According to R.L. Stine, everyone’s favorite question to ask successful authors — “Where do you get your ideas?” — has the whole thing backward.
“I always say I don’t start with an idea,” the prolific Goosebumps author tells EW. “I start with a good title, and that leads me to an idea.”
That nugget of wisdom is just one of many shared in Stine’s new online MasterClass about writing for young audiences, which he hopes will dispel common misconceptions about his craft.
“The class is about how not to be scared to be write,” Stine says. “Writing doesn’t have to be scary, it can be just fun. It’s all about how to take the scares out, how to go about getting ideas, how to never have writer’s block — people worry about that.”
Another useful tip: “I do a chapter-by-chapter outline for every book that I write,” Stine says. “I really believe in outlines. If you have an outline, you can’t get stuck. You know where you’re going, you know where the ending is. I was talking to high school kids, and this one girl said she always gets bogged down in the middle. So I said write the ending first, and she gasped, she was shocked.”
Over the course of his career, Stine has written hundreds of books for young readers. Almost none of them, he points out, are taken from his own life experience, which explains his issue with another piece of often-cited writing advice.
“I always hate when people go to a school and they talk to kids about writing and they say, ‘Write what you know, write your passion, write from your heart.’ That just means those kids will never write again,” Stine says. “Because what does that mean? That doesn’t mean anything! I’ve written over 330 books — not one of them came from my heart. Not one! They were all written for an audience, they were written to entertain. That’s one thing I want to get across. But the main thing is, I just want to say if you do these things, don’t listen to people who say that writing is hard work! It’s not hard work, don’t listen to them.”
After so many years and so many Goosebumps books, Stine has ironed out a consistent schedule for his writing. He writes 2,000 words a day (about 10 pages), and once he hits that mark, he stops in the middle of whatever he’s doing to pick it up the next day. The process stays similar even for slightly different projects, such as the Man-Thing comic Stine wrote for Marvel last year.
“I’ve written a lot of scripts before, and it was sort of like writing a TV script, trying to be very visual,” Stine says of the Man-Thing process. “It was a nice experience, and I had a lot of fun. I may do some more comic books. That was the first one in my whole life! Which is kind of strange because I started out, when I was 9 years old, writing little comic books. Now here I am, all these years later. Comics were a major influence on me. I talk a lot in the MasterClass about influences like Tales From the Crypt, because they were horrifying, gruesome comics and they were funny at the same time. They all had funny twist endings. That’s exactly what I try to do in all my books. I talk a lot in the class about the authors I’ve stolen from, like Agatha Christie and Rod Serling. You get all these influences from everywhere; it’s a matter of channeling them and getting them organized in your head.”
Fans interested in more writing advice from Stine can check out the new course, available now on MasterClass. Fittingly for such a renowned horror author, the class was filmed inside a decrepit old mansion in New York.
“It was really creepy-looking, all falling apart, and it was freezing cold,” Stine says of the locale. “So it was really the perfect place.”
Watch the trailer for Stine’s course above. All courses on MasterClass are available for individual purchase or an annual all-encompassing subscription.