2002 op-ed in The New York Times, best-selling author Joseph Epstein noted that “81 per cent of Americans feel they have a book in them — and that they should write it.”
Thanks to the rise of the self-publishing industry, that number’s probably even higher a decade later.
So, wannabe authors, before you start writing the next great American novel, here’s some helpful advice from the world’s most famous and successful writers on how to perfect your craft.
Learn them. Memorize them. Internalize them.
Did we miss your favourite quote on writing? Add it in the comments.
On Getting Started:
“I always advise children who ask me for tips on being a writer to read as much as they possibly can. Jane Austen gave a young friend the same advice, so I’m in good company there.” – J.K. Rowling, “Harry Potter” series.
“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.” – Harper Lee, “To Kill A Mockingbird.”
“You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.” – Jack London, “White Fang.”
On Word Choice And Punctuation:
“Never use a long word where a short one will do.” – George Orwell, “1984.”
“If you are using dialogue — say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.” – John Steinbeck, “The Grapes of Wrath.”
“Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Great Gatsby.”
On Story Development:
“The writer’s job is to get the main character up a tree, and then once they are up there, throw rocks at them.” – Vladimir Nabokov, “Lolita.”
“A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.” – Edgar Allen Poe, “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
“Get it down. Take Chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.” – William Faulkner, “The Sound and the Fury.”
“Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way.” – Ray Bradbury, “Fahrenheit 451.”
“Write drunk, edit sober.” – Ernest Hemingway, “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.” – Stephen King, “The Green Mile.”
“My own experience is that once a story has been written, one has to cross out the beginning and the end. It is there that we authors do most of our lying.” – Anton Chekhov, “The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories.”
“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, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”
“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” – Mark Twain, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”
And Why Simplicity Is Always Key:
“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” – Thomas Jefferson, “The Declaration of Independence” and other writings.
“Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.” – William Butler Yeats, “Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry.”
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