Stephen King. He is the Charles Dickens of this century. People either love him or hate him. My churchgoing friends are often shocked to learn that I read his work, and admire it.
Stephen King is a writing and marketing machine, having accomplished the unusual feat of being successful as a craftsman, and as an entrepreneur. He has sold well over 350 million books, and spawned countless movies and television shows. His latest novel-to-screen adaptation is Under The Dome. How?
I have written extensively elsewhere about writing for the purpose of strategic influence. I can point to no better model of how to do this right than King.
There are seven key lessons you can learn from Stephen King, and the way he conducts his business (the business of writing). And for those of you who are offended by my saying “the business of writing”… perhaps if you thought about your writing as a business, you wouldn’t be so easily offended. Food for thought.
Seven Lessons From Stephen King
- Learn your craft. Whether his subject matter is always to your taste or not, you would have to be willfully ignorant to declare Stephen King anything other than a master of the art of writing stories. He has honed his craft to a fine edge, and without this particular weapon in his arsenal, the rest of what you’re about to read would not be possible. You must master the craft.
- Be prolific. King has stated that he writes every day, including his birthday and Christmas day. He has since admitted that this might be a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. His ethic of working every day is plainly demonstrated by his amazing output. You don’t publish 50 novels, five nonfiction works, and over 200 short stories by goofing off. you do it by applying liberal amounts of fingers to keyboard.
- Be real. One reason people are often uncomfortable with King’s writing is that he tends to bring heavy doses of reality into his stories. I’m not talking about the vampires, giant spiders, and ghosts, of course. I’m talking about the sometimes embarrassing, sometimes offensive, sometimes infuriatingly irrational ways that people talk and behave. King unabashedly presents people as they really are. And this makes his detractors uncomfortable… And his fans love him.
- Have a personality. When King began his career, he decided to be exactly who he is. I have no way of knowing this, but I’m pretty certain this was a conscious decision made in the full knowledge that it might backfire financially. He could have been more “respectable” by writing that vaguely named thing called “literary fiction”, but instead he chose to write what fascinated him.
- Be fearless. Stephen King has never shied away from the potential criticism he might get from atheists, believers, Democrats, Republicans, or the League of Decency. He’s written some ugly scenes, and seems that many writers would have shied away from because they didn’t want to be associated with that material. For better or worse, that fearlessness has catapulted him from the mass of mediocrity to the pinnacle of literary success.
- Try new things. King was one of the first to take advantage of the digital publishing medium. He was one of the first to publish a novel in serial form online. He has branched out into music, comic books, and of course films and television. Some of his experiments have fallen flat. Others have been a meteoric success, both critically and financially (remember Stand by Me and The Green Mile?)
- Do many things simultaneously. One of the ways King manages to stay so prolific is that he is doing many things simultaneously. He’s always working on a new book or story, and usually has more than one project cooking in the background (a movie, a TV series, and audiobook, or the radio stations that he owns in Maine).
While you may or may not ever be his equal on the bestseller lists (he has a pretty strong head start on most of us), you definitely can learn from the career and methodologies of Stephen King.
Question: what have you learned about writing, or the business of writing, from Stephen King… Or any other modern writers? Share below…