How to Be a Better Writer

In her book, 10 Rules of Writing, Elmore Leonard advised would be authors to – ‘Get an accountant, abstain from sex and similes, cut, rewrite, then cut and rewrite again – if all else fails, pray’. Whilst Ernest Hemmingway famously wrote, ‘There is nothing to writing. All you do is just sit at a typewriter and bleed.’

But surely there’s more to great writing than simply praying and hemorrhaging at your desk… I’ve analysed advice by famous authors in an attempt to discover how to become a better writer.  My favourite tips are listed below; let me know what you think of them.

1. “Find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!” – Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451

How to use it:

At first glance it seems Bradbury is advocating a sort of voodoo magic in the creative writing process whereby protagonists take care of the plot for you. However I think what he’s really saying here is that your characters should be so well developed they could just walk off the page and that their traits not your plot requirements should determine the action they take.

2. “If you have other things in your life – family, friends, good productive day work – these can interact with your writing and the sum will be all the richer.” – David Brin, award winning science fiction author.

How to use it:

What a great reminder there’s a life outside the writing shed! Inspiration doesn’t come from staring inwards, it comes from living in the real world and interacting with real people.

The genius of a novel can begin almost anywhere- a childhood memory, dramatic scenery, an eavesdropped conversation never quite understood. Toni Morrison’s novel, Sula starts in this way whilst Tony Hillerman’s novels were inspired by the southwestern landscape and William Faulkner’s masterpiece The Sound and The Fury was born out of a childhood memory of a ‘little girl’s muddy drawers.’

3. “Write drunk, edit sober” – Peter deVries

How to use it:

Writers like Raymond Chandler and Dylan Thomas rarely put a sentence together without a whiskey in easy reach. However, I don’t think deVries is advocating alcoholism in the writing process. Instead he’s making the point that writing and editing require two completely different mindsets and shouldn’t take place at the same time.

When you write you should be free and open minded. To produce your best work you need to follow your instincts and let the words flow unchecked.

Conversely when editing you need to be brutal. You need to ask if a character would really say or do such and such. You need to check the words you’ve used are ‘the best words in the best order’. And most importantly, as Virginia Woolfe said, you need to be prepared to ‘kill your darlings’.

4. “The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself” – Oscar Wilde

This is my favourite piece of advice and it needs no analysis or explanation. If you agree with Wilde please share of your top writing tips (famous or homegrown) in the comment section below.In her book, 10 Rules of Writing, Elmore Leonard advised would be authors to- ‘Get an accountant, abstain from sex and similes, cut, rewrite, then cut and rewrite again – if all else fails, pray’. Whilst Ernest Hemmingway famously wrote, ‘There is nothing to writing. All you do is just sit at a typewriter and bleed.’

But surely there’s more to great writing than simply praying and hemorrhaging at your desk… I’ve analysed advice by famous authors in an attempt to discover how to become a better writer.  My favourite tips are listed below; let me know what you think of them.

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2 thoughts on “How to Be a Better Writer

  1. Thanks for a great post. Tip number 2 to me is one of the most important bits of advice – use life as inspiration.
    Two of my favourite writing advice quotes are:
    “Always carry a note-book. 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
    I personally am a self confessed note book addict
    “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” – Stephen King

    Like

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