of writing had I had this much motivation to finish up my novels!

        I would suggest that part of your training of new writers would be to have them publish their work at the end of the class. The cost for a full-color cover, 300-page work is about $5/book plus about $1 shipping/book in quantities of 10 or more.

        No other assignment I can think of would motivate the writer as much as this assignment.

        Also, in my case, when an opportunity came for an editor to express interest in me, I had a polished product to present (actually, I mailed three finished manuscripts to the editor before receiving the contract). I think this presentation was definitely a factor in my success.

  • Karen

    Because of the stage I am in now, #9 HOW TO EVALUATE CRITICISM spoke most directly to me. I finished my first novel and had seven readers. When many readers expressed similar concerns, I knew I had to make the suggested revisions. However, three of the readers each had a different concern (couldn’t connect to character in first chapter, an event that didn’t seem plausible, wanted something at the end to indicate what might happen to the character in the “after” story). I ran each of these big concerns by all the other readers to see if more people had the same issue but didn’t realize it or didn’t express it. Each time the answer was adamantly no. So I’ve been in a quandary–revise or not? My instinct was “not” and now Mr. King has given me permission to trust my instinct. Thanks!

  • Lori

    My favorite is get rid of the thesaurus. My vocabulary seems so limited, but I am going to try this. He’s the expert; I’m the student. Lori

  • Mary Sandford

    #4 – cutting precious words and phrases- This is so difficult, but so necessary. #9 – criticism – Great advice but I’ve learned to be wise about critique groups. I’ve watched in amazement how one person with a strong opinion can sway the thinking of an entire group, especially when that person is well respected. My rule is if you aren’t holding out a contract, I’ll prayerfully consider your opinion but it is not the last word for me.

  • Looks like its “never look at a reference book while doing a first draft.” It goes to the core of original and inspired writing.

  • David Young

    This is good stuff. Stephen King’s book on writing is also classic.

  • Sharon Williams

    Remove every extraneous word. The timing of my reading this article couldn’t be better. I was editing the next article I wanted to post on my new blog. In an effort to make it entertaining, I think I began to tap dance. Now I need to take off those noisy shoes and clean that puppy up. So how many extraneous words were in this comment? LOL

  • Richard Burke

    A tie between “Following
    that day, my 2,500-word first drafts became 2,200-word second drafts.” and “If it’s bad, kill it.”

  • Terrie Todd

    “But if everyone is criticizing something different, you can safely disregard what all of them say.” I love this because I’ve wasted too much time agonizing over one comment made by one person or comparing contest critiques that say the opposite things. I’m not sure his advice on agents still holds true, though. Most publishers refuse to look at manuscripts directly from new authors, and I am certain my first novel would not have found a publisher without my agent’s work.

    • Good point, Terrie, and we all do that with criticism. And yes, things have changed regarding the need for agents.

    • Meghan Heasley

      However, what about self-publishing? That used to be vanity publishing but with Amazon and e-readers that has become a thing of the past. Self-published books today can be just as successful as traditional ones.

  • Rita

    I would never have thought to read anything by Stephen King, because he is so good at writing horror that I can’t read it. However, I’m very glad that you included his piece on good writing here– he teaches both explicitly and by example.

  • Richard New

    How to evaluate criticism. Really, when two different critique groups and contest result notes all mention the same concern–pay attention and change it.

  • Gloria Wullffe

    Never look at a reference book. Write in Miami, then go back and fix it later. It’s not going anywhere. This goes along with marking up your first draft. I can picture him writing away frenetically, then cleaning it up later. My weakness.

  • Charlotte Wheat

    #1Be Talented – helped me immensely. I doubted my talent because of rejections. Now, due to his comments the few checks I have received weigh more than the rejection slips in helping me decide I have talent.

  • Valerie Depue

    #5 – never look at a reference book while writing the first draft. I remember the first couple of assignments when I took the writer’s course. The answers came out more formal than I typically wrote because I was so distracted in trying to make everything perfect. My mentor was so kind – encouraging me to keep at it and that I would find my voice as I relaxed into my rhythm of writing.

  • uzoma uponi

    Hi Jerry,

    This is so helpful. Through your webinars and pieces like this one, you have become a source of encouragement to me.

    Thanks again.

  • Jerri Sisk Harrington

    I found the tip helpful: never do research while writing. I don’t enjoy reading authors who allow their research to “show”, and I don’t want to be that writer.

    • Good point, Jerri. The best counsel I’ve heard on this is to see research as seasoning and not the main course. But of course King’s point here was to keep it in its place and not let it slow the creative process during the draft writing stage.

  • SilverthorneCahoon

    Concerning the ten or so people who are asked to read the book/story, who should they be? Other writers, avid readers, or a mixture?

    • I’d opt for the mixture. Just be sure it’s people with a clue who’ll tell you the truth.

  • Cathryn Swallia

    If it’s bad, kill it. I have had to do this with a lot of my past work. My family doesn’t like it and often I find printed copy I threw out back on my desk. I look at poor efforts as good practice. Just like in my day job (dog grooming) we can’t learn if we don’t try!

