25 Writing Tips From Famous Writers

May 09, 2018 | 10 min read

It’s such a liberating thought that there is no one way to express your creativity as a writer. As fast as this feeling comes, it’s replaced by the daunting task of putting pen to paper. Everybody has a story to tell. A story that the whole world needs to hear. If you’re struggling to get those words out, or you just want some inspiration, this collection of thoughts, musings, and writing tips should help.

"Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone is a writer. Some are written in the books, and some are confined to hearts." -Savi Sharma

We collected 25 time-tested writing tips from bestselling authors from today and days past.

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25 Writing Tips From Famous Writers

1. “Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too.” - Isabel Allende

The works of Isabel Allende have sold over 70 million copies and been translated into 35 different languages. The Chilean writer is famous for novels such asThe House of the Spirits (1982) andCity of the Beasts (2002). She brilliantly weaved together elements of myth and realism, often relating to her personal experiences as a woman.

Allende went on to say, “I need to tell a story. It’s an obsession. Each story is a seed inside of me that starts to grow and grow, like a tumor, and I have to deal with it sooner or later.

2. “This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.” - Neil Gaiman

Source:Pens, Rules, Finishing Things And Why Stephin Merrit Is Not Grouchy

Following the advice of Allende, Neil Gaiman suggests putting one foot in front of the other. When a young writer asked the author how to take the last steps towards finish his stories, Gaiman offered this advice, “How do you finish them? You finish them.” Gaiman’s work has been honored with many awards including the Newbury and Carnegie Medals.

3. “If you’re using dialogue, say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.” -John Steinbeck

A Pulitzer Prize winner and Nobel laureate John Steinbeck has written a plethora of wisdom. Even if you’re not an avid reader, you’re probably familiar with Steinbeck’s most significant works. His novels,The Grapes of Wrath andOf Mice and Men defined the American Great Depression. Reading your text aloud to yourself helps to ensure that it flows like a conversation.

Leonard's Writing Wisdom

4. “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” -Elmore Leonard

Steinbeck and Leonard share similar writing wisdom. Whether you choose to read it aloud or rewrite it, take their advice and find a way to make your writing sound less like… writing.

5. “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

As writers, it’s crucial that we protect our personal space from the multitude of distractions we are faced with every day. Roommates, friends, family, work, and the neighbor's dog all can make it difficult to produce your best work. If you’re available to everybody and everything, you will feel drained and fatigued. When it comes to your work, you're not in the wrong for protecting your personal space.

6. “In the planning stage of a book, don’t plan the ending. It has to be earned by all that will go before it.” -Rose Tremain

Many writers will disagree with this quote. If you start with the end in mind, and that works for you, then maybe this advice isn’t for you. Rose Tremain, the English novelist suggests you earn the ending based on what you've developed beforehand.

7. “Always carry a notebook. 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

Will Self has authored ten novels, five short stories, three novellas, and five collections of non-fiction writing. The English novelist isn’t the only writer to carry a notebook at all times. Never forget that fleeting idea that could be your next great novel. Without writing them down, those forgotten thoughts will only come back to distract you and hold your mind prisoner.

Self is in good company. Richard Branson, the English business magnate, carries a notebook everywhere he goes. The billionaire considers himself a student of life.

8. "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." –Leonardo Da Vinci

You can find hundreds of writers who elect to use more straightforward language to get their point across. Sometimes, we assume that a bigger vocabulary means better writing, but that’s simply not true.

Here are a few more quotes to get the point across.

“Writing isn’t about using words to impress. It’s about using simple words in an impressive way.” - Sierra Bailey

“If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” - Albert Einstein

Ernest Hemingway Writing Tips

9. "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." - Ernest Hemingway

The goal of every writer is to find their flow state AND stay there.  The Freewrite is a manifestation of Hemingway’s idea. Ernest Hemingway suggests you sit down at your writing device and, figuratively, bleed. Let the thoughts flow, regardless of how difficult that may be. Leave the editing for later.

10. “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.” -Jack London

Jack London went on to say, “and if you don’t get it, you will nonetheless get something that looks remarkably like it.” Jack London, an avid adventurer, found inspiration in all of his travels. He inspired generations of people to leave the comfort of home and explore the world. Don’t just sit back and wait for an idea to hit you. Go after it, and don’t forget your club!

11. “Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.” -Henry Miller

How many unfinished novels do you have sitting on your hard-drive, aging like fine wines?

