You probably have at least a passing familiarity with Stephen King. Mister King is one of the better writers of the 20th and 21st centuries. The prolific author has penned more than 40 novels. He is often harshly treated by professional critics, and that is a sure sign that he is doing something right as an author. Stephen King has readers. He has readers because he doesn’t write for critics, he writes for normal people who want to read exciting stories.
In my mind, the best writers don’t give a shit about what the critics think. They write to please themselves. For some, doing so will also mean pleasing an audience. The writer who has good marketing people working for him or her will find that audience. Stephen King doesn’t stop to worry about what other people thinking of his writing. He just keeps doing it, year after year, page after page, novel after story. And his fans fucking love him.
They love him because he knows how to speak to them from the pages. His characters are believable. His plots keep the reader interested from beginning to end. His writing is simple, direct and easy to digest. Stephen King knows how to make words come alive. More importantly, he actually sits in front of a computer and puts the words out there for the universe to eat. He is a wordchef. You won’t find wordchef in the dictionary, dear reader, and I don’t care. Stephen King is a wordchef, and an inspiration to inspiring wordchefs everywhere.
Stephen King’s writing is good food because it is simple, digestible and readily available. There is enough of it to go around, and most people will never get tired of the taste. There are lots of other writers who taste different, and sometimes you will be in the mood for those writers. They come in every flavor and I firmly believe that readers and writers should sample a wide array of flavors when it comes to the words they eat. The prevalent flavor in this article, however, is Stephen King flavor. He wrote a book on the subject, which is appropriately called On Writing. Here are some worthwhile quotes from that man on writing (and what makes it good):
I believe the first draft of a book — even a long one — should take no more than three months…Any longer and — for me, at least — the story begins to take on an odd foreign feel, like a dispatch from the Romanian Department of Public Affairs, or something broadcast on high-band shortwave duiring a period of severe sunspot activity. Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right — as right as you can, anyway — it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it. Talent renders the whole idea of rehearsal meaningless; when you find something at which you are talented, you do it (whatever it is) until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head. Even when no one is listening (or reading, or watching), every outing is a bravura performance, because you as the creator are happy. Perhaps even ecstatic. Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s. Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want. The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them — words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.
What makes writing good? It has to be important. It has to be meaningful. It has to come from the heart. It has to have a point to make. Most of all, it has to flow. If you don’t know how to flow as a writer, then you will never make your point, and you’ll never find your audience.
Start everything at the beginning. Figure out why your story matters. Then make your case. Remind your dear readers of why they the jury agree with you. Ram that shit right down their throats if you have to. Use rich descriptions. Sprinkle in anecdotes that reinforce your case. Figure out the compelling stuff and tell everyone that shit. Wrap it up and poke your reader right in the eye with that sharp spear that is your point, again and again, until they will remember you and and your tale for the rest of however long they have to live. That’s what makes writing good.