Tag Archives: writing tips

12 Books That Will Improve Your Self-Knowledge – Darius Foroux – Pocket

Being yourself starts with knowing yourself.

Source: 12 Books That Will Improve Your Self-Knowledge – Darius Foroux – Pocket

Every piece of personal or professional growth you achieve in life starts with one thing: Self-knowledge.

Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher, who lived in the 6th century BC, put it best:

“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”

Whether you want to make a million bucks, build a strong relationship with your partner, or get in the best shape of your life — you can’t improve yourself without knowing yourself.

Self-knowledge is a skill, not a trait, talent, or divine insight. I used to live my life without one bit of introspection. Naturally, I had no idea who I was. Now, I’m getting better at it with practice. And the impact on my life has been huge.

I believe that knowing yourself is the key skill that predicts happiness and success in life. 

So I’ve made a list of 12 books that have helped me to know myself. I hope they will serve you too.

  1. HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Managing Yourself

The book’s description starts with, “The path to your professional success starts with a critical look in the mirror.” I can’t agree more.

This HBR collection also includes one of my all time favorite pieces on self-awareness, Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker. It also includes another article that I’ve found very useful: “How Will You Measure Your Life?” by Clayton M. Christensen.

This collection does not disappoint. Every piece will make you think more about your mission, vision, strengths, weaknesses, and how you can advance your career.

  1. Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman

In today’s world, it’s probably not you IQ that’s going to make you successful — it’s your EQ. Daniel Goleman is the key expert when it comes to emotional intelligence.

Most people think emotional intelligence is about managing other people’s emotions.

Well, there’s something that’s more important: Identifying and managing your own emotions. I believe that you can’t be an effective leader without EQ. This book helps you to get better at it.

  1. Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday

This is one of my favorite books of the past year. No other person could have written this book better than Ryan Holiday.

He has an impressive career. And a lot of bragging rights. But if you follow his work (which I’ve been doing for three years), you can tell he is a humble person who lets his work speak for him.

To me, that’s the perfect example of someone who has his ego in check. Because we have to be real, everyone has an ego. The question is: How do you manage it? Ego Is The Enemy helps you to do that.

  1. Become What You Are by Alan Watts

A collection of 20 essays by Alan Watts. His work was greatly inspired by Zen. And I think that Zen is a great source of internal knowledge.

I’ve tried reading different things about Zen. Watt’s writing is clear, practical, and beautiful. That makes it easier to read and think about. When you apply all the advice in this book, you’ll learn more about yourself and others.

  1. I Like Myself! by Karen Beaumont

I usually stick to books for grown-ups. But I just couldn’t resist mentioning this book here. One of my friends bought this book for his daughter a while back. And he loved the book as much as his daughter did.

I checked it out and it’s actually really fun. I can imagine that kids would love it too. It’s a great way to teach kids self-awareness.

I wish I had this book by Karen Beaumont as a child. So if you have kids, buy this book. And if you don’t have kids, get it for your family or friends who do.

  1. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

I only recently read Brené Brown’s book. I’d seen some of her videos and interviews and always appreciated her calm approach.

This book is exactly that. The Gifts of Imperfection helps you to understand that you’re good enough. We’re often too hard on ourselves. And that’s detrimental for our self-awareness.

When you learn that you have nothing to prove, you actually start living.

  1. Grinding It Out by Ray Kroc

Do you feel bad that you haven’t caught your big break yet? If so, read this book. You’ll feel different about it. Ray Kroc, who turned McDonald’s into a billion-dollar business, had to wait until his fifties to find some form of success.

It’s not only an inspirational story. It also helps you to put things in perspective. That’s a key aspect of self-awareness. It’s also good to read the perspective of a businessman. You can’t make a living by meditating all day.

  1. The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker

It’s no secret I’m a fan of Drucker. This book provides a practical perspective on productivity that I think every knowledge worker should read.

The most important lessons I’ve learned about work is this: It’s not about what you do, it’s about the results you get. That’s the difference between efficiency and effectiveness.

