This Powerful Piece Of Advice Will Transform Your Writing

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    Stephen King

    Stephen King

    “You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair–the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart… but you must not come lightly to the blank page.” – Stephen King, On Writing

    What writing lessons can Stephen King teach us?

    You’d think after many years studying King’s fiction and career I’d be well placed to answer. But as I chased round my mind for a list I could share with you here, it finally dawned on me that all other lessons disintegrate, like so many vampires caught out by the morning sun, when compared with the one key lesson I’ve learned and continue to practice daily.

    He taught me to write without fear.

    You may find it a little strange that, in my search for a teacher of fearless writing, I would turn to an author renowned for manifesting a state of abject terror in his readers. A teacher of fearful writing, perhaps, but not fearless. However, during the last three and a half years that I have spent researching King (reading articles, tracking down old interviews, transcribing archived documents), I’ve been struck time and time again, by his bravery, by his willingness to tackle new challenges and by his approach to writing, often from new and frequently surprising directions.

    For example:

    • He has refused to stay true to his typecast, and has frequently published work which doesn’t belong to the genre he became famous for.
    • He stands up to the literary establishment and demands that his writing is taken seriously.
    • He experiments with new media.
    • He will try his hand at just about any kind of fiction: short stories, serial novels, comic books, screenplays, e-novels.
    • He offers his work up to others for their own creative interpretation.

    Writing can be a scary business. Turning up to the page day after day trying to produce something of value, something worthy of both yours and your reader’s attention is often intimidating, sometimes almost crippling. In my own writing I try and choose my words as fearlessly as I can. My touchstones are authenticity, playfulness and audacity, and by keeping these three key words at the forefront of my mind when sitting down to write, I find that I am capable of overcoming my fear of the blank page.

    I’d like to finish up with a quote from King’s introduction to the revised edition of The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger. Whilst aimed at young writers who are just starting out, I believe that it can apply to writers both young and old; it applies to all those looking to write fearlessly.

    “At nineteen they can card you in the bars and tell you to get the fuck out, put your sorry act (and even sorrier ass) back on the street, but they can’t card you when you sit down to paint a picture, write a poem, or tell a story, by God, and if you reading this happen to be very young, don’t let your elders and supposed betters tell you any different. Sure, you’ve never been to Paris. No, you never ran with the bulls at Pamplona. Yes, you’re a pissant who had no hair in your armpits until three years ago – but so what? If you don’t start out too big for your britches, how are you gonna fill ’em when you grow up? Let it rip regardless of what anybody tells you, that’s my idea; sit down and smoke that baby.”

    So, how about you? Do you consciously try to write without fear? How would you advise another writer to overcome their fear of putting pen to paper? What lessons have you learned about writing from King, or indeed another favourite author?

    “I work until beer o’clock.” – Stephen King, on his 9-to-5 workday

    About the author

      Amy Palko

      Amy Palko is the blogger behind ofLives Less Ordinary and Textual Tangents. Amy is writing her thesis paper on Stephen King.

    • RK Charron says:

      Hi 🙂
      That’s an excellent post.
      Stephen King’s advice on “Imagery & The Third Eye” changed my whole writing.
      I read it back when I was grade school & it has informed my writing ever since.
      All the best,

    • emouse says:

      In his book “On Writing” I particularly appreciated the advice of his high school english teacher.

      First tell yourself the story, then edit it for others.

      I think that is part of his fearlessness. It’s an adventure when you tell the story to yourself.

      I have found I don’t miss much that way. Instead of writing about the red couch, I also write about the whole room. Maybe comment on some small thing that happened in the room and why it looks the way it does. Why the couch is red… So I feel like I am in the room, not just observing the couch.

    • There’s a bunch-o-links here. I like King’s language choice. Let it R.I.P.

    • Søren Blaabjerg says:

      I have formed this comment as an open letter to Stephen King.