We all do this.

Dream up a brilliant idea, get a few thousand words into it, only to be whisked away by the next distraction.

We all like to think that we’re capable multitaskers. However, multiple studies have shown that handling various tasks at once is not only damaging to the brain but also your career. Put your full creative energy into one project at a time.

12. “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that.”Stephen King

Stephen King has published a whopping 56 books as of today (5/7/18). The award-winning author still finds the time to read 70 books a year. He takes advantage of every idle moment in lobbies, waiting rooms, and checkout lines.

What’s Stephen’s trick? Teach yourself to read in small sips as well as in long swallows.

Source:Stephen King: The Craft Of Writing Horror Stories

Anton's Writing Tip

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

I want you to close your eyes. Now imagine two scenes:

1. The moon is shining.

2. A glint of light from the moon shines on the broken glass.

Now, which one is more descriptive? Which scene is more enticing? I’d choose the latter, and I’m sure you would too. This quote is a classic case of “show, don’t tell.” Showing makes your writing far more interesting to read. Help move the reader along by adding some imagination and color to your passages.

14. "Never use a long word where a short one will do." - George Orwell

Eric Arthur Blair, better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English writer famous for the novels1984andAnimal Farm. In the absence of skill, using long words makes you look pretentious. They also are awkward to read and interrupt the reader's flow.

15. "A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it." -Edgar Allen Poe

Edgar Allen Poe is most noted for his poem, "The Raven." In books, you have time to let the story develop and breathe. You can risk adding details that you deem necessary. When writing short stories, you must condense an entire story into a few pages. There isn’t any room for sentences that don't lead to the ending.

16. "Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you're doomed." - Ray Bradbury 

When I was 16 years old, I decided that I wanted to work in content creation and online marketing. I took it upon myself to watch every video and read every book pertaining to writing and copy-writing.

Eventually, I stumbled upon a video of Seth Godin offering advice to young college graduates. He left me with a lesson that I will NEVER forget. He said, “move fast and break things.”

That inspired me to start my first blog. It quickly grew to 5,000 monthly page views. My first blog posts were horrendous, but I quickly learned what worked and what didn’t. Bradbury offers similar advice. Spend every free minute writing, even if you don’t plan to share it with the world.

17. “Every sentence must do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action." -Kurt Vonnegut

In his 50-year writing career, Vonnegut published 14 novels, three short story collections, five plays, and five works of non-fiction. Combine Vonnegut’s and Poe’s advice into a single statement, every sentence of a short story must do one of three things -- reveal character, advance the action, or build towards a single mood.

18. “The historian records, but the novelist creates.”E. M. Forster

Great novelists have the unique ability to invent their reality. E.M Foster, an English novelist, examined class difference and hypocrisy in early 20th century British society.A Room With A View, one of his most famous works, was turned into an award-winning movie in 1985.

19. “Read, 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's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window.” -William Faulkner

If I could offer you only one piece of advice for becoming a better writer, I would suggest this - read and write a lot. As you read and write more, you develop a better understanding of what is good and bad writing. William Faulkner, an American writer and Nobel Prize laureate had an insatiable drive to keep writing and was never completely satisfied with his work.

Nora Roberts' Writing Tip

20. "You can fix anything but a blank page.” -Nora Roberts

Putting pen to paper is a recurring theme in this article. We’ve heard Hemingway, Faulkner, Bradbury, and now Roberts offer similar advice.

One of my favorite mentors, Jim Rohn, said, “Success leaves clues.” People who produce outstanding results do specific things to create those results. As writers, there are many ways to skin a cat, but the commonalities of successful writers remain.

21. “You have to get to a very quiet place inside yourself. And that doesn’t mean that you can’t have noise outside. I know some people who put jazz on, loudly, to write. I think each writer has her or his secret path to the muse.” -Maya Angelou

I know I’m not the only one to struggle with finding a quiet place inside myself. I’ve tried everything from locking myself into a dark room, to hiding my cell phone, and listening to my favorite music. My secret path to the muse is listening to Binaural Beats. As I write this article, I’m listening to the soothing sound ofDelta Waves for Deep Healing Sleep.

22. “When you’re stuck, and sure you’ve written absolute garbage, force yourself to finish and THEN decide to fix or scrap it - or you will never know if you can.” -Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult, an American writer, has sold over 14 million copies of her 24 novels. Until you push your own self perceived boundaries, you'll never know how far you can go.

