Tag Archives: writing

Stephen King’s “On Writing” Instruction: Do You Agree with Him?

Stephen King’s books have sold more than 350 million copies, many of which have been adapted into feature films, miniseries, television series, and comic books. King has published 58 fictional novels, and six non-fiction books. In his (more rare) non-fiction book, “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” he gives his best advice to would be writers.

I like his conversational and transparent style in this book, you learn more about his writing life and his own (sometimes severe) hurdles. He shares his genius and–as usual–is super funny, I laughed out loud and took many notes throughout my reading.

King’s own synopsis of this book is: “On Writing is both a textbook for writers and a memoir of Stephen’s life and will, thus, appeal even to those who are not aspiring writers. If you’ve always wondered what led Steve to become a writer and how he came to be the success he is today, this will answer those questions.”

Where does King’s genius originate in his writing? A writer friend of mine concludes that “he doesn’t know jack, that he writes intuitively and that can’t be transferred. He can only say, “This is how I write.” She says if you follow his advice, you will probably end up sounding a lot like Stephen King. I do agree that he is an extraordinary “gut-centered” writer, which my book discusses. But his other two creativity centers: His head and heart center are actively working too–creating striking intersections!

I happen to heartily disagree with my writer friend on the value of King’s advice. I get inspired by his book–it made me ponder exceptions to his rules, which I’ll highlight below. I ask writers out there–did you benefit from King’s writing instructions–or not?

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Along with his writing rules, King chronicles his career as a writer (starting in grade school), which is wonderfully entertaining, scary and down to earth–just like his novels. His rules follow:

Rule #1: Don’t use passive voice
Active voice is great if you want to produce a driving passage, filled with energy and momentum. This rule got me thinking… its not always true! What if we want to convey something else – mystery, suspense? Here is an example of passive voice:

“The body was hanging in the hall. It had been hung there some time in the night, when we were sleeping. As we made our way down to breakfast, we all stepped around it. Nobody looked up. We all knew who it was.”

If we use an active voice: “Somebody hung it in the night,” it doesn’t have the same feeling. The focus here is on the body. Using passive voice increases the tension and forces us to wonder, “Who hung it there?”

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Stephen King’s Rule #2: Don’t use adverbs
I agree with King that the overuse of adverbs (anything ending in -ly) is mostly annoying and unneccessary. I’m trying hard to avoid them in my own writing. However, sometimes an adverb can fulfill a purpose. Sometimes we need to describe how someone is performing an action, without a lengthy descriptive phrase.

“Gently, oh so gently, they lifted my body out of the river. They placed it on the bank and arranged my tattered clothing to cover what remained of my flesh. Then they stood around me, in perfect silence, their hats in their hands. If only they had shown me such respect when I was alive.”

This passage could have begun without “gently.” But the impact of the (dead) narrator’s voice would have been compromised, and the force of the final line would have been diminished.

Stephen King’s Rule #3: Don’t use a long word when you can use a short one
English is a mashup of Germanic and Latin roots (among other things). The Germanic lexicon is agglomerative: get up, get down. Latin roots are inflected: ascend, descend. Academic writing favors Latin roots, while colloquial speech prefers the Germanic. If you want to sound like Hemingway, or Stephen King, stick to the Germanic roots. But, if you are after a more scholarly effect, go for the Latin.

In dialogue anything is permissible. Sometimes I do believe a five-dollar word can accomplish more than its one-syllable equivalent. Here is the last phrase of Camus’ The Stranger, taken from two different translations: Which version will you remember?

“… they greet me with cries of hate.”

“… they greet me with howls of execration.”

This example shows you can write anything, if you can pull it off. If you can’t, then like Kings says, don’t do it! Being able to do something successfully is what is important, not whether you follow “the rules”.

It is important to understand the difference between commercial and literary fiction, which can be subtle. In general, commercial fiction is formulaic, whereas literary fiction tends to experiment with form and style. Commercial fiction falls into genres – science fiction, chick lit, romance, etc. – whereas literary fiction may cross or blend genres, or depart from them entirely. Literary fiction also places greater value on the craft of writing, which is not to say that genre fiction does not, but in the case of literary fiction, the writing is front and center.

I get a big kick out of King’s editing style, he is a strict (former) English teacher: This example shows you CAN use hyphens, commas, etc. extensively AND use long sentences: “Writing did not save my life–Dr. David Brown’s skill and my wife’s loving care did that–but it has continued to do what is always has done: it makes my life a brighter and more pleasant place.

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There are at least five big ideas that King shares: 1) Embrace rejection: He craved feedback from publishers who rejected him. He had a ‘growth mindset’, not a ‘fixed mind set’. Fail faster to succeed. 2) On muses: Show up every day, “work your ass off” you must clock in your time if you want your muse to show up 3) You must read and write–both!–a lot. He reads 70-80 books a year (only after he clocks in his own daily writing). 4) Jumper cable brain: Must learn to settle your brain down to write. To be truly creative we can only do one thing at a time (I explain the science behind this in my book), so turn your phone off and get into your writing cave! 5) He did not write one word of any of his books for money. (If there was one person he wanted to impress, that would only be his fellow-writer wife). He writes purely for the JOY of it, the money is only a by-product of his writing craft. He writes for the joy of creation!

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I love this book and think you will too. W
hat do you think about his rules and ideas? Where do you see exceptions?

Writers–A must watch interview of S.King & GRRM

This is a great video of Stephen King and George R. R. Martin interviewing each other that you simply must check out. They are two iconic authors of our time and have opposite writing styles. The first video is the interview in full, the second one is a short clip of a dumbfounded GRRM asking King, “How do you write so fast?”


King has published 54 novels and six non-fiction books and has written nearly 200 short stories. Many of his stories are set in his home state of Maine. His novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption was the basis for the movie The Shawshank Redemption which is widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time–it is one of my all time favorites.

