Stephen King recently wrote 22 keys to better writing. I loved each of them, but I want to give some commentary to put his words in a Christian context. With no further delay:
1. Stop watching television. Instead, read as much as possible.
King says, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
This is so true, not just in book, but for blog and article writing, but in all writing, especially school work. If you wish to be a master of something, hone in on that skill development and cut out that other noise in your life to make time for this. Me? I’ve managed to stop painting, guitar, working out, sports, video games and a ton of television in order to open up more time for writing and school. I still participate in these things from time to time, but life is about making priorities. Do I want to be Scott Hahn and Patrick Madrid, or do I want to get the high score in Call of Duty?
2. Prepare for more failure and criticism than you think you can deal with.
King says, “If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.”
Truer words haven’t been written on the subject. Take a look at your favorite blogger’s comment box, or ask them about their email inbox, about how many readers quibble with meaning of the smallest of things. It does no good to write if you’re not thick-skinned enough to put up with a few louder critics.
3. Don’t waste time trying to please people.
According to King, rudeness should be the least of your concerns. “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered anyway.”
Rudeness being the “least of your concerns”? I don’t agree. The least of your concerns should be grammar. Just kidding. But rudeness cannot be the highest of your concerns either. Polemic writing is writing that attracts a very small audience that is tough to break free from. If you become know for rudeness, snippyness, and snideness, you’ll be marked. People will click your link for about 5 seconds before they remember your page. Write, always, ALWAYS, with a sense and style of charity. If you need to make a point, do it, but do it effectively, not rudely.
4. Write primarily for yourself.
You should write because it brings you happiness and fulfillment. As King says, “I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.”
This is exactly right. The more you enjoy something, the better you will write it. Cause I am not interested in topics like automobiles and power lifting, I cannot write well on those topics. When you love something, you’ll always put your heart into it.
5. Tackle the things that are hardest to write.
“The most important things are the hardest things to say,” writes King.
True enough. Christians want to read more about marriage, sex, contraception, and other social issues. These and other difficult topics need so many more voices that there are. There is no saturation on these topics. Get on these, and get on them well cause the voices of the moral majority must be heard.
6. When writing, disconnect from the rest of the world.
King advises, “Write with the door closed; rewrite with the door open.”
In other words, write with your voice, not the one that you think you need to write with. In order to do this, it might be helpful to literally get away from other people, media, and whatever else affects our writing in a negative way. Jesus did this in prayer, and the same principle – focus – applies to writing.
7. 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,” says King.
Especially for bloggers, this is a huge mistake. First, people don’t access blogs the way and for the reasons they do an academic journal. Second, the reason he say’s its “pretentious” is because people will perceive that your prose is condescending. It’s a major no-no, so don’t do it!
8. Avoid adverbs and long paragraphs.
As King emphasizes several times in his memoir, “the adverb is not your friend.”
I’ll briefly comment on long paragraphs: People hate them, quit writing them.
9. Don’t get overly caught up in grammar.
“Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes,” writes King.
How can I say it any better? I’ve had people read my blog right in front of me and submit corrections that made it more suitable for a college term paper than a book. The thing is, people are looking for a story and a lesson, not perfect punctuation.
10. Master the art of description.
“In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it ‘got boring,’ the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling,” notes King.
Write Tight by William Brohaugh is the best book on “keeping the ball rolling.” If you’re a writer and you don’t have this book, get it immediately. It will be the best $9 investment you could make in writing.
11. Don’t give too much background information.
“What you need to remember is that there’s a difference between lecturing about what you know and using it to enrich the story,” writes King.
Again, keep the ball rolling. I have this awful ability to never tell a joke right. I’m the living incarnation of Marlin, the father of Nemo, because I kill a joke with details. Don’t be like me – move your story or message ahead.
12. Tell stories about what people actually do.
“Bad writing is more than a matter of sh[*]t syntax and faulty observation; bad writing usually arises from a stubborn refusal to tell stories about what people actually do — to face the fact, let us say, that murderers sometimes help old ladies cross the street,” writes King.
Okay, he uses a bit of a creepy example so let me give you another one. People who join the Church are sinners, and so were many Popes. Describe your stories with reality in mind – people will love your writing for this as they get the sense that those characters and events have them in mind.
13. Take risks; don’t play it safe.
“I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing,” King says. Writers should throw back their shoulders, stick out their chins, and put their writing in charge.
Exactly. I enjoy writing about apologetics. Unfortunately, so does everyone else. I have labored for hours trying to piece together a post that I think people want to read. It ends up being a flop almost every time. The things I’ve written that have really skyrocketed are jotted down within a few minutes. I think it’s because those are the pieces that were really written from me, and not a voice I was trying to be.
14. Realize that you don’t need drugs to be a good writer.
“The idea that the creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time,” says King.
15. Don’t try to steal someone else’s voice.
As King says, “You can’t aim a book like a cruise missile.” When you try to mimic another writer’s style for any reason other than practice, you’ll produce nothing but “pale imitations.” This is because you can never try to replicate the way someone feels and experiences truth, especially not through a surface-level glance at vocabulary and plot.
16. Understand that writing is a form of telepathy.
“All the arts depend upon telepathy to some degree, but I believe that writing is the purest distillation,” says King. An important element of writing is transference. Your job isn’t to write words on the page, but rather to transfer the ideas inside your head into the heads of your readers.
He’s right. Get on Amazon right now and get William Brohaugh’s incredible book Write Tight. Read it once, then again and again.
17. Take your writing seriously.
“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or despair,” says King. “Come to it any way but lightly.” If you don’t want to take your writing seriously, he suggests that you close the book and do something else.
Dr. Cynthia Toolin taught me this vital lesson: write everything, *EVERYTHING*, as if you expect it to be published. When you have the mindset of, “I have to sell this” your writing will vastly improve. If you don’t take it seriously, nobody will.
18. Write every single day.
“Once I start work on a project, I don’t stop, and I don’t slow down unless I absolutely have to,” says King.
Okay, King is nuts, like his books. But seriously, write regularly. Read the next question so I don’t repeat myself and waste your time.
19. Finish your first draft in three months.
King likes to write 10 pages a day. Over a three-month span, that amounts to around 180,000 words. “The first draft of a book — even a long one — should take no more than three months, the length of a season,” he says. If you spend too long on your piece, King believes the story begins to take on an odd foreign feel.
I guess King is talking about novels and I’m also guessing that almost nobody reading this has the time to put in 10 pages per day. If you do, great. If you don’t, like me, do what I do: commit just one hour per day, interrupted, to nothing but writing. Not research, not editing, just writing. Doing this builds great habits and puts you in the mindset of “this is my time to do x,y,z and nothing else.” Once that’s over, put that use that same time for editing and so on.
20. When you’re finished writing, take a long step back.
King suggests six weeks of “recuperation time” after you’re done writing, so you can have a clear mind to spot any glaring holes in the plot or character development.
In William Brohaugh’s book Write Tight, he points to a week as being the best time to look away from your writing. After that, come back with fresh eyes for review.
21. Have the guts to cut.
When revising, writers often have a difficult time letting go of words they spent so much time writing. But, as King advises, “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
If you write something that does not further your story or subject, or fails to help get your reader “to the point!” then you need to delete that sentence. Even if you think its witty and clever, which your writing should be, if it doesn’t fit, cut it. Every word and sentence must keep the story moving.
22. Stay married, be healthy, and live a good life.
King attributes his success to two things: his physical health and his marriage. “The combination of a healthy body and a stable relationship with a self-reliant woman who takes zero shit from me or anyone else has made the continuity of my working life possible,” he writes.
How awesome is that?