In 1988, The Writer’s Handbook reprinted an article by novelist Stephen King entitled Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully – in Ten Minutes. In it, King told the story of the fateful 10 minutes to which he credits his success as a writer.
Back in 1964, King got in big trouble during his sophomore year in high school. Part of his punishment involved taking a job at a 12-page weekly community newspaper in the small town in Maine where he grew up.
It was at this tiny newspaper that Stephen King met an editor named John Gould, the man who taught King everything he needed to know about writing in one 10 minute review of his first feature piece for the paper.
I’ll let King tell it from here:
[Gould] started in on the feature piece with a large black pen and taught me all I ever needed to know about my craft. I wish I still had the piece – it deserves to be framed, editorial corrections and all – but I can remember pretty well how it looked when he had finished with it. Here’s an example:
(note: this is before the edit marks indicated on King’s original copy)
Last night, in the well-loved gymnasium of Lisbon High School, partisans and Jay Hills fans alike were stunned by an athletic performance unequaled in school history: Bob Ransom, known as “Bullet” Bob for both his size and accuracy, scored thirty-seven points. He did it with grace and speed … and he did it with an odd courtesy as well, committing only two personal fouls in his knight-like quest for a record which has eluded Lisbon thinclads since 1953….
(after edit marks)
Last night, in the Lisbon High School gymnasium, partisans and Jay Hills fans alike were stunned by an athletic performance unequaled in school history: Bob Ransom scored thirty-seven points. He did it with grace and speed … and he did it with an odd courtesy as well, committing only two personal fouls in his quest for a record which has eluded Lisbon’s basketball team since 1953….
When Gould finished marking up my copy in the manner I have indicated above, he looked up and must have seen something on my face. I think he must have thought it was horror, but it was not: it was revelation.
“I only took out the bad parts, you know,” he said. “Most of it’s pretty good.”
“I know,” I said, meaning both things: yes, most of it was good, and yes, he had only taken out the bad parts. “I won’t do it again.”
“If that’s true,” he said, “you’ll never have to work again. You can do this for a living.” Then he threw back his head and laughed.
And he was right; I am doing this for a living, and as long as I can keep on, I don’t expect ever to have to work again.
Everything you need to know about writing successfully (summary):
Omit unnecessary words.
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