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10 Writing Tips from the World’s Greatest Authors

10 Writing Tips from the World’s Greatest Authors

If you ask the average author why they chose to pursue writing as a career, they’ll probably look at you as if you were mad. Those who dedicate their lives to wordcraft tend to do so because they’re passionate about storytelling, about the written word in every form it chooses to take; they didn’t choose to write any more than you may have chosen to breathe.

That said, honing one’s craft is a daunting-yet-rewarding lifelong endeavor in which there is constant evolution, but never perfection. I believe it was Ernest Hemingway who said that when it comes to writing, we are “all apprentices in a craft that has no master,” and he’s right: writers will always doubt their abilities, adjust their prose style, think of giving up, have a love/hate relationship with their editors, and keep plowing forward because we have to.

For everyone whose soul is brimming with tales demanding to be told, here are a few writing tips from some of the world’s greatest authors. Maybe they’ll inspire you, or perhaps you’ll disagree with them entirely, but they’re all worth contemplating.

Be Disciplined

Whether you’re dedicating yourself to writing 2 pages a day or 2000 words a week, make a commitment to yourself that you will do this, and stick to it.

“All through my career I’ve written 1,000 words a day—even if I’ve got a hangover. You’ve got to discipline yourself if you’re professional. There’s no other way.”
– J.G. Ballard

Keep a Notebook Handy

Inspiration can strike at any time, and it’s not uncommon for writers to scrawl ideas on receipts, napkins, bits of toilet paper, or anything within reach that can be written upon. If you have a good notebook with you at all times, you don’t have to risk losing some scrap or another upon which you’ve written the epiphany of a lifetime.

“Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.”
– Will Self

Write What You’d Like to Read

Don’t write what you think other people want to read: create something that you would fall in love with if you read it. Chances are that if you enjoy something that you write, others will too.

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

– Toni Morrison

You Have to Read So You Can Write

Imagine going to a restaurant where you’ll be served food that’s prepared by someone who isn’t fond of eating, or having a personal fitness session with a trainer who doesn’t like to exercise. Both scenarios are rather absurd to think about, aren’t they?

The best writers tend to be avid readers, as they have extensive vocabularies, awareness of what makes a story interesting, and a solid grasp of cadence and flow. I’d be afraid to read anything by someone who’s written more than they’ve read. Read all that you can, and not merely the subject matter that you know you enjoy: read outside your comfort level, in subjects you’re unfamiliar with.

“Read, read, read. Read everything: trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”

– William Faulkner

Allow Ideas to Flow, Even When You Feel You Have Nothing to Give

Scrawl nonsense. Make up little poems about toast or squirrels. Write out a rough draft by hand on construction paper, drawing little icons alongside written streams of profanity, if necessary. Know that most other writers before you have experienced the exact same doubts, frustrations, helplessness, and bouts of writer’s block as you have.

Go full stream-of-consciousness writing with the full knowledge that 3/4 of what you’re creating is absolute crap, as there will undoubtedly be some flecks of absolute gold within the dross that you can pick out later and polish ’til they shine.

“When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.”

– Kurt Vonnegut

Write Hot, Edit Cold

When you have an idea, write it down. If you wake in the middle of the night with a paragraph fully formed in your head, write it down before you pass out again: you will have forgotten it by morning. Spew forth all you can in the moment, and then go back over it all with fresh eyes later on. This first draft is just the brain-spew that you have to get out, and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll spend far more time editing than you did writing.

“The first draft of everything is shit.”

– Ernest Hemingway

On a similar note:

Write, and Write, and Write. Then Write Some More.

The only way you’ll get anything done is by writing. You may churn out a two-hundred-thousand-word behemoth and then cut it down to a quarter of that length, but you won’t be able to cut and refine anything if all you do is sit on your ass, staring numbly at your screen, not writing anything at all.

Don’t say that you’re writing a novel: write it. Don’t spend all your time researching things and wasting time on Pinterest for inspiration: write. Then write some more.

“Planning to write is not writing. Outlining … researching … talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.”
– E.L. Doctorow

Allow Yourself to Make Mistakes

You’re going to do some great work, but you’re also going to craft some absolute dreck that you’ll look back upon and cringe. That’s absolutely okay: learn from it. Children don’t learn to walk without falling all over the place, right? By recognizing what doesn’t work, we can sort out what does, and move forward from there.

“We learn from failure, not from success!”
–  Bram Stoker

Show, Don’t Tell

Many novice writers make the mistake of over-describing items, situations, people, etc. It’s far better to imply descriptions and let the reader form an image in their minds than to spoon-feed every detail.

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“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
– Anton Chekhov

Last, but certainly not least, one of the best tips than any author could take to heart:

Write What You Know About

Truth is stranger than fiction, and it’s more than likely that you’ve had some incredible experiences that you and you alone are qualified to write about. You’ve had amazing adventures, and you have a special and unique voice with which to share them, so do so.

Have you been struck by lightning twice and lived to tell the tale? Were you raised by ferrets? Have you been abducted by aliens so they could teach you how to knit stuffed animals? Write about it.

“Tell your story. Don’t try and tell the stories that other people can tell. Because [as a] starting writer, you always start out with other people’s voices—you’ve been reading other people for years… But, as quickly as you can, start telling the stories that only you can tell—because there will always be better writers than you, there will always be smarter writers than you … but you are the only you.”

– Neil Gaiman

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Last Updated on March 13, 2019

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

1. Work on the small tasks.

When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

2. Take a break from your work desk.

Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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3. Upgrade yourself

Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

4. Talk to a friend.

Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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6. Paint a vision to work towards.

If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

7. Read a book (or blog).

The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

8. Have a quick nap.

If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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9. Remember why you are doing this.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

10. Find some competition.

Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

11. Go exercise.

Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

12. Take a good break.

Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

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Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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