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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 March 29, 2021

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

The Dream Type Of Manager

My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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“Okay…”

That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

The Bully

My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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The Invisible Boss

This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

The Micro Manager

The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

The Over Promoted Boss

The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

The Credit Stealer

The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

1. Keep evidence

Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

2. Hold regular meetings

Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

Good luck!

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