Stephen King’s Twenty Rules of Writing

Before we get into this week’s blog, I’d like to acknowledge that people all across the United States (and the world) are transforming their grief into action following the death of George Floyd. For those who are interested, I’ve curated a short list of articles, websites, and podcasts that can help you sifted through the flood of information that is coming out right now.

Anti-racism Resources from Australia and Beyond

75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice

whenwestandtogether.com

Writing class with Alexandra Franzen: How to Inspire People to Listen, Care, Take Action, and Change the World (honour system donation)

1619 Podcast by The New York Times 

About Race Podcast

George Floyd Memorial Fund

 

I understand that I will never understand.
However, I stand. 

There’s no smooth way to transition into this week’s blog and vlog, I can only hope that my 1000 word post and 10 minute video provide a brief moment of relief during these tense, angry, and grievous times. 


If you’ve been following along these past few week’s then you already know that I am doing a series all about writing rules. I started off this series with Octavia Butler’s nine rules of writing, followed by Natalie Goldberg’s seven rules of writing, and last week I unpacked Kurt Vonnegut’s eight rules of fiction writing.

I do want to preface this post by saying that there aren’t any real rules for writing other than the ones you decided on for yourself. I’m making this series as a means of inspiration and education so that you can take the advice that appeals to you, and leaving the rest.

Stephen King
This week I am covering Stephen King’s TWENTY rules of writing. Don’t worry, I’ve split this blog into two posts, and today’s I am covering the first ten rules.

I’ve been beginning each of these posts with a brief author bio,  but I’m pretty sure you know who Stephen King is, so let’s jump straight into the rules.

The following blog outlines the first ten rules of SK’s twenty rules of writing (geared specifically towards fiction writing), followed by my own interpretation of each rule.

Rule #1: First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience 

This rule echoes a point I made in last week’s post: write the story you want to read.

King argues that your first draft should be written for yourself.

What he means by that is not only are you writing the story you want to write, but that you also allow the story to take you wherever it wants to go.

Don’t put on your editors hat until you start your second draft, this is where you can take out all the stuff that doesn’t need to be there.

Rule #2: Don’t use passive voice

Passive voice is when you turn the object of an action into the subject of a sentence.

For example, saying “Mandy hugged Clara” is active while “Clara was hugged by Mandy” is passive. Can you see the difference? Mandy’s action – giving a hug – is diminished when using passive voice.

Writing is revising.
Remove adverbs and change passive voice into active voice when editing your work.

Rule #3: Avoid adverbs

King has become famous for this rule, yet he openly acknowledges that of course he too uses adverbs.

You’ll note that the rule is avoid adverbs, not ignore them.

Adverbs can be a sign of lazy writing, but if you do the work up front you often won’t need to added these additional descriptors.

Think about it, if two characters are fighting and one leaves the room in a huff, you show the reader that the character’s are angry through their dialogue and actions, that way you DON’T have to relay on statements like, “he slammed the door, forcefully” because the reader already knows that the character is angry.

Rule #4 Avoid adverbs, especially after “he said” and “she said”

Again, note that this rule is to avoid adverbs following “he said” and “she said.” Sometimes it is okay to say “he said, softly” or “she said, loudly”, but most of the time, a simple he or she said is all that is necessary.

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Don’t stress about perfect punctuation or grammar while drafting.

Rule #5. Don’t obsess over perfect grammar

As a writer, I believe that you do need to know the tools of your trade, but I can also appreciate that if you didn’t learn grammar in school, or if you were taught incorrectly, or simply weren’t paying attention, then learning these rules as an adult can be startling difficult.

It is important to learn the rules of grammar so that you can properly edit your own work and so that when you do break the rules, you do so intentionally.

That being said, your primary motivation for writing should always be to tell a good story.

Bad grammar may put a reader off a book, but nobody ever finished a book and said, “Wow, that author knows what a semicolon is and how to use it!”

Rule #6. The magic is in you

This rule speaks specifically to the fear of writing, King believe that most bad writing is rooted in fear and he advises aspiring writer to be bold and fearfulness in their storytelling.

You’ll notice that this rule echoes Natalie Goldberg’s rule of Loosen up.

Writing is a vulnerable act, but it would suck to get to the end of your life and to think that you never got to bring forth all of the treasures deep inside you because you were afraid. 

Read more
The more you read, the more your writing will improve.

Rule #7. Read, read, read

Interestingly, this did not appear on either Vonnegut’s or Goldberg’s list, but reading is essential to writing regardless of genre or form.

Unlike film or theatre, there are no secret stings being pulled behind the covers of a novel.

Everything you need to know about how to write a novel is right there on the page. If you want to see the strings, all you got to do is slow down and look for them.

Rule #8. Don’t worry about making other people happy

We’re all leading busy lives and few people can make writing their full-time gig. So, sometimes, you have to say no to opportunities, invitations, or events because you need to make time for your writing.

This will upset people, but that’s okay.