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The Shawshank Redemption was nominated for 7 Oscars in 1995

George R. R. Martin is best known for his international bestselling series of epic fantasy novels, A Song of Ice and Fire, which was later adapted into the wildly popular HBO dramatic series Game of Thrones. Martin has been called “the American Tolkien”and Time Magazine named him one of the “2011 Time 100,” a list of the “most influential people in the world.” GRRM (as he is known) lives in my hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico– we are blessed by his very generous community presence and participation! He helped fund the successful Meow Wolf–an arts production company born in Santa Fe, New Mexico that has spread to Denver and Las Vegas.


Example of “live” Meow Wolf art installment in Santa Fe, NM

These two authors have opposite writing styles: King writes several books a year and Martin infuriates his fans due to his slow writing pace. This leads Martin asking King a question he’s always wanted to know regarding his writing process.

It’s a great example of how there is not one writing style that works: On one end of the spectrum some authors work freely–“organically,” and on the other end–other authors structure detailed outlines (skeletons) that they follow and add dramatic meat to (like James Patterson).

Enjoy the highly entertaining conversation between these two funny characters: At nearly an hour-long, this spontaneous and friendly interview dives into the details of both author’s writing crafts. The two discuss each others work, aspects of their personal life, writing interests and more. Warning: there is profanity.

Which of these two authors do you more resonate with and why? Please do share your thoughts about their interesting discussion.

Thank you for reading my post. My core message of ‘everyone is creative’ resonates with people of all ages and walks of life. I invite all to become–the best version of themselves and find true meaning by pursing long term creative quests–in my recent book and website.

King, Rowling, Angelou: How to Write Successfully

Do  you love top 10 lists? I find them hard to resist on topics I’m passionate about. Today I have chosen three videos of top 10 rules from three iconic writers: Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and Maya Angelou.

Every time I watch Stephen King “live” I find myself laughing out loud–really loud!–the writer comes off as an extroverted stand up comedian. King needs little introduction, he is an American author of contemporary horror, science fiction, and fantasy and has sold more than 350 million copies. A favorite King quote of mine is:

Stephen King’s Top 10 Rules For Success: Be sure not to miss #10!

Ms Rowling is a British superstar novelist and best known as the author of the unprecedented Harry Potter fantasy series. The books have gained worldwide attention, won multiple awards, and sold more than 400 million copies. In 2004, Forbes named her as the first person to become a billionaire by writing books! A favorite Rowling quote of mine is:

J.K. Rowling’s Top 10 Rules For Success: Don’t miss her #4 insight!

Maya Angelou was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She’s best known for her series of seven autobiographies, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. For me she pierces the heart with her words–always poetic–and so inspiring they sweep me away. I simply adore Maya Angelou! My favorite quote of Maya’s:

King, Rowling, Angelou: How to Write Successfully


Be sure not to miss #10 of this Maya Angelou video!

I thank Evan Carmichael for making these useful and heart-felt video collages. Its simply amazing what you can find on the internet–from creative people for free–for inspiration!

Thank you for reading my post. My core message of ‘everyone is creative’ resonates with people of all ages and walks of life. I invite all to become–the best version of themselves and find true meaning by pursing long term creative quests–in my recent book and website.

Commitment: Photographers, Writers & Ants get it!

Today I want to ponder the idea of “commitment”. William Hutchison Murray (1913 –1996) was a Scottish mountaineer and writer surviving and enduring during the World War II era. I love this quotation by Murray about commitment, which occurs near the beginning of his book, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition (1951):

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back–Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

The first draft of Murray’s work was written while imprisoned on the only paper available to him – rough toilet paper. His manuscript was found and destroyed by the Gestapo. Murray’s response to this loss was to start again–despite his near starvation diet–and his belief that he would never climb again. His rewritten work was finally published in 1947. His book is credited with helping to inspire the post-war renaissance interest in the mountain climbing sport… and he did climb once again.

Jimmy Chin, Adventure photographer

So what does Murray, photographers and ants have in common? COMMITMENT. Ants are my metaphor for commitment as they are true survivors: They are as old as the dinosaurs, have already survived a mass extinction event, have conquered almost the entire globe, their total population make our 7 billion look weak… I could go on–but you get the idea–they have survived and thrived through their persevering “social” ant colony commitment.

Bridge by Andrey Pavlov

Andrey Pavlov is a Russian photographer that takes photographs of ants in stunning poses along with some help of props that make the images more fantasy-like. Have you seen his ant photographs before? They aren’t artificially rendered using Photoshop or CG software. They were created through patience and COMMITMENT, waiting for the right moment when the ants would move into the desired position.

Statue of Labour by Andrey Pavlov

The photographs in this picture gallery may look like they have been Photoshopped or assembled with dead insects, but the ants in these images are very much alive. Pavlov spends hours setting up fairy-tale scenes. He studied ants, and saw that they all follow a very specific path when they’re working. So he put his props on their trail, and photographed the insects interacting with his miniature ‘stage sets’.

Do not interfere with the driver! and more Photos by Andrey Pavlov

Andrey says: “I chose ants because I respect them and their way of life. They care about their children and look after the elderly.”

Andrey says: “I used to work in theatre which was a big help when it came to making props…”

What does commitment mean to you–from a head, heart and gut aspect? Please share! I hope that you enjoy these photos and the photographer’s commitment it took to create them. They certainly give me creative inspiration and enjoyment… and make me ponder “commitment.”

Thank you for reading my post. I am a writer and consultant living in the mountains of Santa Fe, New Mexico with my husband and dogs. My core message of everyone is creative resonates with people of all ages and walks of life. I invite all to become the best version of themselves and find true meaning by pursing long term creative quests.