Simple Writing Advice From Stephen King

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.

This is from Stephen King’s memoir On Writing.

The advice is straightforward and simple. A writer writes. You can spend all your time researching writing tips, habits, routines, reading lists and things of that nature but that is not writing. You can find writing exercises that make you describe some lake from four different perspectives but that is not writing. You can even spend weeks reading books on how to write and by doing all of this, give yourself this false notion that you are writing but you are not writing.

It may seem like you are working on your craft and improving your understanding as you try a new way of writing and learn through the habits of other writers, however, all of this can trick you into thinking that you are getting better as a writer but you really may not be. After all the hours spent on such activities, you may still be exactly where you started.

The reason being all of that is supplementary. Additional work to your core work. The core is the actual writing, your writing, no matter if it is good or bad, you must write your own writing. The easiest way to do this is either set a block of time which is dedicated to writing and nothing else or assign yourself X number of words that need to be written each day to consider that day a win. This makes up your core. After this is when all the supplementary work like reading books on writing, grammar, editing, biographies/memoirs, and writing exercises can be added to the routine.

Don’t make the mistake of spending 60-70% of your time on supplementary work and the minimum on your own actual writing. On days when you feel like not writing, don’t find satisfaction on completing supplementary work while ignoring the core.

It is easy to do that because writing can be uncomfortable. It can be tiresome. In a way, reading about writing and doing writing exercises can be seen as procrastination or being satisfied with the minimum so you can be comfortable for a moment because your inner conscience is pleased. But this habit does not bring you closer to finishing a story or an article, so you go nowhere if you allow the supplementary to lead you. Instead, you have to do the work and commit to a writing schedule which takes precedence over anything else.

Along with writing, comes reading. Just as with writing, you have to assign yourself a certain number of pages to read or a block of time dedicated to just reading. What does a character do when he is in a heated argument? What will the landscape look like from the view of someone who does not know who they are? What creates an emotional connection with a character? How do you write a good battle scene? A good love scene? How can inner monologue flow? How do you incorporate symbolic meanings into the text? Questions like these and many others are all answerable depending on your reading. As a writer, professional or amateur, reading takes on a different notion. You do not simply read for pleasure. It is your job to read. Just as it is your job to write. That is how you approach the subject. You read in order to better understand writing, not just to get to the last page and be pleased that you finished another book. Another book for the bookshelf does very little to improve your writing ability.

Instead, read with attention. Take notes, understand what the writer has included and what he or she has omitted. Pay attention to the words used and how they differ depending on the character. See how an emotional scene was set up or a violent one. Take note of the details that bring a scene to life and the lack of detail that makes it mundane. Watch how the character struggles internally or how the character acts externally.

All books can be seen as textbooks for writing. The good ones make you understand what to do and the bad ones teach you what not to do.

Although the advice is simple, write a lot and read a lot, the application of it must be done with commitment and attention. In that way, the simple advice is all you need to become a better writer for the rest of the writing journey you will learn innately and those lessons are hard to forget while no matter how many writing tips and lists you read, the lessons will eventually fade from your mind.

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