This is an ideas piece – in which we collect the best writing tips we've ever heard.
One of the greatest things about living in the future is that the internet has given us access to the cumulative wisdom of all history and culture at our fingertips.
Better, it has allowed us to reduce that wisdom to a series of memes and tweets with no context or source.
It’s in that spirit that we’ve gathered together six quotes from some of western literature’s most influential writers for your inspiration.
Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted. – Kurt Vonnegut
This is lifted from his much lauded “8 Rules of a Good Short Story” which gets passed around writing circles like a celestial goon-bag.
It is possibly the most pertinent. It’s hard to think of a single form of writing that wouldn’t be improved by keeping this in mind. At the very least, it’s good manners.
Writers are always always selling someone out. – Joan Didion
Well, she would say that, wouldn't she? This is from “A Preface” in Slouching Towards Bethlehem. It’s one of those quotes writers tend to hang onto like a crucifix to excuse mortgaging their friends and family for material. In a way, it’s true. Journalism, when done right, can be defined as something someone else doesn’t want you to know. Same goes for memoir. Didion does both of them better than anyone.
The first draft of everything is shit. – Ernest Hemingway
This is one of those quotes posthumously attributed to Hemingway by a biographer, the veracity of which is out to sea, nonetheless; it’s true.
There are no immaculate conceptions in literature. Anyone who claims otherwise is lying through their perfect French Canadian teeth. Everything improves with revision.
Hemingway himself rewrote A Farewell to Arms 50 times and he still never got the hang of writing women.
Perseverance. That’s the first thing I say to any young person who wants to talk about writing. – Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates is essentially the United State's only functioning moral compass these days. This is lifted from an interview with The Atlantic, in which he stresses that writing is not a divine ability so much as sheer, stressful, joyless labour. He prefaces the above comment with: It’s really, really hard to make a living… a lot of young people want to be writers but what happens is the older you get the path is so tough and you get beat up so much that those people go to business a school and become lawyers and if you find yourself continuing up until the age of 35 or so or into your 40s you will have a skillset…I think that’s just so key to writing, perseverance.
Nobody is making you do this. – Margeret Atwood
That's the pithiest part of the pithiest thing said by the pithiest person there ever could be. The full quote is thus:
Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.”
Atwood wraps up several recurring themes here. Writing, even for the most celebrated writers, is work, but work of a very precarious nature. Writer's don't give their work to the world, they ask, in some cases beg, the world to recieve their work. The attributes required are an industrious constitution, patience, perseverance, quiet but unshakeable self-belief.
These attributes can, of course, be awarded to some writers more than others.
You are a magnificent writer who has thrilled millions. You are psychic. You do not masturbate. Snakes are not dangerous to you. – L. Ron Hubbard
The author of several works of classic science ficiton and the founder of the Church of Scientology allegedly dicated this affirmation to himself. This was excerpted from Lawrence Wright's Going Clear, a book which no publisher in Australia will touch, as the Church of Scientology has made it clear they don't approve of the work. Which is fair enough, because Writers Bloc does not believe in the persecution of any religion, especially a very wealthy and litigious one.
Anyhow, full affirmation below:
Nothing, no one opposes your writing. You can carry on a wild social life and still write 100,000 words a month. Your writing has a deep hypnotic effect on people. You will make fortunes writing. You will live to be two hundred years old. You will always look young. You are not a coward. You have no fear of what any woman may think of your bed conduct. You know you are a master. You know they will be thrilled. You have no fear if they conceive. What if they do? You do not care. Pour it into them and let fate decide. You are a magnificent writer who has thrilled millions. You are psychic. You do not masturbate. Snakes are not dangerous to you.
And there you have it. A little on the creative drive behind some of the world's most influential writers. If you dig these writing tips, please share it around.
This is an ideas piece, part of a series where writers discuss ideas around the craft of writing. To read more like this, click here.
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