TRONA, CA: There are a lot of writers lurking among DNN’s readers and among the audiences of a variety of Spreecast and Blab webcasts. DNN has been fortunate to find a few to contribute to the DNN Tribune. The Tribune itself has proved influential in inspiring projects such as The Pastafagioli Papers and The Zweebel Report. The viewers of Kermit and Friends hang on Shelton Bumgarner’s every word, while he thrashes his way through the creative process, attempting to write his first novel in the most public of ways. Suddenly, everyone is a writer around here!
However, simply committing words to paper or pixels is not enough; the internet, second hand book stores, vanity publishers, and libraries are full of bad writing that nobody will ever read. On the other hand, every writer knows that good writing not only entertains; it can move people, convince them, thrill them, or make them think. Readers recognize good writing, and the more a writer gives them, the more they seek it out. How then, to get readers to not only read your work, but to get that work to stay with your readers?
Stephen King, who has sold over 350 million novels in a hugely successful career, offered twenty key tips for first-time and long-time writers in his memoir, On Writing (2000). DNN has collected these tips and present them here for the writers currently dwelling in the extended community as well as people with the burning desire to try. Writing is a very personal thing, and every writer has different rules for success that may differ or even contradict King’s. However, it is foolhardy to ignore the wisdom of a man who has sold more novels than there are people in America.
1. First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience.“When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”
2. Don’t use passive voice. “Timid writers like passive verbs for the same reason that timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe.”
3. Avoid adverbs. “The adverb is not your friend.”
4. Avoid adverbs, especially after “he said” and “she said.”
5. But don’t obsess over perfect grammar. “The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story.”
6. The magic is in you. “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.”
7. Read, read, read. ”If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”
8. Don’t worry about making other people happy. “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”
9. Turn off the TV. “TV—while working out or anywhere else—really is about the last thing an aspiring writer needs.”
10. You have three months. “The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”
11. There are two secrets to success. “I stayed physically healthy, and I stayed married.”
12. Write 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.”
13. Eliminate distraction. “There’s should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with.”
14. Stick to your own style. “One cannot imitate a writer’s approach to a particular genre, no matter how simple what that writer is doing may seem.”
15. Dig. “Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.”
16. Take a break. “You’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience.”
17. Leave out the boring parts and kill your darlings. “(kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.)”
18. The research shouldn’t overshadow the story. “Remember that word back. That’s where the research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it.”
19. You become a writer simply by reading and writing. “You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”
20. Writing is about getting happy. “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.”
From On Writing, by Stephen King, 2000, Scribner