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Words of Wisdom: 19 Writing Tips from Famous Authors

Categories: College Life, Writing

Are you staring at your computer screen trying to find the motivation to write that big essay or research paper?

Writing is hard work, but the good news is you’re not the only one who has felt that way. Even the greatest writers in history have struggled with the task.

Here are some of their words of wisdom to inspire you.

1. “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

Ok, so your instructor probably isn’t going to delete the word “damn.” You will have to go back over your paper and do that yourself. But the point about eliminating weak, unnecessary words still holds true.

2. “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekhov

Back up any assertions in your writing with data, evidence, quotes, or facts. Show, don’t tell.

3. “Never use a long word where a short one will do.” -George Orwell

Sometimes long words are great, but not when a short one is equally powerful.

4. “I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” – Elmore Leonard

Make sure that every part of your essay is essential to your argument and could never be left out.

5. “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong”. – Neil Gaiman

It’s helpful to enlist the help of fellow students to proofread because they will notice things that you don’t. But ultimately you will know what’s best for your own writing.

6. “Never use the passive where you can use the active.” – George Orwell

The passive voice is ineffective and it should be avoided. Use the active voice instead, for more strength and clarity.

7. “I’m always pretending that I’m sitting across from somebody. I’m telling them a story, and I don’t want them to get up until it’s finished.” -James Patterson

If you were reading your essay out loud to someone, would they want to listen to the whole thing? What can you do to make it more compelling?

8. “If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” -Stephen King

Reading increases your vocabulary and creativity. If you read more, writing will become easier.

9. “A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.” -Edgar Allen Poe

For every sentence in your paper, ask yourself how it builds up to your main point.

10. “Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.” -Ray Bradbury

As with any skill, you will need to practice your writing a lot in order to become good at it.

11. “The hardest part is believing in yourself at the notebook stage. It is like believing in dreams in the morning.” -Erica Jong

It’s daunting to think about all the steps in between the brainstorming stage and a finished paper. So take it one step at a time.

12. “Start as close to the end as possible.” – Kurt Vonnegut

Before you start, think about what your conclusion is going to be, and make the rest of your paper lead towards that.

13. “Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.” -F. Scott Fitzgerald

Let your facts and explanations speak for themselves.

14. “The first draft of everything is shit.” -Ernest Hemingway

Here’s a reality check: no matter how great a writer you are, you will definitely need to write more than one draft, so leave yourself plenty of time to do that.

15. “Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.” – Kurt Vonnegut

Give adequate details for your reader to thoroughly understand the topic and your point-of-view.

16. “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club”. ? Jack London

Even the greatest writers did not feel inspired all the time. Force yourself to write even if you don’t feel like it.

17. “Write drunk, edit sober”. – Ernest Hemingway

This is not a recommendation for excessive drinking. The point is that when you first start writing, try writing whatever comes into your head. You can always fix it later with a more critical, “sober” eye.

18. “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

Logout of Facebook and Instagram and turn off your phone when you need to finish a writing task. Make sure you have a quiet space dedicated to working.

19. “Be your own editor/critic. Sympathetic but merciless!” — Joyce Carol Oates

Even the best writers sometimes have trouble honestly evaluating their own work. As you read, imagine that a good friend wrote your paper instead of you. Treat your friend with kindness, but don’t hold back from suggesting needed changes.

If you’re having trouble writing, you’re in great company! So take inspiration from these famous authors to overcome your obstacles and get to work.