Tips From Great Writers

Writing a book is not an easy task to tackle (more of that later though), and sometimes we need guidance and encouragement to get us through this phase and get us to finish that darn book. Who better to encourage us than the leaders of this challenging gift?

Bestselling authors gave us more than just great reads to love and learn from. They also gave us a good deal of advice on being better writers. Let’s us examine the different stages of writing through the quotes of our favorite authors.

On Coming up with an idea:

“You can make anything by writing” – C.S. Lewis

No one says it best than the marvelous creator of Alice in Wonderland! There is no limit to creativity through writing. A strange or rare idea you may have, with the right plot and work, can easily be turned into a book.

“To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be that have tried it.” – Herman Melville

However, your idea can’t just be any idea. It must be one you put thought into and verified through immense research. To write great, your idea has to be great. If it isn’t, not even a thousand pages can make it look good.

If a character is pruning a hedge or fixing a bicycle or sitting on a bus, I try to see that character both internally and externally as clearly as possible. When I write novels, for me everything is in the service of the novel. — Susan K Perry Ph.D.

“Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there will always be better writers than you and there will always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that — but you are the only you.” – Neil Gaiman

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

The legends Neil Gaiman and Toni Morrison encourage originality and being yourself with your ideas. It’s okay to be inspired by other authors but always try to do something that hasn’t been done redundantly before.

“You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” – Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow believes those late-night ideas may just be your best yet.

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath

I’ve never studied a musical instrument and couldn’t read a note before I started, but as hard as it is to learn a new “language” at my age, I’m finding the lessons refreshing and inspiring. The key is to do something outside your comfort zone. — Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D.

Finally, once you’ve got your main idea, don’t doubt yourself and just go with your gut and see where it leads you.

On setting deadlines:

Before you start writing you need to have goals set and a deadline to when you’ll finish.

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” – Douglas Adams

Don’t let those deadlines whoosh by you because they’ll keep on going by and you won’t ever start or finish your book.

On starting to write:

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” – Ernest Hemingway

The great Ernest Hemingway, the author of classics like The Sun Also Rises, understood the struggle of writing. He amusingly puts it as simple as can be – you just sit and bleed because writing is not an easy task and clearly takes up a lot of your time and energy.

“You can fix anything but a blank page” – Nora Roberts

Starting to write is maybe the hardest step to writing a book. A blank page can be intimidating that’s why Nora Roberts encourages you to write, write anything and not to leave the page blank. Whatever you write can be fixed, edited and made better as long as you START.

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” – Jack London

Jack London knows best. Don’t wait for inspiration to come strolling along to get started. You have to find your own inspiration and go after what you need.

I block out four hours to write. I’ll give myself one hour to write. During that time, I’ll write as if there was a deadline. —

On writing struggles:

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” – Robert Forest

Always place yourself in the reader’s place when writing. If you don’t react to your characters and story, how do you expect the reader to?

“Write drunk, edit sober.” – Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway encourages you to write your raw first draft altogether and burying your inner perfectionist that’s itching to edit and fix.

“The first draft of everything is shit.” – Ernest Hemingway

Clearly, Hemingway knows his stuff, don’t you agree? It’s okay if your first draft has typos, grammar or spelling errors, and confusing structures – that’s what editing is for. The point of writing your first draft is just to get your story out on paper.

On editing your writing:

“Easy reading is damn hard writing.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

Edits require a lot of work and a lot of cutting. You need to make your writing easy and clear for your readers which would require some sacrifices…

“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” – William Faulkner

William Faulkner refers to those sacrifices, cuts that need to be made like favorite lines or metaphors for a better reading flow.

“Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.” – David Ogilvy

Don’t overdress your writing in big fancy words, it doesn’t make you look smarter, it just makes it harder for your readers to understand.

“Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.” – Jonathan Franzen

Again, don’t overcomplicate it and stick with the simplest verbs possible.

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

Anton Chekhov creatively refers to the “show don’t tell” theory. This is a concept many writers get confused with till today, it is always better to show how the moon is shining in details instead of just stating it is. Don’t be shy to explain what you need.

On finding a title:

“A good title is the title of a successful book.” – Raymond Chandler

Finding the perfect title is vital for your book, it’s a big part of defining if the book would be a success or not so keep looking, gather a few ideas and then choose your title.

On finishing your book:

“I hate writing, I love having written.” – Dorothy Parker

Finally, when all the hard writing and struggles are over, you’re left satisfied and proud of your work.

At the end of the day, we writers all feel strongly with the author of the bestselling classic American Gods when said…

“Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.” – Neil Gaiman