How to Become an Insanely Good Writer, According to Stephen King
See how you can use the tips and tricks that helped Stephen King sell over 350 million books.
Whether you’re trying to become the next top blogger, or just working in an office, writing is a vital key to success (even if it doesn’t seem like it).
New research by Harvard has found that writing is one of the most overlooked, yet vital skills in business. Harnessing the power of good writing can accomplish everything from boosting your productivity to improving your leadership (not to mention it will help you create awesome stories).
But don’t sell yourself short — these tips can apply to so much more than a pen and paper (or keyboard):
Stop watching TV — instead, read as much as possible.
Television is “poisonous to creativity,” King said. Instead, “you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
King isn’t alone in this sentiment. Studies have found that 1,200 of the world’s wealthiest individuals like to read extensively. And mega-moguls like Warren Buffett and Mark Cuban have found reading to be vital to their success.
You don’t have to completely give up TV right away, but consider replacing at least one show daily with time spent reading instead. Your writing skills and overall success are worth it.
Don’t be pretentious.
“One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones,” Stephen King says.
The iconic businessman and original “Mad Man” David Ogilvy agrees. He once wrote a memo to all his employees saying, “Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.”
If you’re trying to impress a higher-up or get more eyeballs on your blog by using overly complex words, just stop. Your readers will be more impressed and thankful if you get to the point as quickly as possible.
Write with leadership.
If you’re in a position of leadership, you are often trying to convince others of something. So whether you’re trying to sell a new product to a major client, or assuring your team that their six-month project will take the company in a positive direction, your writing needs to be convincing and convey strong leadership.
That’s why King suggests you be bold with your writing. “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing,” he said.
He suggests you tackle this by using the active voice as much as possible, and avoiding the passive voice (think: “the letter was mailed by Susan” versus “Susan mailed the letter”).
Passive speech comes across as watery and unsure of itself. Active voice communicates decisive leadership and clear instruction and direction. It’s a style of writing that people want to follow.
“Once I start work on a project, I don’t stop, and I don’t slow down unless I absolutely have to,” says King. “If I don’t write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind… I begin to lose my hold on the story’s plot and pace.”
Just like any other skill, writing isn’t something you’re born with, or that you will become good at overnight. So pencil in some time to practice it daily, and have patience knowing that you won’t immediately improve, but you will improve eventually.
This applies to much more than writing, however: New endeavors can be overwhelming, especially when it seems the end is not in sight. Chip away at a little piece one day at a time, and eventually, you will get there. As King puts it, “one word at a time.”
Give your mind a break.
When a runner finishes a marathon they do not wake up the next morning and go for a long run; they give their body a rest, allowing the muscles to repair and recover.
In 2017, between work, smartphones, computers and television, we rarely give our brains a rest. King suggests that after completing a major project (or book in his case) you should take the time to step back and recuperate. This allows your mind to think clearly and to truly assess the work you’ve completed.
“When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.”
Additionally, you are bound to find mistakes — this is a natural part of the process. By stepping back, and reviewing your work yourself (or with others, as I recommend), you’ll be able to grow and improve by noticing your mistakes.
Most importantly, be resilient.
“Optimism is a perfectly legitimate response to failure” — Stephen King.
It is a tough world out there — whether you are working in corporate America, building a startup or writing a novel, the criticism you will receive as a successful leader from yourself and others can be overwhelming. People probably will doubt you and they will talk behind your back — it almost comes along naturally with success.
Remember, “no” is just someone’s opinion, nothing more. You’ll face plenty of rejections — writing or otherwise — but they’re just one person’s (often flawed) viewpoint. By staying resilient, you’ll learn to tune out the negative noise and bounce back from setbacks stronger than ever.
Do you have any tips for being a better writer? Leave me a comment or give me a shout-out on Twitter!