Stephen King on Writing Successfully

It took Steph­en King ten minutes to learn how to have a suc­cess­ful and fin­an­cially reward­ing career writ­ing fic­tion and he believes he can teach us the same in ten minutes, too.

King–author of count­less nov­els and the much-lauded book on the craft, On Writ­ing–starts with a short story of his youth fol­lowed by twelve tips pro­fess­ing to teach us everything we need to know about writ­ing suc­cess­fully:

  1. Be tal­en­ted: If you’re not tal­en­ted, you won’t suc­ceed. And if you’re not suc­ceed­ing, you should know when to quit. When is that? I don’t know. It’s dif­fer­ent for each writer. Not after six rejec­tion slips, cer­tainly, nor after sixty. But after six hun­dred? Maybe. After six thou­sand? My friend, after six thou­sand pinks, it’s time you tried paint­ing or com­puter pro­gram­ming.
  2. Be neat
  3. Be self-crit­ic­al
  4. Remove every extraneous word
  5. Nev­er look at a ref­er­ence book while doing a first draft: Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaur­us is the wrong word.
  6. Know the mar­kets
  7. Write to enter­tain: If you want to preach, get a soap­box.
  8. Ask your­self fre­quently, “Am I hav­ing fun?”: The answer need­n’t always be yes. But if it’s always no, it’s time for a new pro­ject or a new career.
  9. How to eval­u­ate cri­ti­cism
  10. Observe all rules for prop­er sub­mis­sion
  11. An agent? For­get it. For now
  12. If it’s bad, kill it: When it comes to people, mercy killing is against the law. When it comes to fic­tion, it is the law.

That story King shares ends with an anec­dote related dir­ectly to tip four:

Until that day in John Gould’s little office, I had been writ­ing first drafts of stor­ies which might run 2,500 words. The second drafts were apt to run 3,300 words. Fol­low­ing that day, my 2,500-word first drafts became 2,200-word second drafts. And two years after that, I sold the first one.