Is Stephen King Right About Improvement?

41cqe00ZzsL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_As I mentioned yesterday, I finished “On Writing”, and I neglected to talk about a point I disagree with King on. He says in the book that a mediocre writer can never become good, and a good writer can never become great. A competent writer can become good, but no more.

It’s something I completely disagree with. I hold much more to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory: that anyone can become great at something by putting in enough time. There are obvious physical limitations. For instance, someone who is a metre tall is unlikely to become a basketball player, and someone two-and-half metres tall isn’t going to become a jockey.

However, if there isn’t a physical limitation there, I think anyone can do anything. I think the deciding factor is dedication. If someone is willing to use all of their time to further their dream, then I think they’ll get there.

And I think, in a backdoor way, King agrees with me. He also mentions that you don’t need to force someone to become a writer. If they’re going to be a writer, they’ll write any chance they get. Which I take to mean that if someone is dedicated enough, they’ll succeed. But dedication is a built-in thing.

However, even there, I disagree. I think someone can force themselves to be dedicated. The deciding factor is when you actually enjoy lots of things. Then it can be difficult to settle.

As a father of teenagers, it’s often annoying to see my sons repeating the same mistakes I made. I guess it might be in our DNA somewhere to flit from interest to interest, without settling on anything. I certainly did enough of that in my teenage years and twenties. At every stage of that, though, I kept coming back to writing. It wasn’t until 2012 that I decided that 100% of my time should go to a single dream, rather than spreading it thin.

I wasn’t a good writer in my teens. I was enthusiastic, but not good. My writing could best be described as mediocre. In my twenties, even competent is too strong a term for it. It had moments of entertainment between muddled thoughts and passages.

It wasn’t until my thirties that I became competent, and not until I took it seriously that I became good. Of course, being good is subjective, but some of my more recent books are ones I’m really proud of. They might not rise to the level of King, George RR Martin or JK Rowling, but I believe they’re good.

I’m not aiming for good, though. I’m aiming for great and I believe the only thing in my way is the time I spend in this chair. Perhaps I’m deluded, but I think you can give anyone decades to get there and they can go from mediocre to great. I guess the only way to find out is to wait another forty years.


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2 thoughts on “Is Stephen King Right About Improvement?

  1. I completely agree with you on every single thing you said here. As long as you keep at it, you’ll get better – at least if you’re interested in getting better, curious of nature, and try to learn new things all the time.

    My comparison would (naturally) be artists. I’ve seen a few that have the exact same style as they did ten years ago. Nothing has evolved within their style or craftmanship. I don’t know why that is, because most artists evolve over time.

    You might stay within a genre or a specific style that’s working really well for you, of course. If you’re on the artist version of Stephen King and has found the thing that is clearly bringing in cash, while you also enjoy it, there isn’t much reason to experiment too much – at least not in public.

    But if cash isn’t piling up in front of your door yet, there’s more to do, more to explore, more to learn. I know that not everything is something you can cash in on, but if you create truly amazing art or write truly amazing books, you WILL be discovered if you make it available to the public. Because we share what we love. If we have read a book that we absolutely loved, we can’t stop ourselves. We have to tell everyone we know (and possibly even people who never reads, just because this might be the book that would make them see the light). If we see amazing art, we will share it. And word of mouth will spread by itself. And in the end, you’ll have success.

    I do believe that we can make a living long before we reach that kind of awesomeness. You just have to work at bit harder. Books and art can be really good, without being so amazing, that everyone feel the need to share it all the time. But if you do enough that’s really good, you’ll get a solid base to work from, and over time – with enough hours – you have the possibility to be great.

    • Absolutely. Unless I croak before I manage it, I’m going to write at least one book that resonates with people. I have my sights on 1984 and Farenheit 451, even if I haven’t gotten there yet 🙂

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