Book Diving: Stephen King - On Writing

Book Diving: Stephen King – On Writing

I believe diverse knowledge is one of the key skills that make a good product manager or product designer. This is why I’m trying to read as many interesting books as possible. Reading about diverse topics from authors from different backgrounds helps me learn how people think. And, hopefully, the more empathy I have for people, the better I’ll become at designing products they actually care about.

This is the first post (of hopefully many) where I want to put down what I’ve learned about product design while reading one specific book. Sometimes it will just be some quotes or key takeaways, maybe sometimes a bit more. We will see.

Stephen King: On Writing

Why I read this book

I really loved Stephen King’s books when I was younger. I think what fascinated me most about his stories was that he was always able to make them stick and interesting – no matter what topic they were about. Storytelling is such an important part of product design, so why not learn from the master himself? Also, I figured he’d be witty in this book and quotes like “I have my own dislikes – I believe that anyone using the phrase ‘That’s so cool’ should have to stand in the corner and that those using the far more odious phrases ‘at this point in time’ and ‘at the end of the day’ should be sent to bed without supper,” or “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops” were just perfect after reading a bunch of non-fiction books by managers-turned-authors.

My Key Takeaways for Product Design

Stephen King on first ideas and how to make them work:

Write with the door closed. Revise with the door open.

“’When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story,’ he said. ‘When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story’

Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%. Good luck.

Although Mr. King strongly recommends keeping the reader (user) in mind while creating something for them (“The reader must always be your main concern.”), he still thinks the first version of the story should be written without showing anyone. I’m a Lean Startup and Customer Development lover, but I’m kind of with him at this point. Know your customers. Talk to them, empathize. But don’t involve them too much in the development process of your first prototype. Show them when it’s finished, then let them use it and find out what to change. By doing this, you avoid being just guided by some interviewees’ words, not by your own vision. But you will definitely need to make changes. I love the second and third quote for that reason. We’re always afraid of stripping down what we’ve already built. Having a rule like this one means that we need to force ourselves to leave “this one cool feature” out because it’s not the core of our product.

Stephen King on becoming a good writer:

We both understand that the hours we spend talking about writing is time we don’t spend actually doing it.”

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.

You must begin as your own advocate, which means reading the magazines publishing the kind of stuff you write.

For becoming a great product manager, it is essential to study other products (especially the ones your users are using frequently, see third quote) to find out which elements work and which not. Does that app feel trustworthy? Why, why not? Do you want to play around with it instantly? Why could that be? Why does that sign up form feel sketchy?

Conclusion

Stephen King’s “On Writing” is a great book with a lot of interesting personal stories and advice. Here’s my favorite quote about how ideas happen:

Good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”