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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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Catherine Winter

Catherine is a wordsmith covering lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on April 8, 2020

Why Assuming Positive Intent Is an Amazing Productivity Driver

Why Assuming Positive Intent Is an Amazing Productivity Driver

Assuming positive intent is an important contributor to quality of life.

Most people appreciate the dividends such a mindset produces in the realm of relationships. How can relationships flourish when you don’t assume intentions that may or may not be there? And how their partner can become an easier person to be around as a result of such a shift? Less appreciated in the GTD world, however, is the productivity aspect of this “assume positive intent” perspective.

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Most of us are guilty of letting our minds get distracted, our energy sapped, or our harmony compromised by thinking about what others woulda, coulda, shoulda.  How we got wronged by someone else.  How a friend could have been more respectful.  How a family member could have been less selfish.

However, once we evolve to understanding the folly of this mindset, we feel freer and we become more productive professionally due to the minimization of unhelpful, distracting thoughts.

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The leap happens when we realize two things:

  1. The self serving benefit from giving others the benefit of the doubt.
  2. The logic inherent in the assumption that others either have many things going on in their lives paving the way for misunderstandings.

Needless to say, this mindset does not mean that we ought to not confront people that are creating havoc in our world.  There are times when we need to call someone out for inflicting harm in our personal lives or the lives of others.

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Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of Pepsi, says it best in an interview with Fortune magazine:

My father was an absolutely wonderful human being. From ecent emailhim I learned to always assume positive intent. Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent. You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different. When you assume negative intent, you’re angry. If you take away that anger and assume positive intent, you will be amazed. Your emotional quotient goes up because you are no longer almost random in your response. You don’t get defensive. You don’t scream. You are trying to understand and listen because at your basic core you are saying, ‘Maybe they are saying something to me that I’m not hearing.’ So ‘assume positive intent’ has been a huge piece of advice for me.

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In business, sometimes in the heat of the moment, people say things. You can either misconstrue what they’re saying and assume they are trying to put you down, or you can say, ‘Wait a minute. Let me really get behind what they are saying to understand whether they’re reacting because they’re hurt, upset, confused, or they don’t understand what it is I’ve asked them to do.’ If you react from a negative perspective – because you didn’t like the way they reacted – then it just becomes two negatives fighting each other. But when you assume positive intent, I think often what happens is the other person says, ‘Hey, wait a minute, maybe I’m wrong in reacting the way I do because this person is really making an effort.

“Assume positive intent” is definitely a top quality of life’s best practice among the people I have met so far. The reasons are obvious. It will make you feel better, your relationships will thrive and it’s an approach more greatly aligned with reality.  But less understood is how such a shift in mindset brings your professional game to a different level.

Not only does such a shift make you more likable to your colleagues, but it also unleashes your talents further through a more focused, less distracted mind.

More Tips About Building Positive Relationships

Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

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