    • Ha! Andy Andrews says he studied veterinary medicine and taxidermy, “because either way, you’re getting your animal back.”

      • Ooohhh, that reminded me of the Pet Sematary…

        • Jerry B Jenkins

          :)

  • My wife and I listen to On Writing once or twice a year. I love Mr. King’s focus on story.

    As a writing couple, we spent all of our wedding money on 52 books on writing. We only needed Mr. King’s 10 minutes.

    Write a great story. Tell it like you would around a campfire. Make them lean in, roar with laughter, and shiver with fright.

    Then fix it later.

    But mainly, just focus on story.

  • Wow! Two of my favorite people linking brains. Love it. I already have one of Stephen King’s books on writing horror. I write suspense, but the same principles apply I think. When I wrote my first novel, I self-edited several times, but before I submitted I used your book, Jerry, about editing and it was awesome from the master himself. My comment about your blog is the one about evaluating criticism. I’ve never used that method and I get discouraged easily. The other piece of advice was never look at a reference book while writing a first draft. I do that all the time and sabotage my efforts.

  • Hatfield

    He said what he was going to say, he said it, then he was done. Kind of fits in with his statement of keeping it concise, don’t you think?

  • Good advice. Be willing to rewrite. Also, leave out any extraneous words. This has helped me eliminate the unnecessary. .

  • Elona Peters Siemsen

    5. Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft. That sounds so freeing! I feel, well, free to write that rough draft now!

    • Ruth Carter

      And don’t google, either! I think I should just take a notebook and pen and find some place far away from computers and the web.

  • Cathy Gross

    “I saw, I listened,and I learned” He saw, listened and learned and then went to work using that information. Though not one of his twelve,this includes all he taught. I have gone to seminars, taken classes and even bantered with professional people I admire, fun and feel good sort of stuff. But honestly, until I take what I learned and incorporate it into some day in day out writing, treating this as a new profession, it is all for naught. I have gotten off my duff and have been writing steadily, self editing faithfully. This blog was informative and worth the time to study. I look for your emails. Thank you, Jerry.

  • I recently finished listening to Mr. King narrate his book “On Writing” which has all of this information and more. It was great to read this article and still hear his friendly voice imploring me to write well.

  • Alice Klies

    “Evaluate criticism” stood out to me. When I first started to submit my writing, I read King’s book first. Actually, it was recommended at The Christian Writers Conference in Arizona. Even though, I had to skip the “bad words,” it has been one of my favorite books. Belonging to a critique group and handing my work over to Beta readers has made such a difference in my how I write. Thanks for posting this Jerry. :)

  • Jeff Adams

    First things first. Thank you, Jerry. Stephen, thank you. We can’t hear the truth too
    often. And even once we know it, we need to be reminded of it.

    You said, “Write to entertain.” Although I write non-fiction, stories are the
    centerpiece of every chapter and book I create. You also said, “… your serious ideas must always serve your story, not the other way around.”

    Thanks for the reminder. I’ve thrown away my soapbox.

  • Deborah Cowles

    #5–Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft.
    I love to dig and discover unknown facts. This tip taught me that frequent research broke my thought process and momentum. Thoroughly enjoyed Stephen King’s post and although #5 was my favorite, all the tips were helpful. Thanks!

  • Amy D. Christensen

    Great article! “Remove every extraneous word…”, “Ask yourself frequently, are you having fun…” How awesome is that!! So many of us get paralyzed by erroneous ideas about our walk with God, as if it has to be all serious and straight laced, but He is also the author of joy and laughter. Why not have fun doing something I love?

  • Diane Sharkey Froese

    “Never look at a reference book on your first draft.” “…breaking your train of thought and the writers trance in the bargain…” AND “When you sit down to write – WRITE. Don’t do anything else but go to the bathroom, and only do that if it absolutely cannot be put off.” I love the “writers trance” and I just hate it when the squirrels steal it from me!! LOVE this whole article. I found lots of confirmations in it. Thank you Jerry and Stephen.

  • D. L. Weber

    When several readers all indicate the same section as an issue, fix it or lose it–even if it’s your pride and joy. The point of writing is to share ideas, so if the reader doesn’t get it, the writing isn’t working.

  • Joyce E. Johnson

    I’m very late with this response but had to go back to the saved file and reread it. OK. I loved all of his tips, and can relate to all. But love the # 8 one especially about ‘Having fun’ at what I write. Yes, I have so much fun writing fiction, but also want to improve my skills while working at the craft, and know that to do that I need to follow all twelve of Stephen’s tips and yours too, Jerry. So, thank you for sharing all of this valuable info. I have saved the file in my writing tips folder and will refer to it often.

  • Cheryll Snow

    “You think you might have misspelled a word? O.K., so here is your choice: either look it up in the dictionary, thereby making sure you have it right—and breaking your train of thought and the writer’s trance in the bargain—or just spell it phonetically and correct it later. Why not? Did you think it was going to go somewhere?

