One of the things I like best about social media is the way it helps me discover talented writers. They remind me a lot of distance athletes with their deep conversations about seemingly minor details and long periods of time spent practicing alone.
The web also has a downside. There seems to be a growing belief that having mobile access to information negates any need to regularly consume quality writing.
Some writers point to the popularity of the Twilight series and say it’s a sign the general population no longer cares about quality. In my reply I always point to the wise commentary of Juan Williams:
Pandering to base interests is very different from catering to real needs. (Paraphrased from his commentary on the notion that people of color only want to watch MTV.)
It’s possible that you’ll make money by pandering, but there are a lot of people doing the same thing now. Traipse around online for a bit and you’ll find thousands of desperate writers trying to predict the next fetish in hopes of fame and fortune. It’s sad to watch them trying so hard because in the end they’ll have nothing to be truly proud of. I want to write things for which my only explanation for writing is not, “I needed the money.”
Do you? If so, you may find some portion of the following useful. I’ve gathered some of my favorite quotes from brilliant, prolific, and plain crazy writers and share them here with some tips I’ve found incredibly helpful in my own journey as a yearning writer. I hope you enjoy!
1. Write to make a point, not a target word count
Vigorous writing is concise. ~William Strunk Jr.
Nothing makes me grimace quite like hearing somebody say they’ve reached 50,000 words and so have completed their first novel. Remember dully typing toward a minimum word count for an academic paper you had no interest in writing? If you start to get the feeling about something you’re writing, it’s probably time to stop writing and do some more research (or bribe your editor/professor/mother into accepting the shorter piece of work).
2. Help another edit their writing
I try to leave out the parts that people skip. ~Elmore Leonard
I have a short, round-bellied friend who turned me on to this quote. That said, I’ve found that helping another writer edit their work often leaves me with more insight into my own writing than I gave to the other writer! If you can find a trusted friend to trade nascent work with, you will have found a wealth of improvement.
3. Write something every day that you do not intend to share
Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. ~William Wordsworth
I have a private blog I update daily with rants, outlines, fears, and bits of nothing that stream out of me when I’m struggling to find focus for another piece of writing. You’ll never see it. There’s no value in my sharing it because the moment I know others can see it is the moment I no longer write just for me. I suggest you give this method a try. It doesn’t have to be a blog. A notebook would work just fine.
4. Outline before drafting & Don’t confuse fiction with dishonest writing
If any man wish to write in a clear style, let him be first clear in his thoughts; and if any would write in a noble style, let him first possess a noble soul. ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I am still learning to to do the first part. I’ve taken great value from sharing outlines of my intended work with friends who are very logical and excel at criticizing arguments without muddling thoughts. The last part… is something I can only hope for. If I someday hear a reader say, “his writing is imbued with kindness” I think that will do.
5. Don’t get caught up in restating the obvious
The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say. ~Anaïs Nin
As one who writes a lot for the web, I am continually tempted by the low-hanging fruit of trending topics and morning news drivel. Restating the obvious is easy, fun, and very retweetable. But the obvious rarely seems to translate into any sort of real legacy. If I only had a list of all the things my readers already know collectively, it would be so simple to stay fresh!
6. Befriend a dictionary
The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. ~Mark Twain
Imbue, conjure, nefarious… are just a few of the words I have as friends to help me clearly make a point, share an idea, or call something into question. There’s a joy in having the perfect words at one’s disposal that only a dedicated writer can appreciate. A thesaurus can be useful if you’re bored, lazy, or drunk. Nothing trumps having a word come to mind just as you need its help.
7. Keep a little notebook for moments of inspiration
Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable. ~Francis Bacon
I use a moleskine to store my thoughts for later. Having thoughts and personal commentary all in one place has the added benefit of serving as a source of inspiration for later times of drought. Think of it as you would catching raindrops in a canteen. You’ll be glad for the moisture some day.
8. Not having a pen in your hand doesn’t mean you’re not writing
The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes. ~Agatha Christie
If you walked into my office at random, there’s a very good chance you’d find me sipping a glass of tea while staring off into space. Am I doing nothing? Not in the least. Contrary to my mother’s early suspicions, I’m not addled. I just like to silently try phrases out in my mind before writing them down. Agatha had a point about dishes, too. There’s no such thing as writer’s block. But there are times when washing dishes is a better use of time than staring at an empty screen!
9. Be kind to yourself
Every writer I know has trouble writing. ~Joseph Heller
I hope you are kind to yourself and forgiving when you cannot find the perfect phrase or paint a story just so! Writing, for me, seems a monumental task at times and I am always delighted to find others who understand my situation and reach out to help. There’s a joy in knowing that no matter how lonely a stretch of path may seem we are never entirely alone, no? We always have our writing and with it an entire community of people who care.
If you’re a writer, and you are one even if you simply compose witty text messages, I hope you’ll say hello.