Sending 100 emails per hour might be very efficient use of your time. But what results does it bring you? That’s what matters the most.

  1. What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School by Mark H. McCormack

Even though I like scientific research, there are things science can’t teach you.

In this book, McCormack shares everything that people in business schools or companies will never tell you. He talks office politics, standing up for yourself, getting results, job-boredom, and making things happen.

The best thing? McCormack is street smart. His knowledge came from experience. And it’s still relevant.

  1. Notes To Myself by Hugh Prather

This book was recommended to me last year by a reader. Prather was a minister. When I first learned about that, I didn’t think I could relate to the book. But I gave it a try, and I really enjoyed it.

Notes To Myself is a good example of the fact that people are all the same internally. You might be from Japan, Chile, Portugal, Canada, Vietnam — you name it. At the end of the day, we face the same internal struggles.

  1. Mastery by George Leonard

Like Watts, George Leonard was also inspired by Zen. And his approach to life, learning, and mastery, is one that I’ve learned to appreciate a lot recently.

To me, it’s never about external things like praise, likes, sales, views, etc. Self-awareness has no end-destination. It’s about the process.

  1. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

You might think, “what does a book about running have to do with self-awareness?” To that, I say: Read this book.

It’s difficult to summarize What I Talk About When I Talk About Running other than that it’s a look inside the mind of a human being. It’s worth reading even if you don’t like running or Murakami. This is one of my all-time favorite books because it’s the most honest book I’ve read.

As you can see, there are no books about self-knowledge or self-awareness on this list. The best way to develop self-knowledge is to look inwardly. Do that enough, and you’ll know yourself better.

Yes, you can read about the thoughts of other people for inspiration. But remember they are NOT YOU.

To know yourself, you must follow that little voice inside of you. You might not hear it yet, but it’s definitely there.

You just have to find it. Within.

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Writing tip Wednesday: “Work Alone: Ernest Hemingway’s 1954 Nobel Acceptance Speech”

“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.”

By Maria Popova


“One can never be alone enough to write,” Susan Sontag observed. Solitude, in fact, seems central to many great writers’ daily routines — so much so, it appears, that part of the writer’s curse might be the ineffable struggle to submit to the spell of solitude and escape the grip of loneliness at the same time.

Ernest Hemingway

In October of 1954, Ernest Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. But he didn’t exactly live every writer’s dream: First, he told the press that Carl Sandburg, Isak Dinesen and Bernard Berenson were far more worthy of the honor, but he could use the prize money; then, depressed and recovering from two consecutive plane crashes that had nearly killed him, he decided against traveling to Sweden altogether. Choosing not to attend the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm on December 10, 1954, Hemingway asked John C. Cabot, the United States Ambassador to Sweden at the time, to read his Nobel acceptance speech, found in the 1972 biography Hemingway: The Writer as Artist (public library). At a later date, Hemingway recorded the speech in his own voice. Hear an excerpt, then read the transcript of the complete speech below:

Having no facility for speech-making and no command of oratory nor any domination of rhetoric, I wish to thank the administrators of the generosity of Alfred Nobel for this Prize.

No writer who knows the great writers who did not receive the Prize can accept it other than with humility. There is no need to list these writers. Everyone here may make his own list according to his knowledge and his conscience.

It would be impossible for me to ask the Ambassador of my country to read a speech in which a writer said all of the things which are in his heart. Things may not be immediately discernible in what a man writes, and in this sometimes he is fortunate; but eventually they are quite clear and by these and the degree of alchemy that he possesses he will endure or be forgotten.

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.

For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.

How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him.

I have spoken too long for a writer. A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it. Again I thank you.

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How to Write for a Blog: 10 Tips for Writing Web Content that Gets Noticed

How to write for a blog: authors need to learn to write Web content these days. 10 tips to help you attract Web readers and search engine spiders.