      Dear Stephen King

      Thank you for having enjoyed reading some of your works: I find that I have probably learned more about ordinary America and the people living there reading these than by watching hundreds of hollywood-movies. Besides I think it shines through, that you are also very sympathetic as a person.

      The quality of your stories however are in my view pretty uneven. Sometimes they tend to get too long and even somewhat boring and clichee-ridden at times. Your habit with revealing some of the creative writing process, I find rather more sympathetic than actually productive bearing in mind, that fictional litterature is really all about seducing the reader into – for at time – believing, that what he or she reads has actually taken place “once upon a time”, so that the author is supposedly merely a sort of (although perhaps of the god-like all-knowing sort) reporter telling the audience the whole and full truth (so help him God).

      This being said I find your apparent way of working interesting and I quite like the relaxed everyday down to earth language in your stories.

      Obviously, you don’t write “off the cuff”, but not unlike a scientist or an engineer, you enjoy working in rather methodic way, calculating, experimenting etc. in the process.

      As far as I can see your working method is somewhat like this:

      1. You get some basic idea (maybe inspired from a recent event in your personal life)

      2. You then create a sort of skeleton for your story.

      3. Finally you dress up the skeleton with a lot of realistic, often meticulously described details, some of which being quite normal, some fantastic, some horrible, some “indecent”, some digusting etc. partly to give the whole “body” “atmosphere” and “aroma” so to speak, partly to make the various scenarios seem realistic for the audience.

      Now, here is an idea for a story, which I think might be very worthy of your talent as a popular writer.

      The idea is, that an old man, (name: Walther Schmidt, born: Munich 1920, Marital status: widower), who at the the start of World War II was a young German officer proudly participating in Nazi Germanys conquest af France 1940, in 1985 decides to move to a remote pacific island, to spend the rest of his lifetime there as an old age pensioner. Like several of your own fictional characters he has now long since much regretted his nazi past, and has in fact become an environmentalist and very much concerned about health matters. About 10 years after, he notices a strange fact: His biological clock has somehow stopped. He is – due to his new lifestyle presumably – almost just as young now, as when he moved to the island, and he does’nt seem to be getting any older at all as time goes by.

      The fictional framework is, that this Walther Schmidt keeps a diary, wherein he notes everything, that happens around him, that he finds interesting and also his thoughts about them. After some years (God – ie the real author – knows how many) Walther dies, not because of an accident or some disase, he just finally simply decides, that enough is enough and swims into the sunset. Then shortly afterwards by accident a young (american) backpacker doing his sabbatical around-the-world-journey so popular today among young westeners finds his diary left protected from the rain in the old mans abandoned hut packed carefully in a parcel and with a dedication to the finder written in german, english and french, and excerpts from the diary is now being published, with a foreword written by the finder (the Stephen King alter ego?) with a special notion, that all profits from the sale of the book will go exclusively to the WWF.

      Well. This was the rough idea. Maybe you would like to give it “body”? I would personally most certainly like to read it then.

      Kindly yours

      Søren Blaabjerg (Soeren Blaabjerg)
      Rosenvænget 135 (Rosenvaenget 135)
      8362 Hørning (DK 8362 Hoerning)

    • Amy,
      Great job! I love Stephen King and it’s a delight to discover that you are doing your thesis on him. I greatly appreciate the inspiration that King gives writers, and you’ve done a great job of sharing it here in such a concise way.


    • Nathaniel says:

      This post was very inspiring and opened my eyes to what I am capable of doing when I burry my pen into the paper. “Words fail mind fails” —Anonymous

    • Arna Cook says:

      Wonderful post. I am a writer by nature, have been since I was very young, and I read as much as I can about how other writers keep their work flowing.

      Currently, I am having trouble even writing a short poem. A form of writers block I guess you could call it, and it is very frustrating. I will definitely have to just get to my writings, and not be afraid that they are less than I expect. Fearless writing, sounds good.

