Experience can often be the greatest teacher. When it comes to writing, every writer has their own personal experience on how they’ve been able to convey their art in the form of the written word. Personally, I love reading about the thoughts and processes behind some of my favorite pieces of literature.
While reading through interviews of various writers in preparation for this article, I realized how different every writer’s approach to writing truly is. While some writers would suggest writing first thing in the morning, others would advise writing at night. Some writers believe that complete silence is necessary to produce your best work, while others prefer background music. Some writers suggest sticking with what you enjoy reading, while others have suggested to read every and anything you can find.
This list is a curation of advice and quotes of different writers. While it is so important to learn from the experience of others, remember that your writing process is unique to you. As you read through this list, be open to new ideas and to discovering exactly what works for you and what doesn’t.
I hope that if you are a new writer, struggling with a project, or just looking for some inspiration from like-minded people, this article will help you find exactly what you’re looking for.
John Steinbeck: Read Your Dialogue Aloud
“If you’re using dialogue, say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.” - John Steinbeck
Poor dialogue can disrupt the flow of the reading experience. I definitely read all of my dialogue out loud or use the “read aloud” function on MS Word so that I can actually hear exactly how the dialogue sounds to ensure that it sounds natural.
Zadie Smith: Create a Writer’s Nook
“Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.” - Zadie Smith
I don’t know any writer who is able to create quality content while surrounded by people, pets, or any other distractions. It’s so important when writing that you have a specific space where you are able to work without being disrupted. Smith’s advice to protect your time and space is so critical to producing your best work.
Rose Tremain: Skip Planning the Ending
“In the planning stage of a book, don’t plan the ending. It has to be earned by all that will go before it.” - Rose Tremain
This advice is a bit controversial. While some writers will agree and feel completely comfortable writing without knowing exactly how their work will end, others need to have that sense of direction. It’s important that every writer is able to recognize what method is best for them.
Will Self: Always Carry a Notebook
“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 forever.” - Will Self
If you read my article Top Ten Tips to Make You a Better Writer, you know I love notebooks. As an artist, you never know when inspiration will strike, it’s important to always be prepared to take note of the thoughts that run through your mind as the day goes by. No one wants to lose that brilliant idea that came to them simply because they weren’t prepared, carry that notebook with pride!
Henry Miller: Focus On Your Current Book
“Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.” - Henry Miller
Are you like many of us writers with a never-ending list of partially written manuscripts? Sometimes it feels like every time I attempt to work on my current tasks a new idea hits me out of nowhere. But Miller is right, if you allow yourself to be distracted by the allure of your unwritten ideas, you’ll never have a completed book.
Stephen King: Make Your Writing Unique
“Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex, and work.” - Stephen King
If one hundred writers are all given the exact same topic to write on, every single piece will be completely different. Allow your writing to be affected by your own personal life experience. Pour a little bit of yourself into the words you put to the page and watch how amazing it will be.
If you want to read more of Stephen King’s writing advice, you can purchase a copy of his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, on Amazon. This book is full of useful and insightful advice that every aspiring writer should read. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in pursuing writing.
Stephen King - On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Tessa Wegert: Be Flexible
"The best advice I can offer aspiring authors is to be flexible. Be willing to experiment with new genres. You might find your niche somewhere unexpected." - Tessa Wegert
How would you know what genre you would enjoy writing in if you never step outside of your comfort zone? It’s important as a writer, while finding your voice, that you explore everything that’s out there. Never be afraid to try something new.
Anton Chekhov: Show, Don’t Tell
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” - Anton Chekhov
Show, don’t tell is a piece of writing advice every new and seasoned author has heard many times and holds true. By using vivid descriptions in your writing you are able to transport the reader into the story and create a richer experience. It allows you to connect with the emotions of your reader and leave a lasting impact long after they’ve shut the pages of the book.
Jaime Breitnauer: Trust Your Idea
"Trust your idea, and just start writing. It can seem like a huge task, especially if you have had your work commissioned and there is a relatively fixed deadline, but once you start putting words on the page it will come together, and there is always someone you can ask for a little bit of support." - Jaime Breitnauer
It isn’t always easy to trust the ideas that you have when starting a writing project. Oftentimes we can convince ourselves that what we’re writing isn’t good enough, that there wouldn’t be anyone who is interested in what we have to say, or even struggle with finding the right words. But like Breitnauer said, the words will eventually come together.
Ernest Hemingway: Write People Not Characters
“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature.” - Ernest Hemingway
Your readers should be able to relate to and empathize with your characters. They need to be fully developed and realistic people. When writing characters, it’s best to plan out all of the details of who your character is and try to get into the mindset of who this person is in order to properly translate their personality in your text.
Jess Zafarris: Be Deliberate About Your Word Choices
"Words have extraordinary power - their definitions and colloquial meanings, the way they evolve, and where they come from. Be deliberate and selective about the words you choose. Be voracious about collecting new words for your authorial toolkit. Always look up words you've never met before. And above all, wield your words for good, for creativity, and for the cultivation of knowledge." - Jess Zafarris
The words that you use in your book could make or break your writing. Reading helps you to expand your language and exposes you to new words. It’s so important as a writer to have a strong command of the language you write in. The ability to craft impactful sentences is essential to being a good writer.
