10% Shorter and Some Thoughts On Stephen King’s “On Writing” And Becoming A Better Writer

Every few years I consciously try to become a better writer by studying what great or at least successful writers have written on writing.

Try saying that 3 times fast.

This year I ended up reading Stephen King’s “On writing” among a few other books, blog posts and Elmore Leonard’s 10 tips for better writing.

How douchey is this photo on a 1-10 scale?

Out of all of that studying I came away with 1 really helpful tip and that was to make each edit 10% shorter.

For example:

A recent blog I wrote for a client on the legalities of cannibidiol or CBD was 1140 words, so my first edit aimed for 1026. 10% less. If I think it still needs polishing I’ll go for another 10 % trim and try to cut out another 102 words. This has made my writing and editing process a lot easier. It also makes it easy to cut things because you’re looking to get rid of a full 10% of your words.

This rule came from the otherwise super annoying Stephen King book “On Writing.” In “On Writing” in between inserting his thoughts on the Red Sox which are approximately as intelligent and have as much nuance as those you would find in the comments section of a Youtube video showing Bill Buckner let the ball roll through his legs in game 6 of the 1986 World Series, King waxes on about the greatness of…. wait for it. Stephen King. He also tells the reader to read as much as possible while citing weird 1970s science fiction books as inspiration and “negging” other authors of his era like some sort of MFA program pick up artist. Most annoying of all though, is the first section of the book where the author gives us around 80 pages of biography with zero advice on writing, in a book that is literally titled “On Writing.”

Not a fan.

I also went through the James Patterson and David Mamet Masterclasses

From all of that studying of writing and re-reading great writers I came to the conclusion that there are 3 important tips for becoming a better writer no matter who you are.

The first is to be brief. As someone, possibly Mark Twain once said “I’m sorry for writing a long letter, I did not have time to write a shorter one.” While longform dominates online, most people don’t read all the way through and end up skimming if you don’t get to the point.

The second is that great writing is rewriting. I always say that I don’t really get writer’s block because I can always write something terrible and come back and edit and rewrite it. Ta-nehisi Coates on some podcast (possibly Longform) said that the fun part of writing is editing and moving things around and I agree. It also makes the writing better.

Third you have to know what you want the writing to do. Whether you’re writing a play on gender dynamics like Mamet’s Oleanna or writing a product description for a black matte mini fridge like me you have to know what you want the reader to feel and what is going to grab their attention right away.

Lastly I firmly believe that writing like public speaking, and creating art in general is not something everyone can do well. You can learn the basics and do everything according to shrunk and white but at the end of the day talent wins out and not everyone can be a Mamet or a Coates or even a big dollar copywriter if they don’t have the talent necessary to begin with.

Any thoughts on becoming a better writer you’d like to share, leave in the comments.