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11 Things Stephen King Teaches You to Be a Successful Writer

11 Things Stephen King Teaches You to Be a Successful Writer

In On Writing, a book that balances autobiography with writing tips, Stephen King delivers a lot of great advice. Not all of it holds up, but some of the things he covers are invaluable if you want to be a successful writer. Here are a few of the lessons he shared with us.

1. Write for yourself, not an audience

Pleasing everyone is impossible, and writing crowd pleasers is one of the lowest forms of writing. Don’t try to guess what the market will want when your book is published; focus on the story you want to tell. Write honestly, and don’t worry about the audience, because as Stephen King says,

“If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”

2. Turn off the TV

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

This may have held more merit in 2000 when On Writing was published, but that was before the boom of HBO and original cable programming. In 2014, there’s a lot you can learn about storytelling from some of the stellar television that’s gracing our airwaves, so I don’t think King’s argument holds as much weight here as it once did.

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3. Avoid disturbances while writing

Stephen King is not wrong, however, about the importance of keeping the television set off when writing. As he says,

“There should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or video games for you to fool around with.”

Such distractions will sever you from the story you’re trying to tell. If you need some kind of noise in the background, noninterruptive nature sounds or instrumental music are your best bets.

4. Finish your book in three months

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

This is one of Stephen King’s most divisive tips, and one I don’t personally subscribe to. Even if King wrote The Stand in 90 days, which is hard to believe, every author has their own pace. However, King is right to stress that a successful writer doesn’t leave a project lingering too long, lest the author loses their momentum. I just don’t know if three months and one day is the cutoff point.

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5. 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.”

I love this quote; it’s so true. JRR Tolkien didn’t let himself get overwhelmed while he made progress on his opus. He just kept writing, one word after another, and look how that turned out. Do the same to be a successful writer.

6. Avoid adverbs and passive voice

This is probably King’s most technical advice, and it’s very astute. Adverbs are not your friend, often coming across as excessive to readers, and active voice is almost always a better choice than passive voice.

7. Don’t mimic other styles

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

Everyone’s inspired by what they consume, but if you want to be a successful writer instead of an uninspired one, be careful about wearing your influences too much on your sleeve.

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8. Give yourself time to gain perspective

As King says,

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

I wait at least a day or two after writing an article to submit it to Lifehack and other outlets. If I just wrote something today, it’s too fresh in my mind for me to recognize its flaws tonight. Set your story aside so that you can have a little more perspective when you’re editing.

9. You’re not writing a research paper

World-building is great, but Stephen King was very astute when he wrote,

“Remember that word back. That’s where the research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it.”

Successful writers make the story their first priority, with world-building a little further down the list.

10. Read a lot, write a lot

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

Even if someone is working with you one on one, they still won’t be able to instruct you on some subjects as well as you can teach them to yourself. Never be afraid to learn things on your own.

11. Happiness is the goal

“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.”

This might be Stephen King’s most important point. Only a handful of people strike it rich off the words they write, so be a writer for the right reasons.

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Featured photo credit: Michael Femia via flickr.com

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Matt OKeefe

Matt is a marketer and writer who shares about lifestyle and productivity tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on June 13, 2019

15 Best Entrepreneurs Books to Start Reading Now to Be Successful

15 Best Entrepreneurs Books to Start Reading Now to Be Successful

Knowledge is power, and you’re going to need a lot of it if you’re going to be able to steer your business to success.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the 15 best entrepreneurs books to get inspirations about success and grow your business.

1. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

    This book has been dubbed the Granddaddy of All Motivational Literature, and it was actually the first book that gave a prescription of what it takes to be a winner.

    Napoleon Hill draws from the stories of millionaires like Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, and Thomas Edison to illustrate the principles he put forth.

    Get the book here!

    2. The Lean Startup by Eric Reis

      A lot of startups end up failing, but many of these failures are actually avoidable. The Lean Startup provides a different approach that is now being adopted all over the world and changing the way that companies are developed and products are being launched.

      In The Lean Startup, Eric Reis describes what is required for a company to penetrate the fog of uncertainty in order to discover a path to a sustainable and successful business.

      Get the book here!

      3. The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber

        In a revised edition of the 150,000-copy bestseller, The E-Myth, Michael Gerber refutes some of the myths that surround starting your own business and shows just how commonplace assumptions can end up getting in the way of being able to run a successful business.