If you’ve made the decision that you’re going to write a book, then you need to honour that commitment and follow through until completion.

Sometimes, you have to say, “no, thank you” to a momentary pleasure in order to say “yes!” to a lifelong dream.

Turn off the TV and read instead
Only watch EXCESSIVE amounts of TV if you want to be a screen writer. If not, PICK UP A BOOK!

Rule #9. Turn off the TV 

Okay, I rarely watch TV, but because of the recent lockdown I started watching some TV (and movies) as a way to spend time with loved ones.

And I’ll tell you what, I haven’t been missing out on much.

Binge watching Netflix is a time suck and it will not support your dream of becoming a writer.

If you want to write for film and TV then that’s another story, but if you want to be a novelist then the time spent watching TV would be better spent either reading or writing.

Rule #10. You have three months

King believes that it should take three months to write the first draft of a novel.

This rule is a bit prescriptive, and yes, King has written a lot of novels (70+), experienced a wild level of success, and won many awards, but that’s because he figured out a process that works for him.

What we can take away from this rule is the idea of deadlines.

Creating a self-imposed deadline for your first draft is a great way to keep yourself on track and to create a sense of accountability, especially if you buddy up with another writing pal.

Which of these writing rules speak to you? What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received? Leave a comment below and let me know! Next week, I will be unpacking rules 11-20 of Stephen King’s twenty rules of writing, so be sure to join my email list so you don’t miss out!


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Knowing Your Why: The Story Behind Every Time He Dies

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, it took me seven years to write Every Time He Dies. Seven years is a long time. Now, I wasn’t working on the novel that entire time, but still, it takes a certain level of discipline to stick with an unpaid, time-consuming project for that long — even when you love it.

In short, if you want to write a novel then you have to know why you want to write it.

A why that is bigger than: 

  • it’s fun
  • it’s something to do
  • well, it’s better than cleaning the house!

There has to be a story behind your story. It doesn’t have to be a personal story (in fact, this can sometimes become problematic), it can a topic or issue that you want to explore more deeply. 

Why do you want to dedicate your precious time to writing, revising, publishing and promoting a novel? What are you trying to say with this novel? What are you trying to figure out by writing this book?

For me, I started writing Every Time He Dies after a close friend of mine passed away after a very long, and painful illness. This friend was only a few years older than me. They were young, fit, had a good diet, a great family and a sunny disposition. 

I’ve (weirdly/unfortunately) been to a lot of funerals. In fact, I’ve been to more funerals than weddings (the current ratio is 3:1). I’ve lost friends and family to illness, suicide and tragic accidents. In short, I’ve had my fair share of grief and I’ve lived in close proximity with others as they’ve gone through their own grieving process. 

In the West, we have a tendency to bury our grief and we avoid all conversations about death because we see it as morbid, but Death is a part of Life. As the now famous graph from TheOnion.com shows, Earth’s Death Holding stead At 100 Percent. 

So, I wanted to write a book that expressed my own feelings about death and grief. 

Please note, Every Time He Dies is a work of fiction; it’s not a fictionalised version of my life. The plot is entirely fabricated and yet, as the great adage goes: most memoirs are a work of fiction and most fiction is memoir.

You won’t discover anything about my personal life by reading ETHD, but you will come to know what I think about big topics like time, death, identity and memory. 

I wrote this book because I needed to figure out my own feelings about death and I needed to do something with my grief. Some people drink, play sports or speak meanly to their kids. I write books. 

Every Time He Dies is a book about grief, but it’s also a book about life. It’s a story about bravery, female friendships, trusting your gut, forgiveness and the malleability of time.

Plus, it has a talking ghost … so it’s actually pretty funny … 

Writing is how I figure out what I think about certain subjects and topics.

Writing is slow. You have to really think about what it is you are trying to say and Every Time He Dies is the product of that exploration and I think it says it very well. 


EVERY TIME HE DIES

AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER + GIVEAWAY

‘Who knew that a book about murder, grief and disintegrated families could be so funny?’ – Paul WilliamsEverytimeHeDies_3D

‘A unique modern mystery that is one part psychic practices and one part police procedural. The fast pace, dynamic characters and intricate plot will keep readers hooked until the end.’ – Gregory James

‘It’s rare to find an Australian-set book of this scope and genre that could stand among its international peers and hold its own, but I won’t be surprised to see this book find its success in all corners of the crime genre reading world.’ – Shayla Morgansen

‘Can someone please make this into a TV series? This is a fabulous read and I want to see Liam and Daff on the small screen.’ – Carol Seeley


CLICK BELOW TO ORDER NOW

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PREORDER GIVEAWAY!

Everyone who preorders a copy of Every Time He Dies (paperback or ebook) will go into the draw to win one of THREE MAJOR GRAND PRIZES.

To celebrate the release of Every Time He Dies, I’m running an EPIC book giveaway. The three grand prize packs include signed copies of:

🎉Dying in the First Person by Nike Sulway
🎉Bordertown by Gregory James
🎉Haunted by Shayla Morgansen
🎉The Spark Ignites by Kathleen Kelly
🎉Every Time He Dies by Tara Louise East

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If you preorder a copy, simply take a snapshot of your proof of purchase and fill out the entry form here. 

WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

Everyone who preorders a copy will ALSO receive the first five chapters straight to their inbox. Not only will this tide you over until the book arrives, but it’s also my way of saying thanks!

How Do You Know When A Project Is Finished?

One could argue that creative projects are never really done. Like any skill, our creative processes and practices improve over time. You are a better writer today than you were yesterday, and you’re definitely a better writer now than you were three years ago. Because our skills are constantly improving, it can be difficult to recognise when a creative project is finished.

You may finish revising chapter twenty-six and decided on a whim to look back at chapter three. Then your heart sinks. The chapter is crap. Well, maybe not crap, but you know that you can do better. You know that you can lift chapter three to the level of chapter twenty-six. One of the trickiest things about writing a novel is learning how to maintain a consistent voice across three-hundred-plus pages while your technical abilities as a writer constantly improve.

The desire to constantly tweak, lift and better your work never goes away.

If you love words, if you believe in the power of storytelling, and if you respect the craft of writing, then chances are you will have very high expectations when drafting your own novel.

Dani Shapiro once said that it would be an insightful experiment to have an author re-write the same book every ten years because it wouldn’t be the same book. An additional decade of life experience and craft development would ultimately result in a book that may have a similar premise to the earlier edition, but the quality and content of the updated copy would be entirely different.

So, how do you know when a novel or project is finished? Below are a few signposts that may indicate when a creative work has resolved itself.

You’re Kind of Over It

Resentment and boredom are good indicators that the cake is baked. If your eyes glaze over while revising chapter three—again—or if you feel irritated, frustrated or angry every time you sit down for another writing session … perhaps it’s time to hit the pause button and do some evaluating.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I having a bad week or am I truly done with this project?
  • What would it feel like to ‘hit publish’?
    (This could mean publishing a blog, sending a manuscript to an agent or publishing house or submitting a pitch or article to a magazine)
  • Am I done or am I quitting?
    (Remember: quitting feels great in the short terms, but lousy in the long term)
  • Can someone (other than Mum) read my work and provide some feedback?
  • Have I given this project all that I have?
  • Am I still in love with this project?
  • Does working on this project make me feel excited or drained?
  • If I were still working on this project in a month’s time, would I be okay with that?

The answer to these questions may help you decide whether this project requires more time or if it’s actually “complete.”

Pushing vs Perfectionism

Pushing yourself and perfectionism are similar, yet there is a subtle difference.

When we challenge ourselves, we are extending ourselves beyond our comfort zone. We are awake and alert. We feel focussed and excited. The obstacle course we find ourselves on may be tough, but we know that we are capable of finishing it. Even if we’ve never done anything like this before, we know that it’s possible to leap over hurdles, weave between obstructions and cross the finish line!

Here’s the difference: pushing has an endpoint; perfectionism doesn’t.

An obstacle course of this vain doesn’t have a finish line. Instead, the course is a loop that you climb, jump and run through, over and over again until your feet give out and you vomit from dizziness.

Are you challenging yourself to make your novel (or any work of art) the best that it can be or are you reaching for an ideal? Because, dear friend, there is no there, there.

There is no such thing as a perfect novel.

Don’t believe me, let’s consult some experts.

“Near enough is good enough.” Elizabeth Gilbert.

“The novel is a prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it.” Randall Jarrell.

Deviation from Original Concept

Another indicated that it may be time to wrap things up is if the project is starting to deviate from the original concept. If you continue to work on, develop and revise your novel for too long, there is a very good chance that it will move away from your initial intentions. It’s good to push yourself and to allow projects to develop and change over time, but you also need to recognise when your constant need to tinker with the work has morphed into unproductive meddling.

There is a difference between tweaking a story in order to strengthen/improve it and changing a story so much that it is unrecognisable. Embedding new ideas, cutting out and adding characters, deleting scenes and writing new ones are part of the creative process but are you doing these things in order to excavate the story buried deep inside your soul, or are you simply fucking around?

Do not ignore the voice of your subconscious in favour of what you think the story should be about.

Finish the story you set out to write and reserve any sparkly new ideas for future projects.

Books are never really done. A writer could spend their entire life trying to making a manuscript match the ideal version they envisage in their mind. At the end of the day, you have two options. You can spend years/decades/a lifetime tweaking and ‘perfecting’ a single manuscript or you can do the work, make it presentable, hit publish and move on to the next project.

The choice is yours, so choose wisely.


Screen Shot 2019-04-26 at 3.51.18 pmWhile you’re here, be sure to join my email newsletter and gain instant access to your FREE downloadable copy of the Writer Kickstarter Pack: How to Start a Blog and Get Published. Plus, you’ll receive my weekly newsletter straight to your inbox every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog/vlog, updates and other exclusive content that I ONLY share via email.