Whether it was something a friend once told you, or a quote from a great writer that stuck, what piece of advice has made the biggest impression on you?
"This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.
Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.
So write with a combination of short, medium, and long sentences. Create a sound that pleases the reader’s ear. Don’t just write words. Write music.”
- Gary Provost
An undergrad composition teacher told us to read your draft out loud in the editing process. I catch so many more mistakes that way than if I just read it in my head, and the dog digs it because he thinks I'm talking to him.
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
― Ira Glass
Don't combine writing and editing - make them separate tasks. On writing days, just get ideas out of your head and onto the page — no grammar checks, no "it might sound better this way." Just get the words out. On edit days, don't add anything new - force yourself to only revise for flow and cohesion.
"There is no good writing, only good editing"
"Write it anyway." This was advice given to NYT journalist Sandra E Garcia by her mentor and it's always in the back of my mind. Even if you don't think anyone will care or read it or if you think it'll suck, write it anyway. Write it anyway.
Start before you are ready.
Write drunk. Edit Sober.
I heard the novelist Donna Tartt say this once in an interview and it’s always stuck with me: “No fun for the writer, no fun for the reader.”
Unplug your wifi router.
"The road to hell is paved with adverbs"
From Jerry Seinfeld - "Write everyday and cross that day on calendar. This way you will form a chain and your skills will compound"
Stephen King, On Writing, paperback version page 139. “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. ...no shortcut. It’s so true..reading a lot introduces you to different styles and helps you discern good prose..eventually. But there is no substitute for putting words on the page. It feels awkward at first, but keep plugging. Do your utmost to finish what you start. You’ll be so proud of yourself for finishing, you’ll be more likely to write again
Ya’ll barking up the wrong tree. You think writing is made up of words. It’s made out of your life, your imagination, your passions. The writer is a witness. Try getting out, then you don’t have to worry about empty pages or unforgiving screens that are busy with corrections staring back at you. Shut it off. Go out there and get lost. It’s a short life. Are you going to sit at the desk and worry about the words - too many, too few ? - like a million other scriveners ? There’s people out there who need their story told. You could meet them. It could be inspiring. I’ve read some great books that are badly written - great because the story was humane, intense, intimate. This isn’t a story but it did happen to me. Two summers ago, when I was hanging by the skin of my teeth, before my new job started here in Paris, I took the long train to a neighborhood where I knew there was plentiful food to be had after the markets closed. It was a long train ride and I had plenty of time to think about what a nice botch I’d made of things. I was hungry and I was hunting for throwaway food. A young woman sat down across from me. Eventually I noticed she had a canvas bag at her feet, which was emblazoned with the following words, in English no less : Bad Choices Make Great Stories. I could hardly hold myself together I was laughing so hard. How could I say to her, Ain’t that the truth, in French, without there being misunderstandings ? She’d really saved my life. Maybe she didn’t know what her bag said. Maybe she was a writer. She gave me a moment of levity before I got off the train and went to meet my friends, the homeless cooking the food they’d collected, always sharing, everybody bringing what they’d scrounged up from the nearby richy-rich boroughs. One last thing : I’m convinced that cafés play a major role in the humanist tradition, and are the real reason French writers are so damn prodigious. They write there, surrounded by others. They feed off the vibe. It’s good to take your private practice out into the world. Apologies for going on so long. I’m over at the euro desk paris if you care to.
I re-read Rainer Maria Rilke's book, Letters to a Young Poet, all the time. It is cheaper than any MFA program and it contains all the information one needs to know. In it he shares this quote, "The necessary thing is after all but this: solitude, great inner solitude. Going into oneself and for hours meeting no one--this one must be able to attain." (He also says not to undertake the heroic journey of writing unless you feel you must, and that so much of what we read is junk, while very few create true art. :) )
Write like you talk.
First: "The only way to write better is to write more."
Second: "Write what you'd like to read."
