99.5 Golden Rules for Writers (& why you should ignore them all) #9 Don’t Write Like A Stephen King Style Writing Machine

I wanted to be a writer from the age of 11. I have proof of this. At school, we were asked to draw, in crayon, what we wanted to be when we grew up. I didn’t know how to draw a writer, so I drew an actor. And I put ‘and writer’ in quite clear letters in the top left-hand corner.

– Iain Banks (aka Iain M Banks)


Stephen King-style writing every day just doesn’t work for everybody. Some writers work best by blasting out a novel over the course of a few months and then resting, letting the fine grains of the next novel start to percolate.

The late, great Iain Banks was an example of this. He’d write to a well-honed schedule. One book a year, alternating between science-fiction (writing as Iain M Banks) and literary (Iain Banks). A book, typically, took him three months to complete. The rest of the time he’d spend dreaming up the next one.

Others are less disciplined or find their muse works in a different way. You might be surprised just how long it took authors to finish certain famous books:

Gone with the Wind… 10 years
The Catcher in the Rye… 10 years
Les Miserables… 12 Years
The Lord of the Rings…… a whopping 16 years

Many moons ago I lent my copy of Iain Banks’ novel Walking on Glass to a friend. I didn’t expect to see it back. Said friend – let’s call him ‘A’ – was bohemian, erratic and infuriatingly forgetful. He was generous but was always broke. A contrarian by nature – he’d try and blag his way into a gig even if he had a ticket. He once he stayed at my flat and when left to return to Manchester, left the front door wide open all day, my floor carpeted with albums. It wasn’t malicious – he just forgot…  Oh did I mention the time he dragged me backstage at an Ice-T gig in an attempt to interview him about whether his mock bullet-riddled promotion t-shirts were an incitement to violence? His chosen recording instrument was a ghetto blaster style tape player… he managed to get the interview. True story.

As you can imagine, I was surprised to have the book returned about a year later with what he claimed was an autograph from Iain Banks on the fly leaf.

To Simon ye bas!!

In one of Iain M Banks’ sci if books – the challenging Feersum Endjinn – some chapters are written in a text-speak first-person narrative lightly seasoned with hints of Glasgow …


Woak up. Got dresd. Had brekfast. Spoke wif Ergates thi ant who sed itz juss been wurk wurk wurk 4 u lately master Bascule, Y dont u ½ a holiday? & I agreed & that woz how we decided we otter go 2 c Mr Zoliparia in thi I-ball ov thi gargoyle Rosbrith.” (Feersum Endjinn – Iain M Banks)


Alex claimed the endorsement was inspired by the book. I just couldn’t tell whether he was winding me up or whether the autograph was genuine. many years later, I attended an Iain Banks book signing and asked him to recreate the endorsement in a copy of Complicity so I could check the original’s veracity. Mr. Banks looked non-plussed by my request, but true professional that he was, obliged.

And what do you know – it was real.


And why you should ignore this golden rule: see previous post.

Next up: Don’t edit heavily as your write.