Source: How to Write for a Blog: 10 Tips for Writing Web Content that Gets Noticed

Good Web content attracts those search engine spiders.

by Anne R. Allen

These days, pretty much all writers need to learn to write Web content. Yes, even if you’re a Victorian romance author whose readers care more about reticules and spatterdashers than retweets and SEO.  Even if you don’t have your own blog. Any website needs content. Plus you may want to plan a blog tour to promote your book launch, or guest on a blog for visibility.  (Guest blogging is one of the best ways to market your book for free.)

Like it or not, all writers need to become “Web content providers” these days.

Yeah, I know. Sounds a lot less creative than “author” doesn’t it? And harder.

But it actually isn’t. Writing Web content is a little different from writing a traditional essay or magazine article, but it’s not hard. You just have to learn some basic guidelines.

Learning to Write Web Content Involves Unlearning

Especially what you were taught about paragraphing.

According to Mike Blankenship at Smart Blogger, the paragraph has gone through radical changes in the 21st century.  He says the 100-200 word standard paragraph has disappeared.  Now your average paragraph should be between two and four lines. You can go over and under — some paragraphs can be just one word long — but stay close to that average and you should be fine.

But don’t make them all the same length. Blankenship says, “Too many same-sized paragraphs in a row will bore your reader. It doesn’t matter if it’s too many small paragraphs or too many long paragraphs, the effect is similar.”

I had to unlearn a whole lot of what I was taught about writing prose back in the 20th century in order to be an effective Web content provider today. (Many thanks to my first online editor, Daryl Jung at the online zine Inkwell Newswatch.)

Back in the 20th century, good writers…

  • Learned to use topic sentences and avoid cutting to a new paragraph until there’s a new topic.
  • Wrote for people who paid money for our words and read every one.
  • Wouldn’t put a title on a serious essay that looked like a cheap tabloid headline.
  • Avoided repetition.
  • Would never offer an outline instead of an essay.
  • Substantiated information with footnotes.
  • Never heard of tags, keywords, or SEO.

But the majority of people don’t read on the Internet; they skim. In fact, most people don’t even skim the whole article. Farhad Manjoo famously reported that only half the people who visit a website read past the first hundred words.

So how do you get them to come by…and stick around?

Forget all of the above and learn some new tricks:

1) Write Grabby Titles

This is probably the most important aspect of learning to blog.

Mystery author C. Hope Clark once said in her “Funds for Writers” newsletter: “You might be surprised at the key factor I use in deleting or holding to read: The quality of the subject line. Hey, when time is crazy limited…the words have to snag me as I rush by. That means first and foremost that the subject be crisp, sharp, attractive, intriguing, or whatever adjective you want to use that gives me whiplash. It has to shout, “HEY, READ ME OR YOU’LL REGRET IT.”

She’s right.

Headers are the most important element of your blog content, and it’s the one most novelists don’t get. We want our blogs to sound creative and literary like our books, not cheesy like a supermarket tabloid. But tabloid journalists are good at what they do. They have only a moment to grab a reader going through that checkout line, so they need an irresistible hook.

In our case, headers need to snag a reader in the endless stream of content Web browsers can choose from.

So how do we do that?

Here are 8 ways you can grab a Web reader’s attention with your story about, say, a writer who suspects her bathroom is haunted.

  1. Stir emotions: “The Tragic Ghost that Haunts my Bathroom.”
  2. Offer useful advice: “How to Make Sure a Building isn’t Haunted before you Sign that Rental Agreement.”
  3. You can sensationalize: “Why This Woman is Afraid of her own Apartment!”
  4. Or appeal to sentiment: “This Story of a Cat and a Flapper’s Ghost Will Melt Your Heart.”
  5. Maybe stir up some greed: “How Wendy Writer inked a 7- Figure Deal with her Haunted Apartment Story.”
  6. Paranoia is good: “Is Your Bathroom Haunted?”  Or “Who or WHAT is Flushing Your Toilet in the Middle of the Night?”
  7. Curiosity, too: “10 Things You Don’t Know about Poltergeists.”
  8. Or you can appeal to thriftiness: “Save Money and Time with a Do-It-Yourself Exorcism.”

2) Promise a Speedy Read

Everybody’s in a hurry online.