Depends on what kind of writing you are doing/ My doctoral dissertation advisor told me to write as if every word cost $10 and I was on a budget. Make sure you choose only the words that do the job.
Kurt Vonnegut's Basics of Creative Writing, #5: "Start as close to the end as possible."
Writers start, authors finish
Something like, but I can't remember the exact quote - "The tragedy of an intellectual man is that he does not create". It really shook me, and since then, well, I've been doing stuff.
To read as much as you write -- possibly read even more so.
"Always Write Your Heart! Your Head, and Emotions Will Follow!"
Keep a notebook near you at all times. Sentences come to you at night. Make the effort to scribble down the bare bones. I need to follow my own advice.
Never use unnecessary words. Concise writing is clearer and more persuasive. Strunk & White has impacted my writing more than anything else.
This isn’t possible 100% of the time, but just considering it will improve your writing:
"Let your writing ‘rest’ for a few days. Then start reading it, from the beginning, and when you get to a sentence or clause that makes you say, ‘Yes, that’s good’, put it at the very start of the piece, and rework the rest accordingly”.
I’m guessing if you don’t find that ‘good’ bit, it’s a clue you should redraft the whole lot :)
I was told by a friend to write like I speak, direct and passionate. Improved my writing no end.
"Write drunk, edit sober", often misattributed to Hemingway. I don't write drunk. I interpret the quote as write freely, edit harshly.
A writing tip from author/editor Paul Tough, who has been an editor at Harper’s and The New York Times Magazine: “One editor’s trick I started using a while ago is to ask a thwarted writer to start off by writing me a letter on the topic. What comes out is often much more fluid, funny, on-topic, and well-structured than a formal magazine article.”
This reminds me of The Whole Earth Review’s writer’s guidelines for reviews: “Write your review. Then write us a letter explaining why we should devote space to your item. Throw away your review and send us the letter.” When I was an editor at Wired in 1993, I was in charge of the reviews section and I used the same guidelines. And when I was an editor at Make in 2004, I used them there, too.
“All writing should be a war against cliche.” - as passed to me from a journalist friend/mentor who’s written for every publication I could ever dream of. I definitely still fail at sticking to it, but it’s really changed my approach to storytelling.
Write how you speak! If you can’t read it aloud, others won’t want to read it at all.
Don't get it right, get it wrote.
Write when you are manic, and edit when you are depressed...
Don't fall in love with your words.
Kill yr darlings.
Mark Twain wrote: "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug." He also wrote: "All good writing is rewriting, and the first draft of anything is sh*t."
There is no such thing as inspiration.
“The scariest part is always just before you start... you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will” Stephen King
Every thing you write should be a small act of revenge
“Don’t write about the whole wall, write about that one brick”
“Show, don’t tell.”
Good writers write; great writers steal.
To begin a non-fiction piece, use the simplest vocabulary possible - later lift the level as needed.
"Write on your own terms. If they do not like your style & focus, let them buy someone else's book. Never take anyone's advice on writing, especially if the person is boring." - Nassim Taleb
I don’t remember what was the best writing advice anybody ever gave me. I probably wasn’t listening. I often don’t. Maybe that was it. I’m sure I’ve been advised that I ought to listen more, and more carefully. That’s good advice, if only I’d remember to follow it.
Terese Mailhot tweeted out some advice this summer that's stuck with me ever since: "When I'm teaching students how to write about trauma, I often ask them to carry five other stories about themselves for protection. Like a verbal medicine bundle: there's what happened to you, how you survived, and carry some other stories, like: How you learned to gut a fish, or how you used to bind your own books as a child, the time you stood up for yourself at work, occasions where you felt joy. Carry many stories about yourself, ... give yourself dynamism and let that dynamism inform your work. We're more than what happened to us, but it's also okay if you just need to sit in the pain and execute how awful it felt. I support all victim and survivor stories, any way you tell it. Holding five other stories is mostly a safety measure to not feel like I'm only one thing."
Link to thread: https://twitter.com/TereseMarieM/status/1277360137984827392