Stephen King Can Make You A Better (Technical) Writer

Scott, over on Words on a Page, says, “If you want to improve as a writer, you not only need to write. You need to read. Writing and reading are two sides of the same coin. You need to do both to achieve your potential.”

I head downtown most weekends and buy 2 or 3 books, mostly business, history and some fiction.

Every so often I run out of options (we’re in Beijing) and get something I usually wouldn’t buy, for example, Iain M Banks. Reading outside my comfort zone stretches me. I encounter writing styles, opinions, and  information that I usually side-step.

Scott adds that by reading, ‘you’re exposing yourself to different voices and viewpoints. And you can pick up some new techniques. Not only that, you get a great opportunity to see what other writers are doing well and what they’re doing badly.’ This brings me to dear ol’ Stephen King.

How Stephen King Made Me A Better Technical Writer

I’ve read Stephen King (on and off) since I was a teenager-almost 30 years. After going through Jack London, King Arthur and HG Wells, he was the first modern author that I read.

What did I like most?

The tension, crisp writing and little details that sucked you right in. You had to read on. Would Cujo eat the small child? Most of this was horror, something I grew out of after high school.

But he also wrote another book, On Writing.

If you’re interested in the mechanics of writing, get your hands on this. For me, it’s his best book — and I wish he’d go back and read it.


Because it teaches you how to write tight prose, remove the waffle, and stay focused. All the things I try to do as a technical writer.I hope he’ll turn a corner someday which is why I give him so many second chances…

What am I reading now?

I tend to mix and match. I have a stack of books next to my bed and dip in and out.

Some are:

  • Groundswell, Social Media book
  • Built to Last – what makes companies success over the long term
  • Stephen King – Duma Key, really lame, especially after his early stuff
  • Graham Greene is always a pleasure. Our Man in Havana is a favorite
  • Plato’s Apology
  • Genghis Khan bio, life in ancient Mongolia
  • Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Iain M Banks – pretentious drivel! I had such high hopes. Philip K Dick is the best sci-fi writer for me.
  • Catch 22 – ok, bit dated
  • Al Ries, Focus and the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing
  • Tom Peters, Peter Drucker and Seth Godin are all there too.

Seth’s writing style is, for me, the best out there right now, at least in the business world. Tight, crisp, and funny. No words wasted.

I rarely buy magazines anymore as most are close to 5 euro in Europe. Instead I pony with the difference and get some books.

How about you? What are you reading?

4 thoughts on “Stephen King Can Make You A Better (Technical) Writer

  1. Greg Wehmeyer says:

    I've got On Writing on my bookshelf from my more idealistic days when I thought I might write fiction. I should read it again to see how well it applies to technical writing. I remember he really hates adverbs. Those aren't much of a problem in manuals. At least they shouldn't be 😉

  2. Ivan Walsh says:

    Hi Greg,
    Yeah, he tries to keep the prose as tight as possible and I admire him for that. I think what drove me nuts about the Dark Tower/Duma Key was not the language (i.e. prose, voice) but the pace & strangled storylines.

    Saying that, there is a section in Duma Key where he describes the accident where the central character gets maimed. It's incredible. You're in the truck as he gets slowly crushed; it’s an incredible passage not in a gory way but the way he captures the terror & helplessness of the man but then it wanders for 200 pages…

    The Shining is also worth reading. It’s not a horror book as most people think rather the portrait of a man at a crossroads and how he struggles to make things work, only to see them disintegrate.

    As the saying goes, “the road to hell is full of people with good intentions.”

  3. ginablednyh says:

    Hello Ivan,

    I completely agree that writers must also be active readers. It seems that, outside of the writing, revision, and feedback process, reading is the best way to improve my work. Three authors I like are Jhumpa Lahiri, Malcolm Gladwell, and Alice Walker. But honestly, there are too many to list! Groundswell is on my list, though.

    Thanks for posting this!

  4. Ivan Walsh says:

    Hi Gina,
    Interesting, isn’t it. I've never read Gladwell but have his books on MP3. Shape of things to come?
    I'll look into those you mentioned as I'm always keen for new goodies.
    Groundswell is very useful and have many charts, tables that place things in context.
    You might also be interested in Al Ries & Jack Trout if you're looking for THAT marketing book. All their books are gold dust.

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