Ever since I was a kid, I’ve read. A lot. Books, magazines, newspapers. Even the back of shampoo bottles.
So when I started working in digital marketing and writing copy, it seemed natural to read widely in order to make me more knowledgable, more confident – and ultimately – a better writer.
Last week, I finished reading a book that really struck a chord – On Writing.
If you haven’t heard of On Writing, it’s a part-memoir, part-guide written by Stephen King. And when someone like Stephen King tells you how to write, it’s wise to listen.
I couldn’t possibly include all of King’s wisdom in one single blog post. But similarly, I couldn’t possibly not write a blog post about it.
So without further ado, here’s the top four tips Stephen King gave me on writing. Not to my face. Obviously.
Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it. And sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.
For any writer I know, so-called writer’s block is a constant struggle. Sometimes, regardless of how hard you try, and how long you think, the words simply don’t come out.
And do you know what? That’s OK.
When this happens to me, I like to get away from my desk. Go and make a cup of tea or coffee. Go a walk to clear my head. Sometimes I just need to call it a day and return to it the following morning.
As soon as I’m back though, it’s back to the grind.
Write, write and write some more. Eventually, somehow, the words will come.
Use the first word that comes to your mind… If you hesitate, you’ll come up with another word, but it probably won’t be as good as your first one.
Having written copy for clients and companies in the healthcare, insurance and financial industries, it’s fair to say that I’ve come across my fair share of needless jargon.
Stop it. Please.
If there’s an alternative word or phrase that your customers will understand more clearly, cut the jargon. If there’s a short word that’s just as effective, cut the long one.
Most importantly, write in plain English wherever possible. Or in other words, keep it simple, stupid.
It worked for Hemingway and Dahl. It worked for King. It can work for you too.
Language doesn’t always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes.
I’ve written before about how it’s OK to break grammar rules. And while I can be a stickler for certain nuances of grammar and language, there’s other parts that I’m more than comfortable breaking.
Don’t get me wrong. Grammar is incredibly important. And of course, you can’t break the rules until you completely understand them first.
But in my opinion, and Stephen King’s too it would seem, you should never let grammar get in the way of good copy.
If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write.
As I mentioned at the start of this post, I read a lot when I was younger. And I still do now.
Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, long or short, I read every day. I’m constantly reading ads too. Billboards, posters, print ads. Anything I see or can get my hands on really.
So if you want to become a better writer, you not only have to write more. You have to read more too.
Do you disagree with any of Stephen King’s writing tips? Or are there any others that you’d like to share?