Author Jillian Mullin recently wrote in the Web Writer Spotlight: “Generally, an average Web user only spends 10 to 30 seconds reading Internet content. People rarely read web pages word-per-word. Instead, they scan the page for related keywords, bullet points, subtitles, and quotes.”

That’s why one of the best ways to let people know you’ve got a quick, easy-scan piece is with a numbered “listicle” like “The 10 Best Ghostwritten Books” or “5 Signs Your Computer is Possessed.” Or, ahem, “10 tips for Writing Strong Web Content.”

The other thing is to learn to harness the power of white space. A page with lots of white space looks can be taken in at a glance..

I remember picking up a book my Yale-professor dad left in the living room when I was about 8 years old. It was thin and had lots of white space. An easy, quick read, I thought. So I sat down and read it before lunch. But the content was a bit disturbing. A mother did some really terrible things to the girl her husband was having an affair with. Then she killed her kids.

Yeah, it was the Robinson Jeffers translation of Euripides’ Medea. But hey, it was a quick read!

3) Pack Your Opener with Essential Information

Make sure your most important information is visible as soon as somebody opens your blog. People do a lot of reading on phones and small tablets these days, so those first words are all-important.

It’s also what Google shows in the search results. And those opening words will help the search engine spiders decide what searches will pick it up, so you need some keywords there, too. (Spiders, or “crawlers” are the programs that examine websites so they can index them for the search engine. Spiders are our friends and help make us visible on the Web.)

Since most people won’t read past the second paragraph, you don’t want to save your best stuff for the end. Half a century ago, journalists were taught to “humanize” stories by starting with a human interest line.

“Wendy Writer shouldn’t have a care in the world. She’s a pretty thirty-something freelance writer living in a gorgeous Victorian triplex in Old Town. She’s sitting on the front porch of the house she moved into last month with her cat Hortense. The three-story home was once owned by one Mildred Biggins, who died in 1924…”

The reporter could wait to get to the lead (then known as the “lede” to differentiate from the metal originally used to make type) in the third or fourth sentence. Not so anymore. You’ve got to give people the facts in the first 50-60 characters.

50-60 characters. That’s all Google shows in the search results, so make those characters work hard.

Just say it: “Wendy Writer’s house is haunted by the ghost of Mildred Biggins.”

4) Make Every Title Tweetable

Even if you’re not on Twitter, the reading public is, and you want your readers to share your piece and spread it around the Internet. Otherwise nobody reads it but your mom, your cat and maybe the poltergeist that might be lurking in the upstairs bathroom.

This means we have to avoid enigmatic, one-word headers that don’t give people any idea of your content. I recently saw a title that exemplified the kind of header that doesn’t work in the age of Twitter. The article was called “Ghosting.” It turned out to be about ghostwriting–a very timely subject at the moment.

But you wouldn’t know from the title. It might have been a piece on Tinder dates who evaporate, or ectoplasmic apparitions, or that short-lived TV show with Adam Scott and Craig Robinson. I didn’t have time to write a new header, so I didn’t retweet it.

You don’t want that to happen to your posts.

5) Use and Properly Format Subheaders

Sub-headers are essential for drawing traffic and keeping it. They have three jobs:

  1. Emphasize your important points.
  2. Draw the eye through the piece.
  3. Signal your topics to search engines via keywords.

So if you’re writing about Mildred Biggins, you want to use sub-headers that contain keywords like ” ghost” , “haunted” , and “poltergeist” , rather than “Flappers in the Night”  or ” Mildred or Hortense…who’s Flushing the Toilet at 3 AM?” .

IMPORTANT: Be sure to use the “header” and “subheader” mode in your blog program, and not the “normal” or “paragraph” setting.

For Blogger users, the sub-header menu is on the left-hand side of the toolbar, where you see the word “normal.”  That window has a menu, where you can choose Heading, Subheading, or Minor Heading.

For WordPress users, it’s in the menu where you see “paragraph” as the default setting. You can choose “Headings” from one down to six.