    And if you need to know the largest city in Brazil and you find you don’t have it in your head, why not write in Miami, or Cleveland? You can check it—but later. When you sit down to write, write. Don’t do anything else except go to the bathroom, and only do that if it absolutely cannot be put off.”
    Great stuff! I battle with this constantly. My internal editor wants me to correct/revise everything as I go. Cecil Murphey once said to “vomit everything on the page, then go back and revise.” A little graphic, but he’s right. I have to mentally, and sometimes even verbally, tell my inner editor to be quiet until I spill what I need to onto the page. Then I go back and polish.

  • Connie Bush

    Have you read the book “Temple, Amazing new discoveries that change everything about the location of Solomon’s Temple” by Robert Cornuke (published by LifeBridge Books)? ISBN 9781939779090 There is so much exciting evidence which could lead to the temple being rebuilt very soon!

  • Love his candor. I think my favorite is “Be self-critical… Only God get things right the first time. Don’t be a slob.”

  • Deanne

    Really enjoyed this article. Having read Stephen King’s book and reread it, it’s familiar work and all so true! Thanks!

  • Shauna Viele

    Great article, somewhere I have the Writers Digest issue you refer to here. Somewhere I remember reading a comment about “if it must be said and you must write it down, then you are a writer.” But then I read the following:

    8. Ask yourself frequently, “Am I having fun?” The answer needn’t always be yes. But if it’s always no, it’s time for a new project or a new career. – See more at: http://www.jerryjenkins.com/guest-blog-from-stephen-king/?inf_contact_key=79b2983c55332b8f7f544bd934196ac9abcd4a6efbef6f9080421b8e2e8f7862#sthash.FNsmbMEf.dpuf

    Today it just finally clicked. Feeling dread about writing after successfully completing an intense writing course, and feeling freedom and a sense of relief when it was over, tells me what I REALLY learned. I loved the IDEA of writing, but not writing itself. I felt since I had spent so much money and time that I should keep trying, but it just isn’t a passion. I don’t have enough reserves left over after working full time, dealing with family full time, and trying to keep up my social contacts. (You weren’t kidding Jerry when you said writing is a lonely activity. I can’t handle it.)

    • Kathryn Howard

      (((hugs)))

  • Gisele Currah

    Thank’s for the pragmatic common sense Mr. King…just love it ! Mr. Jenkins this was a huge help and encouragement;thank’s.

  • Karen Crider

    I like his advice about asking you if you are having fun yet. For me, the answer is usually yes. Writing equals delight. I love that it’s deficient in calories, never leaves an aftertaste, and never gets stuck in my teeth. Writing is like a drink that can be imbibed all hours of the night. I am seldom bored, usually content, but curious about the what if’s of life and living. I am passionate about the written word, and my house shows it. LOL karen

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Karen.

  • So many awesome tips here.. Now I know why I can never get a freaking blog post done in a short amount of time. Need to stay focused.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Ha! I hear you.

  • Nicole M

    Ask yourself frequently (but not while editing!) Am I having fun? It’s so easy to forget you started this for the sheer joy of it, especially with all the talk of SEO and building platforms and the like. Writing should be a pleasure, at least some of the time.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      I hear you, Nicole, but I have to say–as I’ve said many times–that the fun of writing comes when it’s done. For me, the doing of the work is grueling , as it should be. This is no hobby, no trivial diversion. Done right, it’s work. The pleasure comes on the other end.

      • Nicole M

        Oh, I agree.. It’s 99% hard work. But ever so often, you write that one line or that one passage that is just inspired, perfect. And you remember why you do it, Not for book sales or fame or money, but for sheer love of the craft.

        • Jerry B Jenkins

          Oh, yes, I love it when a scene moves me. That’s when I know the reader will be moved.

  • autonomous

    “When it comes to people, mercy killing is against the law. When it comes to fiction, it is the law.”
    Like speed limits, this law is much easier to apply to everyone else. When I am able to apply it to my own writing, maybe there will be something left that others will not apply it further.

  • Karen Crider

    I agree with everything he said. He has a lot of common sense and that’s what writers need to be exposed to. Thanks.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      True. Thank you, Karen.

  • Tammy Stewart Pfaff

    “Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft.” That for today, is the most valuable lesson I am focusing on. I’m guilty of it for the last few weeks and it is getting me nowhere! It is holding me up and making me frustrated and of course I not only lose focus, I walk away. This happens even when researching. I can do that later…write the story! I really needed to hear that today. Thanks!

    • Thank you, Tammy. Like you, I seem to find all kinds of subtle ways to procrastinate. That’s really what it is, isn’t it?

      • Tammy Stewart Pfaff

        Absolutely!

  • Michael Tolulope Emmanuel

    Ask yourself frequently, “Am I having fun?”
    This seems my favorite. All ten points are spot-on.

  • Eric Resnick

    I read on another board that Stephen King has written another book under a pseudonym, this time under “K.D. Kern” Is this true? I do find a book by K.D. Kern called Reawaken and the writing seems very good, very much like SK, is this really by Stephen King? Here is a link: https://www.amazon.com/REAWAKEN-K-D-Kern-ebook/dp/B01CXIQ3PW