        Gerber succeeds in walking the reader through the steps that occur in the life of a business, from infancy, through the pains of growing as an adolescent, to the perspective of the mature entrepreneur.

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        Get the book here!

        4. Rework by Jason Fried

          Most of the business books that you get today will give you the same advice: draft a business plan, study the competition, look for investors, and all that.

          However, Rework shows you a more effective, easier and faster means of succeeding when running a business. By reading it, you’ll be able to know why some plans are harmful, why you don’t really need to get investors, and why you’re better of shutting out your competition.

          Get the book here!

          5. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

            This is one of the most successful motivational books in history, selling well over 15 million copies since it was released in 1936. The book is timeless, and it appeals to businesses, self-help startups, and general readers.

            Carnegie believes that a lot of successes come from an ability to communicate rather than having brilliant insights. In his book, he teaches how to value others and make them feel appreciated and loved.

            Get the book here!

            6. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

              Through this amazing book, Malcolm Gladwell is able to take the reader on an intellectual journey through the world of ‘outliers’. He asks the question of what truly differentiates high-achievers.

              His answer to this question is that we tend to pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and less attention to where they are actually from.

              Get the book here!

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              7. Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki

                This is the best personal finance book ever written. It tells the story of Kiyosaki and his two fathers; his real father, and that of his best friend (his rich dad), as well as how the two men helped him shape his opinions on money and investing.

                It refutes the myth that you need to earn high to become rich, and it distinguishes between working for money and having money work for you.

                Get the book here!

                8. The Ascent of Money: The Financial History of the World by Niall Ferguson

                  Niall Ferguson, in this book, follows the money to tell the story behind the evolution of the word’s financial system, from the beginning way back in ancient Mesopotamia to the latest occurrences in what he had dubbed Planet Finance.

                  Fergusson also reveals financial history as the backstory behind our very own history, with an argument that the evolution of debt and credit is as significant as the history of technological innovation and the rise of civilization.

                  Get the book here!

                  9. Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis

                    Michael Lewis landed a job at Salomon Brothers after getting out of the London School of Economics and Princeton within three years, he had risen to the rank of bond salesman, making millions for the firm and cashing out steadily.

                    Liar’s Poker is the amalgamation of these years — a look behind the scenes at one of the most turbulent times in American business. His book is Lewis’s account of an era where greed and gluttony were the order of the day.

                    Get the book here!

                    10. Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us by Michael H. Pink

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                      A lot of people see money as the best motivator. Michael pink says it’s a mistake.

                      In this provocative book, he asserts that the secret to high performance anywhere is the need to direct our lives, to learn and create, and to do better by our world and ourselves.

                      Get the book here!

                      11. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen

                        Outdated methods don’t work in today’s world. In this book, Allen shares some awesome methods for stress-free performance that he has shared with thousands of people all over the world.

                        His premise? That productivity is proportional to your ability to relax.

                        Get the book here!

                        12. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

                          In this book, Stephen Covey presents a holistic approach for overcoming both professional and personal issues. With insights and anecdotes, Covey presents a way to live with integrity fairness, service and dignity.

                          Get the book here!

                          13. The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Tim Ferriss

                            In this book, Ferriss dishes on the tips he has learned from studying the New Rich, a subculture of people who did away with the deferred life plan and mastered time and mobility to developed luxury lifestyles for themselves.

                            If you’re looking to make your way in this revolutionary new world, this here is your compass.

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                            Get the book here!

                            14. Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh

                              The CEO of Zappos shows how a unique kind of corporate identity can help deliver a huge difference in the way results are being achieved — by creating a company that values and delivers happiness.

                              Get the book here!

                              15. Losing My Virginity: How I Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way by Richard Branson

                                From Virgin Atlantic Airways, Virgin Records and V2 to Virgin Cola, Virgin Megastores and a wide array of other companies, Richard Branson is the rockstar billionaire that a lot of us want to be.

                                Branson, however, did business by following a simple philosophy:

                                “Oh, screw it, let’s do it”

                                Losing My Virginity is an unusual, borderline outrageous autobiography of one of the greatest business geniuses in the world. Branson and his friends named their business “Virgin” because that was what they were — virgins at the game.

                                Since then, he’s written his success rules, creating a global business that has no headquarters, no management structure no corporate identity as it were.

                                Get the book here!

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                                Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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