Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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April 25, 2018

10 Success Tips from Stephen King

Top 10 List


Last month, I shared J.K. Rowlings top tips on writing and success, and it was a tough choice between her and Stephen King. Those two write such wonderful books because they understand love and fear. Have you read Stephen King's On Writing? Seen The Shawshank Redemption (my favorite movie ever)  or The Green Mile? King is a writer who sees the visceral underbelly of courage and the tenacity of the human spirit.

Here is his "Top Ten" list for writers:

1. Love what you do.

Really, y'all. Why would you do this writing thing if you didn't love it? Most people don't line up for the chance to rip their hearts out and show it to friends and strangers. But we do. We not only rip our hearts onto the page, we fight to make that painful process sound like something others may actually want to read. Why would any sane person do this kind of work unless they loved it?

King's take: "For me, not working is the real work. When I’m writing, it’s all the playground…"

2. Be yourself.

Many years ago I heard literary agent, Natasha Kern, speak about writing. She said, "Every time you put words on the page, you are shouting out, 'this is who I am.'" Terrifying thought, isn't it? It's enough to put you off writing if you let it.

Be who you are and write your truth and your voice will come through. Jill Marie Landis described "voice" to me like this: "Imagine you are sitting in a coffee shop, telling your best pal a story. Your story, your hand gestures, your expressions - they all have rhythms that are uniquely you. That's voice." Your voice will permeate everything you write. 

3. Explore new ideas.

Don't worry that it's all be done before. Your story hasn't been done before because only YOU can tell it. It's that voice thing again. The imaginative one-of-a-kind lens you see the world through filters your words into your own one-of-a-kind story. Even if you're exploring what King calls "the three stories shared by all horror writers," your take on it will be different from anyone else's.

4. The good idea stays with you.

Are you one of those writers who always wants to chase the shiny new idea "before it flies away?" One of the most amazing things about creativity is that the stories you are meant to write stick around. They kick at your brain and your heart until you let them out into the world.

This is why we are writers...we're the designated vaults that hold the stories. We are the ones who care enough to put those stories into words for others.

Note: I'm not talking about those times when you are wading through the pit of despair in your current WIP, wondering when you will get back to "the good stuff." Everyone goes through that phase, when the shiny new idea seems like a cup of cool water in the middle of a sweltering desert.

5. Love the process.

This bit of advice cracks me up. I don't know any writers who love the whole process. Maybe they love the beginning and end, but they detest the middle. Maybe they love to plot, but hate to finish. Or they love to write but would rather go to the dentist than revise. 

Whether or not I "love the process" pretty much depends on which day you ask me about it. But I always love the words. I always love the process of finding the best words, of teasing out the theme to a story and discovering what I really want to say.

It's okay if you don't love the entire process, as long as you love some piece of it so much that it becomes the carrot that draws you through the crappy parts. If you can't find that carrot for yourself, talk to a writing friend and have them help you find it. It's there, I promise you.

6. Learn from rejections.

Rejection is something all writers must deal with. Our own Laura Drake went through 417 rejections before she sold. Four. Hundred. Seventeen. That takes stamina and some pretty thick skin. I love her post, Don't Give Away Your Power, where she discusses how to manage rejection.

7. Look for ideas you enjoy.

King says he never wrote a book where he wanted to say goodbye to the characters. You will be spending quite a bit of time with these people and if you aren't having a ball, it's unlikely the reader will either. Your goal is to create worlds and characters that nobody wants to leave, including you.

8. Find your creative process.

The biggest step, at least for me, is putting the booty into the writing chair. Not the social media/blogging/day job chair, the story chair. Stephen King likens the first ten minutes of writing time to "smelling a dead fish or walking through a monkey house." If you stick with it, he insists that "something will click and lead to something else that sucks you down into the story."

So, my take on his advice: Butt in the story chair. Stick with it for at least 15 minutes.

A bit of advice from Laura Drake: She has a saying: Nobody gets it all. Stop being greedy, thinking you need that elusive more to be a writer. You were given everything you need to tell your stories. Dig deep and find a process that helps you get the story out. 

9. Pass something on.

Frankly, this is the essence of WITS to all of us here behind the scenes. We pass on knowledge because we think it's important. Whether it's knowledge, time, or simply a post, it's important to share your abundance with others. Teach a class. Volunteer. Sponsor NaNoWriMo. Or, like Harley Christensen and Elizabeth Craig, curate knowledge for other writers and share the best damn tweets in the Twitterverse.

King makes an excellent point: it's not like you can take it with you when you go.

10. Tell great stories.

Read a lot, write a lot and learn. Those are the activities you must engage in if you want to tell great stories. Stephen King writes to entertain himself, but he also never forgets the reader. His take on opening lines: "An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”





Stephen King struggled with depression, poverty, addiction and self-doubt, but he kept writing. What is your biggest challenge when it comes to getting words on the page? Which of these ten bits of wisdom do you struggle with the most?