Source:Jodi Picoult: The million-selling novelist on carving out time for writing and the influence of Gone With the Wind

23. “You have to actually write. Daydreaming about the book you’re going to write someday isn’t writing. It’s daydreaming. Open your word processor and start writing.” - Andy Weir

Les Brown, a world famous motivational speaker, has in my mind one of the most inspirational quotes of all-time.

The graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step, keep with the problem, or determined to carry out their dream.”  - Les Brown

If you want to be a writer, you have to write and write and write. It starts with one. One character, one word, then one page. They key is, you have to start.

24. “I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged.”-Erica Jong

Erica Jong is an American novelist and poet best known for her 1973 novel, Fear of Flying.She shared her battle with finishing her work. For many writers, their works are their most personal possessions. Take solace in the fact that there is somebody out there who needs your writing. Why take a chance that they may never get to read it?

25. “Ignore all proffered rules and create your own, suitable for what you want to say.” -Michael Moorcock

Source:Michael Moorcock’s rules for writers

A few years back, The Guardian asked some of the most esteemed contemporary authors for any golden rules and writing tips they bring to their practice. Michael Moorcock isn’t the first writer to operate under the idea of “writing what you want”.  First, make yourself the audience by telling a story you would want to read. This is a fitting quote to leave for the end. Perhaps Mr.Moorcock has written the final rule on succeeding as a writer.

Did you find these writing tips useful? Now it’s your turn to take this inspiration and make it your own.

 


Carlton ClarkCarlton Clark loves to write about business, baseball, and popular culture. A writer, marketer, and entrepreneur. At the age of 14, he founded the media company ballplayerplus.com. Currently, Carlton helps businesses share their stories through social media and blogging. When he’s not writing or creating content, Carlton coaches youth baseball at his local high school and plays guitar. You can find him online on Instagram @itscarltonclark, and on Twitter @carlton_mukasa

 

 

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There’s an age-old debate about the superior version of a story: Is it the book or the movie? Most readers and far too many writers will default to the idea that “the book was better.”

But was it? Was it really?

May 20, 2024 9 min read


Talking to Alex Kazemi doesn’t feel like talking to the guy who wrote 2023’s “most dangerous book of the year,” a book Ellen Hopkins calls “raucous, raunchy, and sure to offend.” And it certainly doesn’t feel like talking to Bret Easton Ellis’s “favorite millennial provocateur.”

It feels like talking to a friend I haven’t caught up with in a while. And my friends just aren’t that cool.


We’re chatting because Kazemi lives a ruthlessly offline lifestyle, a philosophy at the core of Freewrite and which Kazemi sees as necessary to being the best artist he can be. Having garnered a book deal at the tender age of 18, he knows a thing or two about life as an artist.

Kazemi released his first book, Pop Magick, an occult book about how to manifest, in 2020. “Madonna helped me launch that,” he says, casually mentioning one of the biggest pop stars of the twentieth century. “So, yeah, that was insane.”

But it wasn’t until the release of his first novel, New Millennium Boyz, nearly a decade in the making, that things got truly wild.

Kazemi’s unflinching look at Y2K culture and teenage boyhood reads like a horrifying screenplay — or the transcript of a violent AIM conversation between bored, lonely teenagers. Even before publication, the book faced criticism calling it dangerous, prompting the publisher to splash a content warning across the front matter, to Kazemi's extreme annoyance. Conservative American moms later flagged it for book bans, leaving the Canadian author baffled.

Was an honest look at the 90s and early ’aughts really worth all that uproar?

We sat down with Kazemi to discuss the driving force behind his portrayal of this often-glamorized time period, why he felt compelled to present this reality to modern audiences, and how in the world he lives an offline lifestyle in the year 2024.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

 Mirror selfies without a smartphone

ANNIE COSBY: First things first. Are you a millennial?

ALEX KAZEMI: Yes. I was born in 1994, which means I’m on the cusp. I do not identify with any Zoomer qualities or tendencies at all.

COSBY: In general cultural discourse, millennials tend to get a bad rap – very infantilizing, even though some of us are 40. What's your take?

KAZEMI: I think it's pretty insane because we were dealt a really bad card, with the recession, jobs being lost, the digital age booming… Many of us still have memories of going to Blockbuster and, you know, AOL chat rooms and the early web. But then we watched everything go chronically online and digital through the 2010s. We watched technology and the information age replace a lot of skillsets. So we became a weird bunch, for sure.


