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S T E P H E N K I N G S TO P 2 0 R U L ES F O R W R I T E R S

1. First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience. When you write a story, youre telling yourself the story. When you
rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story. Your stuff starts out being just for you, but then it goes out.

2. Dont use passive voice. Timid writers like passive verbs for the same reason that timid lovers like passive partners. The passive
voice is safe. The timid fellow writes The meeting will be held at seven oclock because that somehow says to him, Put it this way and
people will believe you really know. Purge this quisling thought! Dont be a muggle! Throw back your shoulders, stick out your chin, and
put that meeting in charge! Write The meetings at seven. There, by God! Dont you feel better?

3. Avoid adverbs. The adverb is not your friend. Consider the sentence He closed the door firmly. Its by no means a terrible
sentence, but ask yourself if firmly really has to be there. What about context? What about all the enlightening (not to say emotionally
moving) prose which came before He closed the door firmly? Shouldnt this tell us how he closed the door? And if the foregoing
prose does tell us, then isnt firmly an extra word? Isnt it redundant?

4. Avoid adverbs, especially after he said and she said. While to write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is
divine.

5. But dont obsess over perfect grammar. Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes. The object of fiction
isnt grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story to make him/her forget, whenever possible, that
he/she is reading a story at all.

6. The magic is in you. Im convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing. Dumbo got airborne with the help of a magic feather;
you may feel the urge to grasp a passive verb or one of those nasty adverbs for the same reason. Just remember before you do that
Dumbo didnt need the feather; the magic was in him.

7. Read, read, read. You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. If you dont have time to
read, you dont have the time (or the tools) to write.

8. Dont worry about making other people happy. Reading at meals is considered rude in polite society, but if you expect to succeed
as a writer, rudeness should be the second to least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you
intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.

9. Turn off the TV. Most exercise facilities are now equipped with TVs, but TVwhile working out or anywhere elsereally is about the
last thing an aspiring writer needs. If you feel you must have the news analyst blowhard on CNN while you exercise, or the stock market
blowhards on MSNBC, or the sports blowhards on ESPN, its time for you to question how serious you really are about becoming a
writer. You must be prepared to do some serious turning inward toward the life of the imagination, and that means, Im afraid, that
Geraldo, Keigh Obermann, and Jay Leno must go. Reading takes time, and the glass teat takes too much of it.

10. You have three months. The first draft of a bookeven a long oneshould take no more than three months, the length of a
season.

11. There are two secrets to success. When Im asked for the secret of my success (an absurd idea, that, but impossible to get
away from), I sometimes say there are two: I stayed physically healthy, and I stayed married. Its a good answer because it makes the
question go away, and because there is an element of truth in it. The combination of a healthy body and a stable relationship with a self
reliant woman who takes zero shit from me or anyone else has made the continuity of my working life possible. And I believe the
converse is also true: that my writing and the pleasure I take in it has contributed to the stability of my health and my home life.

12. Write one word at a time. A radio talk-show host asked me how I wrote. My replyOne word at a timeseemingly left him
without a reply. I think he was trying to decide whether or not I was joking. I wasnt. In the end, its always that simple. Whether its a
vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like The Lord Of The Rings, the work is always accomplished one word at a time.

13. Eliminate distraction. There should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around
with. If theres a window, draw the curtains or pull down the shades unless it looks out at a blank wall.

14. Stick to your own style. One cannot imitate a writers approach to a particular genre, no matter how simple what the writer is
doing may seem. You cant aim a book like a cruise missile, in other words. People who decide to make a fortune writing lik John
Grisham or Tom Clancy produce nothing but pale imitations, by and large, because vocabulary is not the same thing as feeling and plot
is light years from the truth as it is understood by the mind and the heart.

15. Dig. When, during the course of an interview for The New Yorker, I told the interviewer (Mark Singer) that I believed stories are
found things, like fossils in the ground, he said that he didnt believe me. I replied that that was fine, as long as he believed that I believe
it. And I do. Stories arent souvenir tee-shirts or Game Boys. Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writers
job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible. Sometimes the fossil you
uncover is small; a seashell. Sometimes its enormous, a Tyrannosaurus Rex with all the gigantic ribs and grinning teeth. Either way,
short story or thousand page whopper of a novel, the techniques of excavation remain basically the same.

16. Take a break. If youve never done it before, youll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often
exhilarating experience. Its yours, youll recognize it as yours, even be able to remember what tune was on the stereo when you wrote
certain lines, and yet it will also be like reading the work of someone else, a soul-twin, perhaps. This is the way it should be, the reason
you waited. Its always easier to kill someone elses darlings that it is to kill your own.

17. Leave out the boring parts and kill your darlings. Mostly when I think of pacing, I go back to Elmore Leonard, who explained it
so perfectly by saying he just left out the boring parts. This suggests cutting to speed the pace, and thats what most of us end up having
to do (kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your ecgocentric little scribblers heart, kill your darlings.)
18. The research shouldnt overshadow the story. If you do need to do research because parts of your story deal with things about
which you know little or nothing, remember that word back. Thats where research belongs: as far in the background and the back story
as you can get it. You may be entranced with what youre learning about the flesh-eating bacteria, the sewer system of New York, or the
I.Q. potential of collie pups, but your readers are probably going to care a lot more about your characters and your story.

19. You become a writer simply by reading and writing. You dont need writing classes or seminars any more than you need this or
any other book on writing. Faulkner learned his trade while working in the Oxford, Mississippi post office. Other writers have learned the
basics while serving in the Navy, working in steel mills or doing time in Americas finer crossbar hotels. I learned the most valuable (and
commercial) part of my lifes work while washing motel sheets and restaurant tablecloths at the New Franklin Laundry in Bangor. You
learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.

20. Writing is about getting happy. Writing isnt about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In
the end, its about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. Its about getting up, getting
well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So
drink.