When I started blogging, I didn’t have a clue about formatting, and didn’t know that spiders don’t recognize “normal” text as a sub-header even if it looks like one to human eyes. Finally somebody told me about the importance of using the appropriate formatting and our blog stats soared.

6) Write in a Light, Conversational Style

A blog is not the place to show off your encyclopedic vocabulary. If somebody has to click around to look up a word, they probably won’t come back.

It’s also not the place for jargon. Don’t write in geekspeak, legalese, or that “most scholars agree” phony-tony style you learned to use for college term papers.

Many tech people write in a language comprehensible only to them. It identifies them as “in the know.” But an “in crowd” blog isn’t going to get as many followers as one that’s friendly and welcoming to all.

Marketers and SEO specialists are some of the worst offenders. Several years ago, I remember being told I had to learn about something called Google Authorship. I read dozens of blogposts about it, but I couldn’t figure out if it was a software program, an app, a Google Plus circle, or the name of Larry Page’s secret Caribbean island. Nobody seemed able to define it. They only made fun of people who didn’t have it.

A few years later, I read that Google Authorship had died. I couldn’t help feeling it had something to do with the fact nobody outside of Google had any idea what it was.

You’re not going to reach the general public if you write in geek-speak and act smug.

7) Shorten your Sentences

My tech guru, Barb Drozdowich of Bakerview Consulting, has put little elves on this blog who rate my posts for “readability” before I post. The elves, aka algorithms, are courtesy of a WordPress plug-in called Yoast SEO. They give me a green light if I pass muster, an orange one if I’m getting too complex, and a red one if I’m moving into Ph.D. territory.

My most common offense? Long sentences. Ruth too. We’re old school. We know how to compose and punctuate complex sentences and we have fun writing them.

But it turns out Web readers don’t have so much fun reading them. And neither do the spiders. Once I started using Yoast, our traffic soared.  As they say, “Yoast SEO does everything in its power to please both visitors and search engine spiders.”

It’s all about the spiders, people.

If you have trouble writing short sentences, Copyblogger has some helpful exercises to help you be creative with fewer words.

8) Format all Web Content so it’s Easy to Skim

Skimming is easier with lists, bullet points, and bolding. Italics can be useful too—anything to draw the eye along the text.

MS Word makes this a breeze. Unfortunately a lot of Word formatting doesn’t translate to blog programs, so you may have to resort to primitive means like numbering your own lists or using asterisks for bullet points.

A numbered list has a three-fold benefit:

  1. It provides lots of white space.
  2. And draws the eye through.
  3. Plus gives you a hook for your grabby title.
  • Bullet points are good too. Like numbered lists, bullet points are easy to grasp at a glance and they let people know they’re getting the “good parts.”
  • Bolding is powerful: It’s especially good for headers and other significant information.
  • Italics provide emphasis: Putting a quote in italics sets it apart from the normal text.

9) Choose Informative Anchor Text for Hyperlinks

Hyperlinks are all-important in writing Web content.

What are hyperlinks? It’s okay to ask. I had no idea how to make a hyperlink for the first six months I blogged. You make a hyperlink when you turn an ugly URL like this: https://annerallen.com/2019/01/new-writing-scams-2019/  into a live bit of text that you can click on to take you to that address.

You make a hyperlink by selecting the text (called “anchor text”) that you want people to click on. Then you go to the icon that looks like two links of chain up there on the menu bar. Or in Blogger it is cleverly identified with the word “Link.”

Don’t make the link with the word “here” or “this link.” That’s because the words “here” and “this link” don’t mean anything to those Google spiders.

So select the whole phrase and make the hyperlink to that. So you’d select the words, “New Writing Scams” and put in the URL to that post. (Like the ugly one above.)

Spiders only notice links with identifying text. So either use the title of the piece as I did above, or say something about it, like “Author hounded relentlessly by scam marketers”

10) Keep Keywords and SEO in Mind, but Don’t Lard Your Post with Repetitions

I know SEO is one of those jargon expressions that make most writers’ eyes glaze over. A lot of people think it means repeating the same words over and over. But search engines actually favor using regular speech these days, so you don’t usually need to do anything strange to “optimize” for a search engine.

