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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.