Turning the monsters loose — 13 writing lessons from author Stephen King

You needn’t be the most avid of bookworms for word of the literary genius that is Stephen King to have reached your ears. Most famously known for his horror stories – the likes of It and The Green Mile, which have both been made into films – this highly accomplished author has, literally word by word, carved out a formidable reputation as one of the most successful writers of all time. His books have sold more than 350 million copies to date and his net worth is currently estimated at a whopping $400 million.

King is most obviously a huge inspiration for writers all over the world, and, thankfully, he’s not stingy with advice. Here are 13 useful tips he has for aspiring writers:

Read copiously

You can’t expect to weave impeccable story-lines and gripping texts if you’re not ready to have a look at the competition. And by ‘the competition’, we mean, of course, other writers. Reading is the only way to build up your vocabulary and teach you what readers are looking for. Oh – and the next step is getting rid of your television – King maintains it dampens your creativity.

Develop a thick skin

Butcher, baker, or candlestick maker, whatever it is you do, there will always be someone who is ready to criticise you for it. This is why you have to prepare yourself for criticism – and lots of it. Self-doubt, says King, may cause you even more angst, but urges you to attempt to rise above it. This may mean pushing yourself to write even when it’s the last thing you feel like doing. Writing isn’t as effortless as some people make it sound, and many writers make the mistake of giving up when the going gets tough, such as when it becomes emotionally challenging. Besides this, advises King, one shouldn’t aim to write to please people. “If you can do it for joy,” he says, “you can do it forever.”

Step outside your comfort zone

Writing only about things you’re comfortable with doesn’t guarantee literary masterpieces. On the contrary, King advises writers to dig deeply into issues that they may not necessarily be the most knowledgeable about or the most comfortable with. “The most important things are the hardest to say,” he maintains, and this does not only apply to aspiring novelists. Freelance writers are often asked to research and write about topics they may not be very familiar with, but that’s certainly no reason to turn down assignments.

Discover your perfect environment

We know we’ve said it dozens of times – but it seems even the King himself believes in setting up the ideal office space when you’re writing regularly. The literary giant advises us to “write with the door closed” somewhere you can identify as your own – and where there are the absolute minimum of distractions. So turn your phone off, give your social media accounts a rest and hang a ‘do not disturb’ sign outside your door while you’re working.

Simpler is always better

Using over-complicated diction and long words will only serve to befuddle your readers, warns King, saying that “the road to hell is paved with adverbs”. An audience who is faced with an overly difficult text will find it hard to relate, which is why we always advise to keep it simple. Using long, rambling sentences and words you won’t find outside the Oxford dictionary are a big no-no, especially for writers of content.

Enrich your writing with descriptions

According to Psychology Today, “visualization is a cognitive tool accessing imagination to realize all aspects of an object, action or outcome. This may include recreating a mental sensory experience of sound, sight, smell, taste and touch.” A writer can aid vividly in reader visualization – painting descriptive images or experiences in the reader’s mind will help form an emotional connection and leave them wanting more.

Eliminate unnecessary detail

While backing up what you’re saying with facts and figures is all very well, getting lost in statistics is definitely something to watch out for, says King, who advises using research only “to enrich the story” rather than add clutter that will only serve to distract your readers.

Be 100% unique

While it’s great to have a look at what other writers are producing every now and then, King warns that there is absolutely no excuse for copying someone else’s writing style. Copy writers in particular can be heavily penalized for this – Google can instantly recognise duplicate content, meaning you can kiss your hard-earned clients goodbye.

Don’t waste your readers’ time

Whether you’re writing mainly for yourself, or creating text with a purpose, it’s important to remember that your readers’ time is precious. That’s why whatever you write should efficiently information that the reader will find useful and relevant to their needs.

Make writing a habit

All talents should be nurtured and it’s easy for your writing to become rusty should you not write regularly, says King. If you fail to do so, you risk or “losing excitement” for your work, which is the absolute “smooch of death” for any creative writer.

Edit. Always

The revision process may prove somewhat difficult for the “egocentric little scribbler”, laughs King, but is as essential as the writing of your first draft. Don’t be afraid to cut out anything that is not useful to your reader, and edit ruthlessly until you are absolutely certain that your writing has reached its purpose, whatever that may be.

Maintain a good work-life balance

It’s easy to get caught up in your inspiration and disconnect from reality, yet King says he tries not to get swept up in his success. His last tip for writers is to due their utmost to keep work and life distinct, take care of their own health and make it a point to socialise regularly.

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