Writing is hard work. And, like any other activity, it takes practice to write like a pro.
When I was in college, I took a writing class and learned the importance of writing to get better — the professor said you would throw away about the first 100,000 words. That’s an entire book! Later, in grad school, a professor showed us the importance of writing every day — even if it was only for 30 minutes. It might not be good, he said, and don’t worry about spelling, grammar … just write.
Today, I bring you advice from Stephen King (by way of Networlding) — who I think we can all agree is an excellent writer. BTW, I just signed up for a session by King at Bookfest, sponsored by the Library of Congress. I can’t wait. The all-day event is free, but you need tickets for the King presentation.
If you’re not in the DC area or can’t get tickets to Stephen King’s presentation, here are some great tips on writing:
Stephen King: Write like a pro
The infographic below shares 11 writing tips you can use regardless of genre. If you want more from this amazing writer, check out his book, ‘On Writing’ (the image will take you to Amazon) or my review of that book.
An interesting part of King’s book is a section in the back where he shows you a piece of writing, then his many edits. I think it’s valuable to write your first draft without worrying too much about any of these tips. Let the characters flow unimpeded by rules. Editing is for following rules.
I really want to cover these tips in detail, so I’m breaking this post up into bite-sized chunks. Of course, you can see them all in the infographic below if you don’t want to wait.
Avoid passive voice
Unless you were a writing or English major, you probably don’t even know what passive voice is. A quick shortcut to finding passive voice is to look at how you use “to be”. Unless it’s the only verb in your sentence, the sentence is likely passive. Software like Word and other programs can help you find passive voice, but you should learn to avoid it in the first place.
Why? It makes you sound timid and weak.
Consider these 2 sentences. The first is passive the second active. Notice the difference in feel between the two.
Sally had been going to the same market on the same day every week for the last year [passive]
Sally went to the same market on the same day every week for the last year [active]
Keep it active.
Adjectives modify noun — the red ball, the long train
Adverbs modify verbs — he slipped through the door quietly [it tells how he slipped]
King hates adverbs because they’re sloppy writing. Instead of showing the reader how something was done, you melt it down to a simple modifier. This is what writers and editors mean when they say you should show your reader rather than tell them (at least in part).
Sure, you can’t get rid of EVERY adverb in your writing, but think about alternatives to using that adverb. Use the alternative.
Don’t obsess about grammar
Sure, when someone’s talking, ignore grammar. People don’t talk that way. But, except for dialog, grammar matters.
As you write your first draft, ignore grammar (and spelling) to your heart’s content. You’ll fix it when you edit. Don’t interrupt the flow of creativity to check the spelling or obsess about where a comma belongs. In fact, in writing creatively, you may find it necessary to use non-standard punctuation — it changes the way readers interpret your writing.
Learn more about my writing
Some folks seek out readers with specific characteristics, some pay for expert readers, some join writing groups where they exchange reading for getting critiques. I use Beta readers who get a free review copy.