      Thank you for Amy for helping more writers find their way, and thank you Mr King for being such a wonderfully talented writer with great philosophies on your works and workings.

      Here’s to many more pages of fearless writing.

    • Amy,

      Thanks for spotlighting the tremendously profound beliefs behind the talent of Stephen King. His fearless approach is a formula not just for writing, but for life as well.

      Your post and the comments have sparked many ideas for my blogs and newsletters, as well as increased my resolve to finish two manuscripts.

    • Shannon says:

      I was so excited about this post! It was amazing! I am studying to teach high school English and I have decided that (god willing I pass my content tests and actually find a position) I’m going to have my students read this post. I think it would be vital, especially for at-risk students who lack a love for writing, to think about approaching writing the way the first quote says.

      Thanks for this great blog. I read it regularly and will probably incorporate it into my future classroom.

    • Jim Manley says:

      Courage, of course, means not the absence of fear, but rather doing the right thing while terrified. King’s advice tests motivation. Write fearlessly from conviction or, make noise to get noticed? The first nurtures strength to go the distance. The second, on the other hand, dissipates into weaselly compromise.

      Thanks for the post.

    • I just read this article in the Tyee, reviewing Barack Obama’s writing style. It raises an interesting point about writing for your audience, and respecting your readers — even if it means writing long, almost complex sentences. Not bang on topic here, but…

      The link is: .

      My apologies if posting a link here is not cool. I enjoyed the article though; maybe others will.


    • Pamela Kirstine says:

      Okay, Stephen is right, I am scared to write, but after reading this article (at 42 years old) it has helped me to stand up to that blank piece of paper and whoop ass!!! Thanks for the GREAT article!
      P.S. Everyone wish me luck on writing and I wish you luck on yours!!! :0)

    • Karen Swim says:

      These writing lessons could have easily been titled “life lessons.” That blank page can be the blank page of a career, life choice or piece of paper. To approach it fearlessly with an absolute belief in yourself is an incredible way to live. Thank you Amy for these timely and insightful words. You really are extra-ordinary.


    • Leslie Dixon-Mackey says:

      How inspiring! I too have been studying Stephen King for the past year and have read his phenominal book ‘ On Writing’ twice.
      He truly is an amazing writer and I have learned so much from him.

      Long live the King!

    • Excellent post, and very informatiive.

    • Debra says:

      Thanks for the great article and the important reminder about fearless writing. Stephen King is one of my all-time favorite authors, and you’re exactly right about him: He’s broken all the rules–often joyfully–and lived to tell the tale.

      I’d love to read more of your thesis.

    • Rick says:

      I have to say that I’ve always admired his willingness to embrace new media. Even back in the days of the first audio books he was one of the first on board. Then with e-books. Don’t forget, he even dabbled with old vehicles of expression when he penned “The Green Mile” in installments to huge success. It’s a testament to his confidence that he refuses to be intimated by new (and old) story-telling methods.

    • @Amy: I’m kind of at a loss for words since it was such a surprise to find out one of my posts was linked to such a great article and a great site.

      One thing I realized when writing about the fears of writing is that no matter how big a name you are, you still harbor the same insecurities as everyone else.

      Thanks for the link!

      @JanW: My partner James and I are currently co-authoring a novel. We’ve been doing the partner writing thing for a couple of years now and wouldn’t have it any other way. You’re right, after a while you do start to write to try to impress the other partner. Co-writing has lifted my game to a whole new level. Stop by our site, we’d love to hear your experiences too.

    • Jan, your talk sounds interesting. I’ve just begun to explore the more social side of writing. I joined a critique group about 5 months ago, and it’s become one of the best things I could have done for myself and my writing. I tell my husband, “I’m going to group tonight,” which always comes out sounding like I’m going to some kind of therapy. I’ve realized, yes, that’s pretty much what it is 🙂

    • JanW says:

      Jamie, I’m doing a short talk about writing for a women’s club next weekend and one of the concepts I’m going to introduce is that it is a team effort. Your mention of it being a ‘solo’ activity is what sparked me to comment.

