Writing Tips That Will Make You a Better Writer
All of history’s great authors have struggled to produce pithy prose at one time or another. Publishing houses have rejected them. They’ve tried and failed, and then failed some more. They’ve suffered from writer’s block, and thought about throwing in the towel. Just like the rest of us.
Vladimir Nabokov received a damning letter of rejection from Knopf Doubleday Publishing House upon submitting Lolita, but he got revenge, selling more than fifty million copies. Marcel Proust earned himself a sprawling rejection letter the outlined all the reasons he should abandon writing all together. Sylvia Path received a rejection letter for The Bell Jar that read, “There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.”
Despite such set-backs, all of these authors persisted with their craft, fuelled by determination, and a belief in the value of their work. So, rather than become disheartened at the sometimes seemingly impossible task of filling a blank page with a captivating story, why not take solace in some of these writing tips from great authors? If it worked for them, I’m sure it can help us.
1. The first draft of everything is shit. ~ Ernest Hemingway
Sad but true: the first draft usually is, well, shit. I am yet to meet anyone that can pen perfect prose on a first iteration. In my experience, writing takes time and care. Don’t expect to write a best-selling novel, the next War and Peace, in one sitting. It just won’t happen. My best work (whether it is 1,000 word blog post on potash for a client, or a piece of creative fiction for a uni assignment) are always the pieces that I can walk away from, whether for a day, or a week. And let breathe. Write the first draft, take a break, then come back to it with fresh eyes. Time and distance make me more ruthless, more willing to cull extraneous content, to alter words and phrases that just don’t seem to flow, to make the second draft sing.
2. If it sounds like writing, I rewriting. ~ Elmore Leonard
Contrived writing is obvious. It can make you seem like you’re trying too hard. So any writing that doesn’t flow, that sticks out from the rest of your piece like a sore thumb, that seems unnatural or stunted, probably needs rewriting. This is nothing to be ashamed of, or worried about. Just refer to the above.
3. I try to leave out the parts that people skip. ~ Elmore Leonard
Another pearler from Leonard. If you are writing for an audience (not just for your own personal gratification), then it’s probably best to leave out the bits that people are likely to skip. After all, writing is about entertaining or enlightening. If your audience is skipping over sizeable chunks, then you are doing neither. Delete these chunks.
4. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that. ~ Stephen King
I could not agree more. This is particularly true when it comes to copywriting, and specialising in a chosen copywriting field. For instance, I am a regular contributor to marketing.com.au – an online resource for (you guessed it) the Australian marketing industry. I have to read widely to be able to contribute anything of merit. I do my best to devour industry publications, peruse blogs from industry thought leaders, and even trawl academically published papers. When it comes to creative writing, reading is the building block of any project. It is through reading that authors learn new words, new ways of presenting images and concepts, new ways of using words to describe, to illuminate, to entertain, to enthral. It is through reading that writers find new inspiration.
5. Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. ~ Anton Chekhov
Treat your audience with respect. Allow them to make their own deductions, come to their own conclusions, about your writing. Describe the scene, and allow your audience to join the dots, rather than spelling everything out bluntly, in obvious terms. Rather than tell your audience how cold it is, describe the frost on the grass, the puffs of smoke when your character speaks, how you have to scrape the ice from your windscreen.
6. Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~ Mark Twain
The word ‘very’ is useless. There is always a better, more accurate choice. So, no one is very sad. They are devastated. No one is very mad. They are furious. No one is very happy. They are delighted or ecstatic or elated. Expand your vocabulary and eradicate very.
7. Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously. ~ Lev Grossman
Like any other craft or creative endeavour, the main thing to remember is not to take anyone’s advice too seriously. If it resonates with you, take it on board, or pick the eyes out of it and remember the most poignant points alone. If not, disregard that advice, and move right along. Every author, every writer, has a different process, a different way of writing that works just for them. What might work for me might appear abhorrent to you. And you know what? That is perfectly fine!