Stephen King’s Best Advice for New Writers is Not “Write Every Day”
Need motivation? Seek out terrible writing.
It seems like I run across five posts a day online with titles like this:
Should You Write Every Day?
The Five Life-Changing Benefits of Writing Every Day!
Write Every Day or You’re a Pile of Human Waste.
They’re always backed up by quotes from Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Gandhi, or the Lord Themselves.
This doesn’t seem like the first thing we should be telling new writers, does it? People who are just starting out need perspective and encouragement, not a potentially impossible standard.
In Tim Ferris’s interview with Cheryl Strayed, she tells the audience that it took her years to come to terms with the fact that she was a “binge writer.” Sometimes she checks herself into hotels to write. Sometimes she writes at writers’ retreats. But she doesn’t write every day.
Take that in for a second. The writer of Wild (a book that spent seven weeks at number one on the New York Times bestseller list and has been translated into 37 languages) doesn’t write every day. She spends time with her husband and children. She lives her life.
In the above interview, Strayed describes an interaction with a single mother she met at a book signing, after giving a speech in which she confessed that she doesn’t write every day. The woman tearfully told Strayed that she could only write one day a month when her mother watched the children. She thanked Strayed profusely for her honesty with tears running down her cheeks.
“You gave me permission to call myself a writer,” she said.
Should you try to write every day? Absolutely. Will you always be able to? Maybe not. Life has a way of interrupting us. I had a procedure done yesterday morning, and came home with my head in an anesthetic-fueled cloud. I didn’t write, but here I am scribbling this out today.
I’m willing to bet that before they “made it,” some of the greats missed a day or two.
Write every day. Or don’t.
When you do write, write like your heart’s on fire. Write like you have limited time to live and you must leave your legacy before you fade away.
The Best Advice for New Writers
The first time I read Stephen King’s book On Writing, “write every day” was nowhere near what inspired me most. What lit a fire under my butt was his section on successful bad writers. King tells us that in 8th grade, he encountered a pulpy science fiction novel by a man named Murray Leinster.
“It was terrible, actually, a story populated by paper-thin characters and driven by outlandish plot developments. Worst of all (or so it seemed to me at the time) Leinster had fallen in love with the word zestful. Characters watch the approach of ore-bearing asteroids with zestful smiles. Near the end of the book, the hero swept the large-breasted, blonde heroine into a zestful embrace.”
Have you ever had this experience? Picked up a book, started reading it, and thought How did this person get published? There’s a lot of people involved in publishing. How did this person make it past the gate?
This is a delightful source of encouragement for a new writer. King talks about the book with genuine love:
“Almost everyone can remember losing his or her virginity, and most writers can remember the first book he/she put down thinking I can do better than this.
Hell, I am doing better than this! What could be more encouraging to the struggling writer than to realize his/her work is unquestionably better than that of someone who actually got paid for his or her stuff?”
I’m in my third month on here, and I’m loving it. What an amazing proving ground! The collective desire for self-improvement and the encouragement that I’ve found here have blown me away.
There is also a generous dollop of deliciously motiving crap on here.
Pretentious, big-word-stuffed articles that seem to go on for days. Stories that meander and ultimately go nowhere. Outrage-creating political nonsense designed to stress people out and then vanish into thin air.
I saw an article yesterday that was absolutely crammed to the gills with typos. The writer had 5000 followers.
It can be daunting when you only read the work of the .01%, who are making thousands of dollars every month. Introduce some bad writing into your sphere. You don’t have to clap for it or follow the writer. Just bookmark it in some way.
I made a Google Doc called “I can do better than this.” It’s full of links to articles that left a bad taste in my mouth, by writers who have more followers than I do (admittedly not difficult to accomplish at this stage in my writer’s journey).
What not to do is an important piece of your creative process. Give yourself the gift of bad writing. Then build up to writing every day. Your future as a great writer awaits, but you may not make it by only comparing yourself to the greats.
4x top Medium writer, educator, and vagabond. Newsletter: https://aaronjnichols.substack.com/ Email AaronJNichols77@gmail.com or send a raven south to contact him