If you’re anything like me, you regularly find yourself split between the will to write and the crushing weight of apathy. Writing is not an easy pastime and it’s definitely not an easy career choice. So check out what 10 of the greatest authors of all time had to say about becoming a better writer.
1. Always Have a Notebook Handy
Being a writer means finding inspiration in the world around us. Unfortunately, you never know when that inspiration is going to strike, so it’s helpful to keep a notebook handy.
“Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.”
— Will Self
2. You Can’t Write If You Don’t Read
How can you expect to write the next bestseller if you don’t know what makes a bestseller? It’s important to read, especially books that are in the same genre as your manuscript or WIP.
“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.”
— William Faulkner
3. Discipline is Key
If you want writing to be your career, you have to be willing to treat it like a career. That means being professional and working even when you don’t necessarily want to. Writing is a commitment. It’s up to you to decide how big that commitment is and what you want to achieve through your writing.
“All through my career I’ve written 1,000 words a day—even if I’ve got a hangover. You’ve got to discipline yourself if you’re professional. There’s no other way.”
— J.G. Ballard
4. Write What You’d Read
What is the point in writing something that you wouldn’t even like to read? You’re going to be spending a lot of time with your manuscript, it needs to be something you enjoy reading. What’s more, you can’t hope to be genuine with your readers and engage them if you don’t even like the product you’re selling.
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
— Toni Morrison
5. Let the Ideas Come As They Will
One of the most important things to learn about creative energy? It answers to no one. Ideas are not always going to come to you in the most convenient of time or places. Just let the ideas come as they will and occupy the space they need. While they may not come in the order you want them, you may be surprised to find that creative energy and inspiration come exactly when they are needed.
“When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.”
— Kurt Vonnegut
It’s kind of hard to be a writer if you’re not writing.
You aren’t going to want to write everyday. Hell, you might be the kind of writer that only feels the pang of inspiration once a month. Whatever your schedule it’s important to HAVE ONE and to STICK TO IT.
If you want to be a serious writer, write everyday. It doesn’t matter how you’re feeling or what is going on in your life. Make yourself sit down and write something…anything.
“Planning to write is not writing. Outlining … researching … talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.”
— E.L. Doctorow
7. Write Hot, Edit Cool
When you feel that stab of inspiration it’s important that you go for it. Write down that fully formed paragraph in your head before it slips away, to hell with the grammar. Creative genius strikes when it strikes, there’s not much we can do about that, so it’s important that you write your ideas down with them come. Remember: you’re going to spend more time editing than you are writing.
“The first draft of everything is shit.”
— Ernest Hemingway
8. A Time to Show, Not Tell
Don’t over-describe. Instead, lead your readers on by using the action of the scene around them. Give the readers some license to imagine and allow their minds to wander through the scene alongside your creative hand.
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
— Anton Chekhov
9. It’s Okay To Make Mistakes
If you think that everything you write is going to be the best-thing-ever…think again. Writing is hard and you’re not always going to get it right.
Allow yourself to make mistakes. Learn from the things you get wrong. Walk hand-in-hand with that cringeworthy trope you misused and remember never to go there again. Even the greatest writers in the world have written some truly horrible crap. Just because you haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it’s not out there…
“We learn from failure, not from success!”
— Bram Stoker
10. Write What You Know
We have all heard this one before: write what you know.
It’s said that truth is stranger than fiction, and often that is the case. Write about things you really know about, things you’ve experienced, things you’ve seen first hand. Inject little pieces of your real life into your fiction and you’ll create an experience that your readers will truly enjoy.
“Tell your story. Don’t try and tell the stories that other people can tell. Because [as a] starting writer, you always start out with other people’s voices—you’ve been reading other people for years… But, as quickly as you can, start telling the stories that only you can tell—because there will always be better writers than you, there will always be smarter writers than you … but you are the only you.”
— Neil Gaiman