COSBY: I do find it interesting that people glamorize that period specifically because it was the beginning of everything being online — so everybody's mistakes and drunken pictures are out there.

KAZEMI: Right? And we did it willingly.

COSBY: Oh God, the things I said to strange men in chat rooms.

KAZEMI: Me as well. And it’s so, so dark, because the internet has always been and will always be, even as we're adults and growing older, a mirror of our subconscious vomit. The frequencies we vibrated to when we were coming of age were more about exploration, and that's why there was so much stranger danger. There were so many scary scenarios that kids could get themselves into with the early web because of how unregulated it was, as well.

COSBY: Would you say New Millennium Boyz is a defense of the way we Millennials are? Or is it a commentary on how misremembered that era is?

KAZEMI: It's definitely a commentary. And it's supposed to be historical fiction, educating younger folks and also older generations about how, you know, this beautiful picture that you see of Rachael Leigh Cook from She's All That on TikTok? There was actually a lot of darkness and chaos going around, especially when it comes to very normalized racism, misogyny, and homophobia.

 

 

I find it very ironic that this new generation that is so fixated on social justice and evolution and freedom would fetishize the aesthetics of an era of true debauchery and chaos and cruelty — like really — which was mirrored in the art in that period. Look at 2000s teen movies! I just wanted to write a satire of that extreme teen genre, like Catherine Hardwicke's Thirteen, Larry Clark's Bully, Spring Breakers...

My second motivation was to really look at boy culture in the post-Columbine era and how this was very much a prescient, predictive time of where we would end up with the alt-right and 4chan and “incels,” and how it's all connected.

And then of course exploring the romanticized aspect of Y2K — going to the mall, people wearing Marilyn Manson shirts, and the aesthetic obsession with it. I wanted to create the book I wanted to see in the world that I didn't feel existed yet.

COSBY: I’ve heard you talk about the misogyny of the “teen girls are bitches” trope. It's like, have you met boys? Have you been a teen boy talking to other teen boys?

KAZEMI: Oh, they're the biggest bitches. They're so cruel. You see the “mean girls” trope in tons of movies, like Jawbreaker, but it’s so strange how we don't ever look at the cruelty teenage boys face. And not just the cruelty but also the misguidedness and the culture that feeds that.

Especially in the 90s and 2000s, boys were so encouraged to be testosterone-driven and hyper-masculine. Woodstock 99 was such a great example of the chaos of too much of something – and it’s being talked about now because of the documentary.

COSBY: New Millennium Boyz really explores this violence inherent to 90s culture for boys, and because of that, it got a content warning, right?

KAZEMI: Yes. During the final cuts of the book, when we were in edits and copy edits, I got the call from my publisher that “So-and-So is not going to stock it without a content warning because they're really worried about how teenagers are going to react to the work and if they're going to reenact the behavior.”

And I was like, this is a cultural critique. It's not anything to be glamorized. I think anyone who reads it would understand that.

COSBY: Do you think we as humans always look back on past time periods with rose-colored glasses, or is there something special about Y2K?

KAZEMI: There's something really freaky about what we're doing with the 90s and 2000s. I don't think we've ever before been in a place, as humans, where corporations like Meta and TikTok can just algorithmically feed into us all the time.

A teenager in the 90s could fetishize the 70s or the 60s, but they could close the book when it was done or finish the movie and turn off the TV. But with Gen Z, and every generation now, we're just inundated every day with memes, photos, videos, and other people’s thoughts.

And I guess this 90s nostalgia is partly because it represents familiarity for people of a certain age, but even for the people who didn't live during that time, it seems to represent a kind of order, a sense of quietness — “Oh, 90210 is on at 9 p.m. and that's all there is.” No choices to make. There weren’t one billion options like kids today have.

COSBY: So you think people are viewing that period as a time of simplicity and unplugging, which we’re all kind of yearning for now?

KAZEMI: Yeah, and you certainly could unplug then, but you can unplug today, too — we're just brainwashed into thinking that we have no choice, that we have no free will. But it's totally not true. You could simulate Y2K if you wanted to! You just have to set a lot of boundaries.

COSBY: Like writing on a Freewrite.

