Is Stephen King’s Advice All That Authors Need to Get Better?
Stephen King is arguably one of the most prolific authors of his generation. In the year 2000, he published a book titled, On Writing, which is part memoir and part a collection of what he considers best practices. It’s one of my favorite books on the craft.
Deceptively Simple Advice
King summarized the bulk of what he had to offer in one sentence:
“You need to write a lot and read a lot.”
Is that all authors and writers need to get better?
The advice seems so self-evident that it would be easy to dismiss. Of course, people who want to write need to read a lot and write a lot.
Still, the simplicity and balance are so elegant that it’s some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten as an author.
It takes both to become better.
I know people who read a lot and think they are preparing to become good writers. Their exposure to various styles and approaches has made them knowledgeable, but it hasn’t made them better writers any more than watching the NBA makes me a basketball player.
I also know people who write and write but never read. Yes, those people do exist. And they can be pretty good writers, but they’ve also limited themselves by avoiding exposure.
King says that aspiring writers should read everything. Novels, memoirs, how-to books, history, philosophy, etc. Anything that will expand their vocabulary and knowledge of the craft.
I went through a period in my thirties when I read four books a week. During that time, I followed his advice and read books in every genre.
Then life got in the way.
Now, I read novels for leisure, books in the field I want to write in, and books about writing.
There is a slight caveat to the ‘read everything’ approach. King never reads novels when he is writing novels because he doesn’t want another narrative voice to creep into his writing. That is something I’ve tried to do as well.
Again, King says to write everything. Letters, blogs, short stories, articles, fiction, nonfiction, research papers… the list is endless. Like an actor that explores his many faces, the author can try out many voices until settling on a primary voice.
I started writing poems, lyrics, and short stories in my early teens, graduated to writing for a newspaper in the mid-nineties, wrote my first book at the turn of the century, and have written countless books, blogs, columns, and articles since. Each one has added something to my writing repertoire.
All You Need?
Write a lot. Read a lot.
Is that all you need?
Nope, but it’s a great start.
Do a little bit of both every day, and you’ll be amazed at the progress you make.
Author, Coach, and Columnist