Writing Advice from a Master: “There’s Only One Question and One Answer.”

I have an uncomplicated relationship with the books of Stephen King.

For the longest time, I ignored ’em.

The problem was two-fold:

1) for whatever reason, I didn’t get around to them in high school, which was too bad, because of what happened next;

2) next, I went to college and got educated.

College can mess you up. I was a Lit major, trying my hardest to be a good student and a sublime writer, and for the most part that meant dealing with IMPORTANT BOOKS and LITERARY WRITERS and DIFFICULT TEXTS. I don’t regret any of that — it’s where I learned to love books, and I enjoyed many great teachers —  but I wish somebody said, “You know, don’t underestimate the value of a good story.”

It sound ridiculous, of course, since “a good story” is only everything.

But it took me a long time to grasp that plain fact. My head was in the clouds; my nose was in the air.

In college, I learned a lot, and later in life I had to unlearn a lot.

So I’ve come to Stephen King late in life. And now that I’m here I am filled with great respect for the man and the writer. I previously wrote about his excellent book on writing, titled — wait for it — On Writing. I’m not an expert on these things, but I found it to be the best, most relatable, no-nonsense book on THE JOB (& CRAFT) of writing as anything I’ve come across before or since.

I’m currently reading 11/22/63, King’s great novel about time travel and a man who seeks to change history by thwarting the Kennedy assassination.

Here’s a few lines from p. 150, which struck me as great advice and, for a writer with my flaws and proclivities, an essential reminder. Maybe it will help you, too?

“In both fiction and nonfiction, there’s only one question and one answer. What happened? the reader asks. This is what happened, the writer responds. This . . . and this . . . and this, too. Keep it simple. It’s the only sure way home.”

I posted this long ago, but thought I’d hurl it into the maw of the internet once more just in case you didn’t catch it the first time around:

Here’s a quick recap of Stephen King’s 12 guidelines:

1. Be talented

2. Be neat

3. Be self-critical

4. Remove every extraneous word

5. Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft

6. Know the markets

7. Write to entertain

8. Ask yourself frequently, “Am I having fun?”

9. How to evaluate criticism

10. Observe all rules for proper submission

11. An agent? Forget it. For now

12. If it’s bad, kill it

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