Any professional author will tell you, there’s no trick to good creative writing but rather a battle between the brain and the soul. Still, that hasn’t stopped many famous writers from sharing a tip or two for the aspiring wordsmith.
Check out some of our favorite writing tips from authors throughout history…
“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 was clearly not a fan of the word “very,” but for good reason. There’s almost always a better word to use than simply putting very. For example, instead of a very beautiful sunset, perhaps it was magnificent.
“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
The famed poet Robert Frost left us with this powerful piece of writing advice. The lesson, we believe, Frost was trying to teach here was to never hold back when writing and that if you want your readers to truly feel something, you’ll have to feel it when writing it.
“Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll 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.”
Tell your story, write what you know, and don’t focus too hard on trying to be the smartest, most talented writer that ever wielded a pen (or a MacBook). You just might be surprised what you’re able to create.
“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.”
It’s virtually impossible (if not actually impossible) to be a great writer without reading. It doesn’t matter what you read, for even the bad books can teach you how not to write. As long as you’re consuming literature in some shape or form, it will help you grow as a writer.
“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.”
Well then, Mr. Vonnegut, that’s one way to put it. But before you go scratching every semicolon from your manuscript, it might be worth noting that Mr. Twain used one in his piece of advice on creative writing.
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
Piggy backing onto Faulkner’s advice, Stephen King points out the importance of not only reading, but writing as a way to hone and improve one’s craft. You have to write if you want to be a writer.
“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald
We all know someone who enjoys hitting shift+1 a little too much, but be careful this excited piece of punctuation doesn’t creep into your own writing. Many writers believe there’s no justifiable use for an exclamation point, and they just might be right.
“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
If you’re waiting for your next book idea to walk up and introduce itself by name, you can stop holding your breath. Occasionally, a story may present itself serendipitously, but more often than not you have to write and explore to discover it.
“The first draft of everything is shit.”
Said like a true literary master.But in all seriousness, your first run is almost never your best. A great story is edited, not written, into greatness and no one understood this more than Hemingway.
“Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.”
Known as the Father of Advertising, David Ogilvy knew a thing or two about using words to make people feel an emotion. His advice? Opt for clarity over literary showmanship.
“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”
While Lee’s advice might not help improve your writing, perseverance is something every good writer has to learn. The fact is, rejection letters are drastically more routine than printed by lines. If you want to be successful, you’ll have to get use to hearing no and forging on anyway.
“Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously.”
We felt that Lev Grossman’s writing advice was the perfect note to end on because at the end of the day, everyone has an opinion on what makes good writing and the fact is they’re all right and wrong at the same time. It’s ok to listen to feedback, but don’t stifle your own unique creative voice.
We hope you enjoyed these creative writing tips. If you have some writing advice you’d like to share, let us know in the comments and please, keep the exclamation points to a minimum.