KAZEMI: Yes! That’s why I write offline. Over the years, I’ve had different cool ways to do that. For a lot of my teenage years, I wrote in Apple Notes. Then, I ordered a BlackBerry off eBay and used it as a word processor for a while. I have a dead AlphaSmart here — rest in peace.

I feel like what's so crazy about Freewrite is a lot of people don't know that these products exist, which is a problem.

COSBY: It's also super polarizing. Without even trying it, some people are like, “What is this hipster thing?” Meanwhile, we get so many messages from new users saying, “What is this magic? I'm actually writing for the first time in years!” It's really interesting to see people's reactions. Tech is such a weirdly touchy subject.

KAZEMI: And a Freewrite is way better than a typewriter. I'm not fucking doing the ribbon, there's no time for that.

COSBY: Some people do though, right? Aren’t you friends with Matty Healy?

KAZEMI: Yes, yes. I told him about Freewrite. I love his songwriting. I love the 1975's lyrics. I love him as a literary mind.

COSBY: Alex. [heavy pause] Is he the one being referenced in the song?

KAZEMI: [rolls eyes] Honestly, I'm not really interested in all the gossip. I don't think great artists should be reduced to that.

COSBY: OK, that's fair. I think they're both great storytellers, too. And it would be so hard to live a creative life under that kind of microscope. On that note, your offline approach to life goes beyond writing, right? How does that work?

KAZEMI: Well, it definitely includes a lot of conscious boundaries that annoy a lot of people.

I’ve had a flip phone for a few years now, and I have a landline. When it comes to the internet and iMessage and emails, I try to do regulated “office hours” of screen time.

It's a very privileged position to be in, because a lot of people have to be on call all the time for work. But being disconnected definitely gives me more time for my mind to be free and creative and to write more.

COSBY: And this annoys people?

KAZEMI: Yeah, it drives everyone insane. It's a huge boundary I put in my life. People have to go through loopholes to contact me. But it's the only way that I can have a life as an artist and as a writer.

All of this technology can be a tool. There's nothing inherently bad with the tools that exist on the Internet. It's just the compulsivity and the addictive mentality we have with it that creates this chaos for us as writers and artists.

COSBY: You've mentioned being on Tumblr before, back in the day — are you on social media now?

KAZEMI: No, I'm not. Sometimes I have to look at it on friends' phones to get a person's email or something like that, but no, I don't have social media. It's so scary, the pressure of having to perform or turn my most personally valuable things into currency — to monetize it. It just feels weird. I'm not into it. I'm not into it.

And when you're online so much, you're like, “I don't have to be doing this. Why am I doing this?” That's where that punishing feeling of addiction comes in. A lot of us, when we are in those spirals, we don't even really even want to be there. There isn't a sense of agency or control.

It's a loss of control.

And I think that submission of when you are looking at other people's work, what they’re doing, and you're scrolling, scrolling, it just creates a huge sense of inadequacy and darkness.

COSBY: It's interesting to me because time goes so much faster when I’m scrolling — and I feel the same way when I get really into something I'm writing.

KAZEMI: Like a flow state.

COSBY: Exactly! It’s complete absorption. But scrolling doesn’t make me feel good after, the way creating does.

KAZEMI: It’s like a black market, counterfeit flow state. A heroin flow state.


So I guess the question is: How can we induce positive, offline flow states?

COSBY: Isn't that the question. How do you do it?

KAZEMI: I find that just setting boundaries is so important. You have free will over your boundaries. This idea that we have no sense of agency and have to give all of our energy and life force to these corporations zapping us is just so crazy and unfair.

But when you bring up these things to certain people, they can't even fathom living without their online habits.

COSBY: Yeah, it has to be a conscious choice.

KAZEMI: You have to ask yourself:

"OK, am I going to just sublimate myself to be a consumer of everyone else's content? Or am I going to be a creator and produce?”

COSBY: Most of us know which one we want to be.

KAZEMI: You have to know which one you want to be.

COSBY: Any last words for the creators out there?

KAZEMI: For creators and artists and writers who are overwhelmed by information overload and the prospect of putting your work out there, just know there is an audience for your work. Just stay focused and don't be discouraged. You’ll find your place in the weird world.

--

Annie Cosby is the Marketing Manager at Freewrite, a former fiction editor, and the author of seven books — and counting. Her work deals with Celtic mythology and has twice won the YA Indie Author Project in Missouri. See what she's writing on Freewrite.

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