All you need to do is use simple keywords to help Google and other search engines find you. The best way to optimize for search engines is check after you write your post to see if you have keywords in the following:

  • Headline
  • First paragraph
  • Sub-headers
  • Anchor text for hyperlinks.
  • Tags

And don’t worry a lot if you can’t cram them all in there. Treat that list as a helpful guideline, but don’t obsess or your prose will sound stilted and boring.

Using keywords simply means using the most basic words about your topic. So when you’re writing your copy or header, think of what words somebody might put into a search engine on the topic you’re writing about.

Say you’re writing about Wendy Writer’s cat, who has been flushing the toilet in the middle of the night, making her think the house is haunted by a long-dead tenant. Here are some possible headlines:

  1. “Hortense the Cat is a Genius.”
  2. “Wendy Writer Discovers the Truth About Mildred Baggins.”
  3. “Can Your Cat Learn to Flush a Toilet?”

So put yourself in the shoes of a person who might be interested in a story about a toilet-flushing cat. Are they more likely to type “cat flush toilet” into Google, or “Hortense” ,”genius”, or “Mildred Baggins”?

Again it turns out that empathy, rather than a gimmick, is the most powerful “tip” of all.


What about you, scriveners? Do you format your blog posts for easy skimming? Do you know how to make friends with the spiders? Have you found using subheaders increases your blog traffic? 

by Anne R. Allen (@annerallen) March 3, 2019

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Writing tip Wednesday: “King me”

Stephen King's 14 rules for writing


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June 27, 2018 · 9:21 pm

Writing tip Wednesday: “Margaret Atwood’s rules for writing fiction”

Don’t expect it to be easy and sometimes it won’t be fun, but it is largely up to you how far you go and how well you do, and most of the tools are easily obtainable. Don’t forget to stretch your back while stretching your mind.

  1. Take a pencil to write with on airplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: Handmaid's Tale by Atwoodtake two pencils.
  2. If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.
  3. Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.
  4. If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a ­memory stick.
  5. Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.
  6. Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What ­fascinates A will bore the pants off B.
  7. You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.
  8. You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.
  9. Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.
  10. Prayer might work. Or reading ­something else. Or a constant visual­isation of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.

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Buy a cat, stay up late, don’t drink: top 10 writers’ tips on writing | Books | The Guardian

Made a New Year resolution to start writing that novel? Take some writing tips from Leo Tolstoy, Muriel Spark, John Steinbeck and other famous authors

Source: Buy a cat, stay up late, don’t drink: top 10 writers’ tips on writing | Books | The Guardian

Made a New Year resolution to start writing that novel? Take some writing tips from Leo Tolstoy, Muriel Spark, John Steinbeck and other famous authors

Source: Buy a cat, stay up late, don’t drink: top 10 writers’ tips on writing | Books | The Guardian

By Travis Elborough


Over the past year, Helen Gordon and I have been putting together Being a Writer, a collection of musings, tips and essays from some of our favourite authors about the business of writing, ranging from the time of Samuel Johnson and Grub Street, to the age of Silicon Roundabout and Lorrie Moore.

Researching the book, it quickly became obvious that there isn’t a correct way to set about writing creatively, which is a liberating thought. For every novelist who needs to isolate themselves in a quiet office (Jonathan Franzen), there’s another who works best at the local coffee shop (Rivka Galchen) or who struggles to snatch an hour between chores and children (a young Alice Munro).

Conversely, it also became apparent that alongside all this variety of approach, there are certain ideas and pieces of advice that many writers hold in common. In an 1866 letter to Mrs Brookfield, Charles Dickens suggests that: “You constantly hurry your narrative … by telling it, in a sort of impetuous breathless way, in your own person, when the people [characters] should tell it and act it for themselves.” Basically: SHOW DON’T TELL. Three words that will be familiar to anyone who has sat in a 21st-century creative writing class.

