How To Write Better and More: Advice From Authors
What gets in the way of our writing? There is no simple answer, of course, but here are some perspectives from accomplished authors on what to be aware of and what to do that may help write more and write better.
Stephen King relates an early experience that affected his writing and acceptance of himself as a writer – the kind of experience probably most of us have had to some degree: criticism from his high school teacher. He writes:
“‘What I don’t understand, Stevie,’ she said, ‘is why you’d write junk like this…You’re talented. Why do you want to waste your abilities?’ … I was ashamed.”
King goes on to admit [in his book “On Writing“]:
“I have spent a good many years since – too many, I think – being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who has ever published a line has been accused of wasting his or her God-given talent.
“If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.”
Quoted in my post Creative and rejected: Stephen King and others.
Also in his book, King notes “there’s plenty of opportunity for self-doubt” – but you have to continue writing:
“Stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea.”
[Photo: Stephen King at his desk (by Jill Krementz) – used for an edition of his book On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft.]
This kind of shaming criticism King wrote about can lead many talented and creative people to experience impostor or fraud feelings and beliefs about themselves and their abilities to be creative.
In my article Getting Beyond Impostor Feelings are many quotes by artists on the topic, and Valerie Young, Ed.D. addresses how we can change those feelings to be more confident and creative.
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Annie Dillard taught for years in the English department of Wesleyan University and has published many forms of writing. Her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek won a Pulitzer Prize.
The image includes one of her implied pieces of advice: “I don’t do housework. Life is too short…”
Of course, that may not be so easy if you don’t have the circumstances, or the financial means to hire a housekeeper – but still, it raise one of the crucial issues for a creator: Where do you invest your time, energy and attention?
Here are some of her cogent perspectives on the writing life from her book by that name:
“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time.
“Do not hoard what seems good for a later place… Something more will arise for later, something better.”
“Assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case… What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?”
Dillard comments on following your creative work:
“When you write, you lay out a line of words. The line of words is a miner’s pick, a woodcarver’s gouge, a surgeon’s probe. You wield it, and it digs a path you follow.
“Soon you find yourself deep in new territory. Is it a dead end, or have you located the real subject? You will know tomorrow, or this time next year.
She adds, “Process is nothing; erase your tracks. The path is not the work. I hope your tracks have grown over; I hope birds ate the crumbs; I hope you will toss it all and not look back.”
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Anne Lamott is a novelist and non-fiction writer, political activist, public speaker, and writing teacher.
In her popular book about writing, Bird by Bird, she comments on some of the key topics in a writing life, such as enthusiasm and re-writing. She writes:
“I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident.
“Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much.
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something — anything — down on paper.”
From her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.
Read more of her perspectives in my post Persistence and Faith and Hard Work.
Photo above from her post Anne Lamott shares all that she knows: “Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, and scared”, Salon.com.
This Anne Lamott quote image is from the Facebook page of AuthorUnlimited, a service for “Helping you write, publish and promote your bestselling book” by Cathy Presland.
In a post on her website titled “How Hard Can It Be?” she quotes another author:
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Pressland writes: “Very hard, according to Hemingway.
“And most writers find themselves stuck at one part of the process or another. Whether it’s not knowing where to start — that mush of too many ideas.
“Or whether it’s getting to, what I call the 80% stage. You can’t see your way to the end, and you wonder if anyone will want to read it anyway.
“Both of these, and more, are common places to get stuck. But it doesn’t have to be like that.”
Learn more about her online course Becoming A Writer.
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In this video, author and writing mentor Shelley Hitz talks about one of the experiences that can keep us from writing: excuses – which may show up as procrastination, a potential sign of anxiety about creative work.
She comments: “One of the common excuses I hear for not writing a book is, ‘I don’t know what to say.’ I’m going to ask you, ‘Have you talked to somebody today?’ The truth is, we all have plenty say. It’s simply a matter of getting started.
“A lot of times it’s a mind block of feeling like you don’t have anything to say for a BOOK.
What about for a journal entry?
What about for an email?
What about another form of communication? Recording a video?
“Do something and get the flow going so that you can get that information out of your head and onto paper so you can help people.”
Two of her programs:
Free webinar: 3 Proven Book Writing Formulas Every Nonfiction Author Needs to Know – Thursday, December 3rd.
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Journalist Shani Raja summarizes some of the basics of writing in this video:
The “online learning marketplace” Udemy has many courses on writing, including his class Writing With Flair: How To Become An Exceptional Writer.
The Udemy site notes “Shani Raja teaches top journalists how to improve their writing and has written and edited for some of the world’s biggest news organizations, including The Economist, Financial Times and Bloomberg News. Shani has also taught advanced writing skills to professionals and edited for leading global companies from Microsoft and IBM to PwC. He also teaches journalism to undergraduates.”
The course has had about 25,000 students enrolled, and includes over 31 lectures and 3.5 hours of content. Follow the link to see a free preview video.
Have you found any particular books or courses helpful for your own writing?
Eby, D. (2015). How To Write Better and More: Advice From Authors. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 19, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/creative-mind/2015/11/how-to-write-better-and-more-advice-from-authors/