I’ve got one new favorite book: On Writing by Stephen King. It was a great experience reading it. Not only did I learn a lot from the book, but also I love the writing style. I wish I could write like that!
Moreover, I found that many lessons from the book are applicable not just to writing, but also to life and career in general. They are essential for being successful in what you do.
Here are 17 lessons I learn from On Writing.
1. Do what you love.
I know that this advice has been repeated many times. But it’s true. And King put it in a way I’ve never seen before:
For me, not working is the real work. When I’m writing, it’s all the playground…
I love the way he put it. Not working is the real work. Writing time is all the playground. Can you say that about your work? I enjoy what I’m doing, but I still can’t say that not working is the real work. This guy loves his craft at a different level and he’s serious about it. He made similar statements several times throughout the book.
Now, what if you do something that you don’t love? King’s advice is to move to something else:
If there’s no joy in it, it’s just no good. It’s best to go on to some other area, where… the fun quotient higher.
How high is the fun quotient of your work? Is there joy in it? Or is joy the last word you would associate with your work?
2. Practice, practice, practice.
Hard practice is a must for being successful. In fact, this is why it’s important for you to do what you love. If you enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll be able to endure the hard practice needed for success.
The sort of strenuous reading and writing program I advocate – four to six hours a day, every day – will not seem strenuous if you really enjoy doing these things…
… practice is invaluable (and should feel good, really not like practice at all)…
If you don’t enjoy the journey, it’s unlikely that you will be able to pay the price for success. Joy is a big factor that makes the difference between those who make it and those who don’t.
3. Be serious.
If you can take it seriously, we can do business.
Only if you are serious about what you do can you expect to achieve meaningful results. Many people enjoy what they do but they do it only as a hobby. Being serious means being committed to master your field.
4. Ignore naysayers.
If you write… someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.
Naysayers are there. It’s just a fact of life. There are always people who try to discourage you no matter how hard you’ve tried. So rather than getting discouraged by them, simply ignore them and move on.
5. Have a supporter.
Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference.
This applies not just to writing. Whatever field you choose, you need to have someone who support you. You need to have someone who still believes in you when others don’t.
6. Immerse yourself in the field.
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.
Do you want to get good at something? Fill your life with it. Live it and breathe it. More than just making you familiar with the field, it sharpens your intuition to the point where you can make sound judgment intuitively (like what Malcolm Gladwell discussed in Blink).
7. Be consistent.
I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words… only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shutdown before I get my 2,000 words.
The longer you keep to these basics, the easier the act of writing will become.
Being consistent isn’t easy, but it pays off. While what you do daily might seem simple, doing it consistently will make a big difference in the long term.
8. Study the work of others.
You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so.
Studying the work of others gives you two important benefits. First, it teaches you about the right way to do things. Second, it teaches you about the wrong way to do things. Both are useful.
9. Study the market.
You should also pick up the writers’ journal and buy a copy of Writer’s Market…
… the most important thing you can do for yourself is read the market.
In addition to studying the work of others, you should study the market. You need to know what the current state of the market is. What are the opportunities? What are the challenges? Where is the market going? By understanding the market, you’ll be able to make the right decisions.
10. Spot ideas.
Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.
To get ideas, rather than trying to find something new on your own, you just need to spot the ideas around you. That’s why one key to innovation is being a good observer.
11. Keep the momentum going.
Once I start work on a project, I don’t stop and I don’t slow down unless I absolutely have to.
When the momentum is there, you can complete your work with much less time and energy. So keep the momentum going and don’t lose it.
12. Get the first draft out as quickly as possible.
…downloading what’s in my head directly to the page, I write as fast as I can…
Don’t try to be perfect the first time. Simply get the first draft of your work out and refine from there. Working in iterations is the best way to get something done.
13. Get rid of the inessentials.
When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.
In your first iteration, there is a good chance that many unnecessary things are still there. That’s fine because your job is to get the first version done as quickly as possible. But in the next iterations, you should get rid of them. Leave only what needs to be there and nothing else.
14. Be your own first customer.
I am, after all, not just the novel’s creator but its first reader.
When you become the creator of a work, it’s often difficult to see from the perspective of the customers. But that’s important because otherwise your work might go to the the wrong direction. So be your own first customer. Take a critical look at your work. Is it something that you want to use? Is there anything that you need to change?
15. Don’t do it for the money.
Do you do it for the money, honey? The answer is no. Don’t now and never did… I never set a single word down on paper with the thought of being paid for it.
Money is a bad motivation to have. It could make you ignore your heart and you might end up living someone else’s life instead of your own.
16. Do it for the joy.
I have written because it fulfilled me… I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.
This is perhaps the most important lesson in the book. If you do something for the joy of it, not only can you endure the difficult journey to success but also your life will be fulfilling. What’s better than that?
17. Do it to enrich others and yourself.
Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous,… In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.
A nice conclusion of the book. If you live a life that enriches others and yourself, you’re living a great life.
Photo by Reinante El Pintor de Fuego