Literary Liaisons

A blog about writing and all things story…

Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writers

Love or hate his work, Stephen King, author of horror classics like The Shining and its 2013 sequel Doctor Sleep is one heck of a prolific and diverse author.

Over 350 million copies of King’s books have sold worldwide. That’s extraordinary. And though I don’t read his really scary stuff – keeps me awake at night – his works like Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile have been unforgettable reads.  I often wonder, how does he do it? King’s manual On Writing exposes how relentlessly dedicated he is to his craft. Though he says he doesn’t always stick to his own rules, trying to follow them is a worthwhile goal.

To begin with he says the best writers hook their readers with voice, not just action.

Below is a reprint (from Open Culture) of an article/interview with Stephen King regarding his 20 rules for writing. A must read;

stephen-king-writing-tips1. First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience. “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”

2. Don’t use passive voice. “Timid writers like passive verbs for the same reason that timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe.”

3. Avoid adverbs. “The adverb is not your friend.”

4. Avoid adverbs, especially after “he said” and “she said.”

5. But don’t obsess over perfect grammar. “The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story.”

6. The magic is in you. “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.”

7. Read, read, read. ”If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”

8. Don’t worry about making other people happy. “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”

9. Turn off the TV. “TV—while working out or anywhere else—really is about the last thing an aspiring writer needs.”

10. You have three months. “The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”

11. There are two secrets to success. “I stayed physical healthy, and I stayed married.”

12. Write one word at a time. “Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ the work is always accomplished one word at a time.”

13. Eliminate distraction. “There’s should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with.”

14. Stick to your own style. “One cannot imitate a writer’s approach to a particular genre, no matter how simple what that writer is doing may seem.”

15. Dig. “Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.”

16. Take a break. “You’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience.”

17. Leave out the boring parts and kill your darlings. “(kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.)”

18. The research shouldn’t overshadow the story. “Remember that word back. That’s where the research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it.”

19. You become a writer simply by reading and writing. “You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”

20. Writing is about getting happy. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”

See a fuller exposition of King’s writing wisdom at Barnes & Noble’s blog.

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14 comments on “Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writers

  1. Pingback: ****On Writing | Victoria Weisfeld

    • Mindy
      July 23, 2014

      Thanks Victoria, and yes, telling a hard truth is often a writers greatest challenge and yet their greatest gift to readers. BTW, Loved your site. Will visit again. Thanks for sharing this link. Cheers, Mindy

      • vweisfeld.com
        July 23, 2014

        Thanks so much. We have a lot of interests in common, it seems.

      • Mindy
        July 23, 2014

        Most word-slayers do. Love the artwork on your site and covers. Beautiful imagery. Stay in touch. Mindy

  2. vweisfeld.com
    July 23, 2014

    Agree King is a good tonic on those inevitable days writers get discouraged. The hardest piece of his advice–and I posted about it last week myself, http://www.vweisfeld.com/?p=2189–is “tell the truth”! Or, at least A truth, I suppose, the one those pesky characters see.

  3. Behind the Story
    July 17, 2014

    I like #5: “…make the reader welcome and then tell a story.” Number 8 made me smile: “Don’t worry about making other people happy. “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”

    For my next novel, I want to try to follow his advice about writing a first draft in three months.

    Lots of good advice. Thanks, Mindy.

    • Mindy
      July 23, 2014

      Learning how to stop worrying about making other people happy is a LIFE lesson, not just writing. still working on that. :)

  4. Carrie Maldonado
    July 16, 2014

    Reblogged this on Grief, Inc and commented:
    I love this!

    • Mindy
      July 16, 2014

      Grief Inc looks great. Thanks for the follow and reblog. Mindy

  5. Mary Rowen
    July 15, 2014

    I love these tips, Mindy. One of my favorite books on writing is King’s On Writing.

    • Mindy
      July 15, 2014

      I know, me too. I need to take that out and read it again. Thanks for visiting.

    • Mindy
      July 23, 2014

      Thanks, Mary. I have so many fav books on writing, but certainly his is on that stack. Happy travels, Mindy

  6. robertatrahan
    July 14, 2014

    Reblogged this on Idyll Conversation and commented:
    Today has been one of artistic reflection for me, so it seems appropriate to share this very helpful reprint of writing advice given my Stephen King that was posted on the blog Literary Liasons by author Mindy Halleck:

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