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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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Published on October 8, 2019

How to Advance Your Career (and the Big Mistakes You May be Making)

How to Advance Your Career (and the Big Mistakes You May be Making)

The late writer William S. Burroughs once said that “When you stop growing, you start dying.” It might have a morbid undertone, but it’s one hundred percent true in terms of one’s career.

The days of finding a job with one company that you can stick with for 30 years, and simply relax as you move up its company escalator are few and far between in today’s world. This isn’t necessarily bad news. On the contrary, it means that you’re the one in charge of shaping your career advancement.

By putting these principles and behaviors into practice, you’ll begin to see how to advance your career quickly. Ready? Let’s get started…

1. Define What Success Is for You

There’s no right or wrong definition of what success in your career looks like. The important thing is to figure out what success looks like for YOU. It might, and probably will, change along the way, but if you don’t have some sort of milestone on the horizon, then you won’t know which direction to go in.

Think about success in your career in terms of one year, five years, and 10 years. Once you have that, it’s time to lace up your boots and get to work.

2. Learn How to Develop and Follow a Plan

Nobody just stumbles upon success accidentally. Sure, they may stumble upon breakthroughs or new methods accidentally, but all success stories have one thing in common — a plan.

Establish a timeline for the things that you want to achieve in your career in the next year, five years, 10 years, and so on. Consider the skills that you’ll need to learn to make these things happen and work on acquiring them.

3. Surround Yourself With Those Better Than You

It’s a rule of thumb among musicians that if you want to get better, then you need to get out of the bedroom and play with people who are better than you.

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By surrounding yourself with people who are better than you and where you want to be, you’ll not only see how these people climbed to where they are in their respective fields, but you’ll learn from them and naturally want to push yourself to be better in your own job as well.

4. Seek Out a Mentor(s)

A mentor will not only be able to help you refine and reach your career goals, but will be invaluable in landing promotions and finding unadvertised job openings.

One unique approach is to work on fostering a relationship with a mentor both within and outside of your company. This will help in giving you different perspectives as you rise up through the ranks in your company and career overall.

5. Stop Wasting Your Mornings

You may not think you’re a morning person, but if you can learn to be one, you’ll thank yourself 10 years down the road.

Prepare a to-do list of tasks that you want to accomplish the day before and work on knocking them out for at least one hour before you respond to morning emails. The problem with responding to emails first, is you’re giving your attention to somebody else’s agenda, instead of plotting your own course for the day.

6. Arrange or Attend a Networking Party

If you’re attending networking events simply because you might get a few free drinks, you’re doing them wrong. These events are great for meeting new people and forming relationships. Your goal shouldn’t be to get hired by the end of the night, but to simply make a good impression by being friendly and authentic. So what’s next?

Reach out a few days later via email or on social media to follow up and connect!

7. Pick Up Some New Skills

Nobody wants to be the old dog that can’t learn any new tricks. To move up in your career, you’re going to likely need to pick up new skills along the way. Maybe your company offers on-the-job training or you have the option of taking online classes at night.

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By learning new skills, you’ll not only be able to expand upon what you can already do, but you’ll make yourself more valuable to your employer and future employers.

8. Exploit the Benefits Already at Your Disposal

Remember what we just said about the possibility of your company providing on-the-job training? Take advantage of these sorts of benefits!

If you’re working for a company that allows you to job shadow other employees or has company mixers, you should attend these. They not only allow you to develop your skills within the company, but show seasoned executives within your field that you’re interested in more than just clocking in for a paycheck.

9. Make Yourself Indispensable

Good help is hard to find and employers want to retain outstanding employees. If you can learn to make yourself indispensable to your company, you’ll not only communicate that you’re successful, but will have a lot more job security. What’s this entail though?

It’s actually not all that difficult. By being reliable, adapting to new challenges, and holding your own work and performance to a high standard, you’ll stand out among your peers and others will take notice. Easy enough, right?

10. Get Off the Fence

People who advance in their careers are those who don’t shy away from voicing their opinion and stand up with authority when the opportunity arises.

If a problem arises in your company and you think you might have a solution or are willing to work to find one, then let others know. Employers value and promote problem solvers. Start off with something small and work your way up towards tackling more difficult tasks and projects.

11. Don’t Wait for More Responsibility, Ask for It

If you want more responsibility in your job, then be open about it with your manager. Your manager may be so busy with their own work that they weren’t aware you were looking for more challenges.

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Just make sure you can handle it and that you already show strong performance in your current duties. And if your manager doesn’t seem supportive about offering you more responsibility, well, then it could be time to look for new employment.

12. Stop Wasting Time on What You Don’t Want

If your career goals start with “I should do this…” there could be a problem. This kind of language in referring to goals can doom them to failure because the want isn’t there.

Consider using the RUMBA method (Reasonable, Understandable, Measurable, Behavioral and Agreed) when setting your goals. That “agreed” part should really be “want.” By going after career goals that you actually want to accomplish, you’re much more likely to achieve them.

13. Seek Out Feedback and Apply It

Simply doing your job might not always push you up in your career advancement. Too often, employees just assume that their bosses will notice their performance strides and reach out when the time is right to advance.

Don’t be afraid to regularly seek out feedback and ask for constructive criticism. It not only shows that you value your manager’s opinion but demonstrates that you care about your job and want to become better in your chosen field.

14. Pick Your Bosses Wisely

Advancing in your career can move a lot quicker if you’re working for the right people. If your boss isn’t any good at their job or doesn’t value you, then moving up could become difficult.

A great boss though, will be able to help you capitalize on your strengths and be an advocate for your success. If there aren’t any strong developers of talent in your management chain already, then look around for some and seek them out as mentors.

15. Learn to Develop Your Sense of Timing

The odds of asking for a promotion or raise are in your favor with over 70 percent of respondents to a survey from PayScale reporting some success. One thing to keep in mind that can make all the difference is when you ask.

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Some corporate cultures may prefer that employees reach out about advancement during their annual review, but maybe you work for a more free-spirited startup. The best approach may be to take note of when others advance and ask about how the organization handles employee development.

16. Work Hard and Promote Yourself

Working hard and delivering a solid job performance are the keys to advancing in your career no matter what field you’re in. This doesn’t mean you need to be completely humble about your accomplishments either.

Keep a record of your positive impact within the organization and let others both within your company and your field know that you’re enthusiastic about your role and work.

17. Don’t Just Build Your Network… Cultivate It

It’s way too easy to add new people to your LinkedIn network and then forget about them for all eternity. Rather than just collecting business cards or social media contacts, you should be cultivating relationships with the ones you already have.

Follow up with people that you haven’t spoken to in a while, offer to connect them with somebody you know in their field, or ask about a new job title they may have taken on. Doing so could be the spark that leads to a potential job referral.

18. Join a Professional Organization

The National Association of (insert your industry here) and other professional organizations can still offer a great wealth of advantages from networking to industry insights, and skill development.

Even outside of professional organizations dedicated to particular job fields, civic organizations can also be fantastic for making new contacts. After all, so much about career advancement is who you know, and you never know who you’ll meet who knows somebody else who is looking for someone with your skills and experience.

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Featured photo credit: JESHOOTS.COM via unsplash.com

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