We are happy to announce the winner of Laurie Schnebly's online class. Congratulations, Cate Francis! Please contact Laurie at Laurie Schnebly@gmail.com. 

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About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18+ years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, or here at Writers In The Storm.

37 comments on “10 Success Tips from Stephen King”

    1. LOL. You are welcome! And his story at the end of the video about watching the screening of Carrie? I was dying with laughter. He is just so awesome.

    1. Good Lord, you and me both! I love her books, although Year One felt like a pile of backstory. Thanks for reading, and taking time to comment. 🙂

  1. It was encouraging for me to hear King say he doesn't know/write the last lines first. I always knew the end of my first novel, and I had the comfort/security of writing to that end. But not knowing the end of my third novel has kept me from writing it. Just hearing him say that gives me a sense that I can let the characters emerge out of the darkness and we'll find the end together. Thanks.

    1. Yes, John Irving says he writes the ending first and I can't even imagine. I don't know anyone who knows the last line before they start...that's where the trust in the universe comes in! You can do this!!!!

  2. Awesome article, Jenny! I struggle with #8...my creative process seems out of whack(just ask my CPs) and getting words on the page in the order I want constantly flummoxes me. Laura's adage says it all for me...NOBODY GETS IT ALL...I'll remember that when my perfectionist brain is squeezing out what I think should be the perfect word or phrase.

    1. Thanks, M. Lee! I too have a perfectionist brain and I have to remember Laura's voice in my head all the time. You just keep going...you've got this.

  3. On loving the process, I was recently telling someone that I've thought about giving up writing, but it's one of the few things I do where time disappears. I will think I've been writing for thirty minutes, look up and realize it's been two hours. Time flies when you're having fun? Great rules! Thanks for sharing them, Jenny.

  4. Talk about down-to-earth! Though I'm not a fan of Stephen King's books (no horror in my leisure time!), His ON WRITING was one of the first craft books I read. Thanks for sharing these, Jenny.

    1. I did him too. Natalie Goldberg's WRITING DOWN THE BONES was my first writing book and I remember that moment when I understood that there were people who would teach me writing. Wowzers!

  5. #5 rang true to me. For many writers, the "process" is a big-ass mystery that changes with every story we write. I'm about to publish my third book and the way I'd describe the process this time was like making stone soup. Here's why. I'll always remember the arrival of a crock pot to my daughter's first-grade room. There was a rock in it, and each child was asked to bring something to add to make soup. Before long, there was a magically feast...the kids made it together and ate it together. When I started my most recent story, I knew I had the crock pot and the stone. One at a time, the characters wandered in and added delicious ingredients. Said another way, it was a team effort by the voices in my head. I hope that didn't sound like the ramblings of a person in need of a straight jacket.

    1. LOL. The process... Oy! The process. I don't now anyone who fully understands their own...we just all try to make it through. I love that stone soup story. I can just imagine all these first graders getting so excited. 🙂

    2. I have a theory; that your brain already knows how YOU write a book, but it's not telling. Why do I think that? Because, when you stumble on to a little piece to the puzzle that fits, and you snap it in place, It's not a surprise, is it?

      Sneaky damned brain....

  6. […] https://writersinthestormblog.com/2018/04/10-success-tips-from-stephen-king/ “Last month, I shared K. Rowlings top tipson writing and success, and it was a tough choice between her and Stephen King. Those two write such wonderful books because they understand love and fear. Have you read Stephen King’s On Writing? Seen The Shawshank Redemption (my favorite movie ever)  or The Green Mile? King is a writer who sees the visceral underbelly of courage and the tenacity of the human spirit.” I like #7. I don’t like to say goodbye to my characters either. […]

  7. Love this quote: "the shiny new idea seems like a cup of cool water in the middle of a sweltering desert". No truer word written! I feel like that right now - having all sorts of self doubt about the story I am writing. But yet, I do love the story, I just need to step back and see the bigger picture - I think I am in the trees right now! Anyway thanks for the good tips.

    1. You are welcome, Marie! And that is my quote because we all have that moment when we just want to write about something different than the story that is beating us to death. My compromise on this is that I set a timer and write on the new shiny for no more than one hour. Then I put that away to be with AFTER I'm done with what I need to finish. Good luck to you. 🙂

  8. Why doesn't anyone ever mention Iris Johanssen? She is also a great writer. Or, for political thrillers/espionage how about Joel Rosenberg?

    1. Oh, lovessiamese, I used to want (impatiently) for Iris Johanssen's next release. But that was for her historical, which did have suspense and mystery in them. When she changed genres to suspense, then crime, I couldn't follow along. I read "lighter" genres. Loved her series that started with Wind Dancer.

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