Our book therefore contains a lot of writing advice, ranging from the sternly practical to the gloriously idiosyncratic. We have writers talking about what went wrong, as well as what went right. They discuss failing to finish a manuscript, failing to find a publisher, badly realised characters and tortuous, unwieldy plots. Here are a just few of our favourite tips, which we believe any aspiring writer should take to heart.

  1. Hilary Mantel – a little arrogance can be a great help
    “The most helpful quality a writer can cultivate is self-confidence – arrogance, if you can manage it. You write to impose yourself on the world, and you have to believe in your own ability when the world shows no sign of agreeing with you.”

  2. Leo Tolstoy and HP Lovecraft – pick the hours that work best for you
    Tolstoy believed in starting first thing: “I always write in the morning. I was pleased to hear lately that Rousseau, too, after he got up in the morning, went for a short walk and sat down to work. In the morning one’s head is particularly fresh. The best thoughts most often come in the morning after waking while still in bed or during the walk.”

    Or stay up late as HP Lovecraft did: “At night, when the objective world has slunk back into its cavern and left dreamers to their own, there come inspirations and capabilities impossible at any less magical and quiet hour. No one knows whether or not he is a writer unless he has tried writing at night.”

  1. William Faulkner – read to write
    “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 is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.”
  2. Katherine Mansfield – writing anything is better than nothing
    “Looking back I imagine I was always writing. Twaddle it was too. But better far write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all.”
  3. Ernest Hemingway – stop while the going is good
    “Always stop while you are going good and don’t worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry bout it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.”

  4. John Steinbeck – take it a page at a time
    “Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day. It helps.”
  5. Miranda July – don’t worry about the bad drafts
    “I was a lot dumber when I was writing the novel. I felt like worse of a writer … would come home every day from my office and say, ‘Well, I still really like the story, I just wish it was better written.’ At that point, I didn’t realise I was writing a first draft. And the first draft was the hardest part. From there, it was comparatively easy. It was like I had some Play-Doh to work with and could just keep working with it – doing a million drafts and things changing radically and characters appearing and disappearing and solving mysteries: Why is this thing here? Should I just take that away? And then realising, no, that is there, in fact, because that is the key to this. I love that sort of detective work, keeping the faith alive until all the questions have been sleuthed out.”
  6. F Scott Fitzgerald – don’t write and drink
    “It has become increasingly plain to me that the very excellent organisation of a long book or the finest perceptions and judgment in time of revision do not go well with liquor. A short story can be written on the bottle, but for a novel you need the mental speed that enables you to keep the whole pattern inside your head and ruthlessly sacrifice the sideshows … I would give anything if I hadn’t written Part III of Tender Is the Night entirely on stimulant.”
  7. Zadie Smith – get offline
    “Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.”
  8. Muriel Spark* – get a cat
    “If you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially on some piece of writing or paper-work, you should acquire a cat. Alone with the cat in the room where you work … the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle under the desk lamp. The light from a lamp … gives the cat great satisfaction. The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding. And the tranquillity of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impeded your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self-command it has lost. You need not watch the cat all the time. Its presence alone is enough. The effect of a cat on your concentration is remarkable, and very mysterious.’
    *(or rather, the character of Mrs Hawkins in A Far Cry from Kensington.)


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Writing tip Wednesday: “Humor Poetry Contest”

Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest (no fee)

Ends on April 1, 2018

Submit one humor poem, up to 250 lines. First prize of $1,000 and second prize of $250. Ten Honorable Mentions will receive $100 each. The top 12 entries will be published online. There is no fee to enter. Judge: Jendi Reiter, assisted by Lauren Singer.

In addition to English, your poem may contain inspired gibberish. You may submit published or unpublished work. Please omit your name from your entries. We prefer 12-point type or larger. Please avoid fancy, hard-to-read fonts.

Please submit only one poem to this contest.

Source and further details: https://winningwriters.submittable.com/submit/58279/wergle-flomp-humor-poetry-contest-no-fee

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Filed under 2017, contest, writing tip, Writing Tip Wednesday