Whether you want to be a writer or not, it’s fascinating to see what your favorite writers have to say about their craft. Plenty of writers get their start without taking any classes or getting any formal writing advice. But those writers are awesome. For us average writers, the best we can hope for is just a squeeze of their wisdom, just a sliver of their massive chunk of intelligence. Here are ten pieces of writing advice from writers who are good.
Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.
If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that.
If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.
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.
If you want to write for children, you have to remember – vividly – what it felt like to be ten years old. Before you grew busy and knowing. What were your fears then? What were your ambitions and losses? Above all, think back to your thirst for adventure and your capacity for wonder, because that’s where the boldest storytelling comes from – the adult who still remembers how to think like a child.
Every great or even every very good writer makes the world over according to his own specifications. It’s akin to style, what I’m talking about, but it isn’t style alone. It is the writer’s particular and unmistakable signature on everything he writes. It is his world and no other. This is one of the things that distinguishes one writer from another. Not talent. There’s plenty of that around. But a writer who has some special way of looking at things and who gives artistic expression to that way of looking: that writer may be around for a time.
I have advice for people who want to write. I don’t care whether they’re five or 500. There are three things that are important: First, if you want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you. Where you just put down what you think about life, what you think about things, what you think is fair and what you think is unfair. And second, you need to read. You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. It’s the great writers who teach us how to write. The third thing is to write. Just write a little bit every day. Even if it’s for only half an hour — write, write, write.
Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him.
E. B. White
Advice to young writers who want to get ahead without any annoying delays: don’t write about Man, write about a man.
The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.
I hope you’re inspired to pick up a pen and put your thoughts into words. You never know, you may be the next Dorothy Parker!
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