      I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how social it actually is: crit groups, writing groups, online groups, agents, editors, book sellers, other writers and authors sharing their experiences. Whew! Who knew?

      I actually have been co-writing for over 3 years, which is fun to try if you haven’t done. We don’t usually write the text together, but we do combine our bits together into a common whole and do the revisions together, teaching each other along the way. What a buzz. It also shares the ‘fear’ and adds a motivator to write to ‘not let the partner down’.

      Thanks for the post, Amy. Now to be fearless and get back to my book, after reading your blog of course!


    • I found this intriguing quote from King a while back:

      “Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.”

      King is certainly his own man and it’s clearly worked for him.

    • This post came at just the right time. I’ve allowed the fear of rejection (querying literary agents to represent my novel) to keep me from writing these last few weeks.

      Writers must battle the fear of the blank page, and then, the fear that no one will recognize the book is worthy to be published. I’m sure there are more fear roadblocks, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten in the publishing process so far 🙂

      I love reading posts that inspire people to continue writing, especially when it includes quotes from one of my favorite authors! Even though writing is a solitary endeavor, it helps to know other writers (published or unpublished) experience fears similar to my own. Not sure why that’s such a comfort. Maybe it’s a mix of ‘misery loves company’ and ‘I am not alone’ — two sides of the same coin?

    • Nenette says:

      Great article, Amy! A powerful lesson and one that I need to put into practice more often. Thanks for a great read.

    • amypalko says:

      Thanks everyone for the great comments! Glad it’s struck a chord with so many of you.
      As for my thesis, it’s due to be submitted later this year, and then following that I’ll be looking for a publisher. A copy will also be sent to the Stephen King archive at the Fogler Library at the University of Maine and another will be held at my own institution, the University of Stirling. So, technically, it will be possible for you to get a copy to read, but it’ll be a lot easier to get a hold of once it’s published.

    • Eric H says:

      Leo, I was going to comment on your “How to Write Conversationally” post that people should check out King’s work. He has a better grasp of it than almost anyone I’ve ever read.

      Amy, any way King fans can read your thesis when you finish? I read “On Writing” about four times a year and would love to check out your paper.

      Great website — I discovered this and Zen Habits a few weeks ago and have been checking in regular. This is my first comment though.

    • You said “he taught me to write without fear.” I think that’s one of the highest compliments you can give any writing teacher. It’s certainly one of the most helpful skills to have as a writer!

    • Sebastien B says:

      In “On writing”, the biggest lesson to me is how King *does* the story.
      Roughly, his method is 1) find a good situation 2) dig and reveal.
      No previous structure, no canvas, King does not hold a pen to write, but the toothbrush of the archeologist. Yes, he feels like he *discovers* the story, he lets the characters live after an initial situation. He watches the world – and writes it – after a big bang. To me, this is the real meat of “On Writing”.

      Elizabeth Georges says (in “Write Away”) that these kind of writers make a huge bet on their talent. This method is really scary to her (and to me), because it’s like writing bare-handed: how to avoid then the fear of the blank page (while a safe cooked synopsis would help)?


    • It’s a powerful lesson Amy and I’m pretty impressed you can reduce your thesis down to two words! If only other students could do the same thing…

      I’m struck by this because I’m working just now with someone whose coaching philosophy is ‘live fearlessly’. Learn who you are and what you’re about, learn to be your personal best, learn to focus your attention inside rather than trying to compete and dominate others.

      I think a lot of these lessons transfer across to writing – and vice versa.

      Because the more we write in a way that’s true to us, the more truthfully we can learn to live too.


    • Wow. That really is quite powerful. I guess it’s about getting in touch with that sense of fusion of anger and love to create something incredible. Great post!

    • alanocu says:

      great post!

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