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11 Things Stephen King Teaches You to Be a Successful Writer

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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 November 15, 2021

20 Ways to Describe Yourself in a Job Interview

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20 Ways to Describe Yourself in a Job Interview

“Please describe yourself in a few words”.

It’s the job interview of your life and you need to come up with something fast. Mental pictures of words are mixing in your head and your tongue tastes like alphabet soup. You mutter words like “deterministic” or “innovativity” and you realize you’re drenched in sweat. You wish you had thought about this. You wish you had read this post before.

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    Image Credit: Career Employer

    Here are 20 sentences that you could use when you are asked to describe yourself. Choose the ones that describe you the best.

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    “I am someone who…”:

    1. “can adapt to any situation. I thrive in a fluctuating environment and I transform unexpected obstacles into stepping stones for achievements.”
    2. “consistently innovates to create value. I find opportunities where other people see none: I turn ideas into projects, and projects into serial success.”
    3. “has a very creative mind. I always have a unique perspective when approaching an issue due to my broad range of interests and hobbies. Creativity is the source of differentiation and therefore, at the root of competitive advantage.”
    4. “always has an eye on my target. I endeavour to deliver high-quality work on time, every time. Hiring me is the only real guarantee for results.”
    5. “knows this job inside and out. With many years of relevant experience, there is no question whether I will be efficient on the job. I can bring the best practices to the company.”
    6. “has a high level of motivation to work here. I have studied the entire company history and observed its business strategies. Since I am also a long-time customer, I took the opportunity to write this report with some suggestions for how to improve your services.”
    7. “has a pragmatic approach to things. I don’t waste time talking about theory or the latest buzz words of the bullshit bingo. Only one question matters to me: ‘Does it work or not?'”
    8. “takes work ethics very seriously. I do what I am paid for, and I do it well.”
    9. “can make decisions rapidly if needed. Everybody can make good decisions with sufficient time and information. The reality of our domain is different. Even with time pressure and high stakes, we need to move forward by taking charge and being decisive. I can do that.”
    10. “is considered to be ‘fun.’ I believe that we are way more productive when we are working with people with which we enjoy spending time. When the situation gets tough with a customer, a touch of humour can save the day.”
    11. “works as a real team-player. I bring the best out of the people I work with and I always do what I think is best for the company.”
    12. “is completely autonomous. I won’t need to be micromanaged. I won’t need to be trained. I understand high-level targets and I know how to achieve them.”
    13. “leads people. I can unite people around a vision and motivate a team to excellence. I expect no more from the others than what I expect from myself.”
    14. “understands the complexity of advanced project management. It’s not just pushing triangles on a GANTT chart; it’s about getting everyone to sit down together and to agree on the way forward. And that’s a lot more complicated than it sounds.”
    15. “is the absolute expert in the field. Ask anybody in the industry. My name is on their lips because I wrote THE book on the subject.”
    16. “communicates extensively. Good, bad or ugly, I believe that open communication is the most important factor to reach an efficient organization.”
    17. “works enthusiastically. I have enough motivation for myself and my department. I love what I do, and it’s contagious.”
    18. “has an eye for details because details matter the most. How many companies have failed because of just one tiny detail? Hire me and you’ll be sure I’ll find that detail.”
    19. “can see the big picture. Beginners waste time solving minor issues. I understand the purpose of our company, tackle the real subjects and the top management will eventually notice it.”
    20. “is not like anyone you know. I am the candidate you would not expect. You can hire a corporate clone, or you can hire someone who will bring something different to the company. That’s me. “

    Featured photo credit: Tim Gouw via unsplash.com

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