Be voracious about collecting new words for your authorial toolkit.
— Jess Zafarris
Ray Bradbury: Quantity Produces Quality
"Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you're doomed." - Ray Bradbury
If you want to get better at writing, then just continue writing. The more you write, whether blog posts, short stories, journal entries, or full length books, the better your quality of writing will be over time. Every author will confirm that their writing has improved from the first time they published to where they currently are.
Bill Higgs: Write What You’re Passionate About
"Write something you are passionate about. Your passion will carry you through the ups and downs of the process." - Bill Higgs
Your reader can tell when you’re writing something that you don’t necessarily care about. Writing can be such a grueling process, when you’re writing something you care about it makes it all worthwhile.
Afia Atakora: Surround Yourself with Other Writers
"Writer friends are everything! We all know that the act of novel writing is solitary, and sometimes lonesome work, but when you crawl out of your cave it's so important to have friends there waiting who get it, who are ready to read and cheer you on, and who will send you right back into the cave when you need it." - Afia Atakora
Having a solid support system is crucial to success. No matter how supportive your friends and family may be, other writers will be able to understand your struggles and encourage you in a way that others simply could not. It’s great to have people around you who will be able to hold you accountable for meeting your goals as well as help you to improve as a writer.
Writer friends are everything!
— Afia Atakora
Kurt Vonnegut: Use Relevant Sentences
“Every sentence must do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action." - Kurt Vonnegut
One thing that I look out for while beta reading is the relevance of the sentences, paragraphs and chapters of a book. Your reader should never be left wondering about the purpose of any part of your book. Every line should be written with intent. If your sentence or paragraph doesn't move the story forward or reveal relevant information about a character, chances are it isn't necessary.
William Faulkner: Read Everything
“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
How does a writer know what good writing is if they never read? It’s extremely important as a writer to dedicate as much time as you can to reading. Stephen King has stated on his personal twitter account that he reads roughly about 80 books a year! Reading expands your imagination, exposes you to different writing styles, and allows you to improve on your own writing. According to Faulkner, read everything, you’ll never know about a different genre you could love if you only stick to what you usually read.
Christina Lauren: Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
"Run your own race. Don't worry about how fast someone else writes, how much another author makes, how many followers another author has. Write what makes you excited, and the enthusiasm will come through on the page." - Christina Lauren
The desire to compare yourself to others isn’t unusual, but it can be extremely detrimental. Everyone is different and everyone is following their own path. Comparing yourself to other authors and how successful they are will only lead you to feeling like you aren’t where you’re supposed to be. Embrace the process, and keep working toward your goals.
Nora Roberts: Just Write
"You can fix anything but a blank page.” -Nora Roberts
This advice is so straightforward but also so impactful. Sometimes as writers we dwell on our ideas for so long instead of actually writing. Sometimes we struggle with imposter syndrome and convince ourselves that our book isn’t going to be good. Just write, everything else will flow from there.
Devi S. Laskar: Don’t Listen to the Naysayers
"Don't give up, and don't lose your stubborn belief that you have a story worth telling. I've had so many people tell me over so many years that I didn't have the qualities needed to be a writer. All of my writer friends and I have one thing in common: We didn't listen to the naysayers. We kept writing. And eventually we have all been published." - Devi S. Laskar
Even your favorite authors have received bad reviews. Whenever you begin a creative endeavor, there will always be people who don't believe in you. As Laskar says, you can’t allow the negative thoughts and opinions of others to affect you. Keep pushing forward and those who love and appreciate your work will find you.
Andy Weir: Stop Daydreaming and Start Writing
“You have to actually write. Daydreaming about the book you’re going to write someday isn’t writing. It’s daydreaming. Open your word processor and start writing.” - Andy Weir
So many writers have an idea or story in mind that has not yet been written. You can only be considered a writer when you begin writing. As much fun as it is to daydream about a story idea and toy with the different possibilities and outcomes, the important thing is not to think about writing for too long and actually begin writing.
Mario Vargas Llosa: Write Even When You Don’t Feel Like It
"If I started to wait for moments of inspiration, I would never finish a book. Inspiration for me comes from a regular effort." - Mario Vargas Llosa
A lot of writers talk about having writer's block, not knowing what to write about, or not feeling inspired to write. Waiting for a moment of inspiration or waiting to feel motivated to write could result in your project taking so much longer to complete or never being completed at all. Oftentimes, when you begin writing, the words come to you, so just begin writing.
Annie Dillard: Write Like it’s the Last Thing You’ll Ever Write
“Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?” - Annie Dillard
I love this advice so much. What would you write if you knew it would be the very last thing you’ve ever written? What are you passionate about writing? Many authors suggest that the path to success is writing about the things that you love, or are passionate about. Readers can tell when an author cares about what they’re writing.
If you want to read more about Annie Dillard and her experience as a writer, you can purchase a copy of her book, The Writing Life, on Amazon. This incredible book feels like a conversation with a colleague about the ups and downs of this profession and I highly recommend that any new and aspiring writers get their hands on a copy.
Annie Dillard - The Writing Life
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Sherelle Timothy