A2All serious writers continually strive to improve their craft.  The best upcoming authors look to the best established writers, historic and current, for advice. Here are 26 timeless, eye-opening tips from some of the most successful authors ever to put words on paper.

The first draft of everything is shit. – Ernest Hemingway

Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, and judgementally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass. – David Ogilvy

If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy. – Dorothy Parker

A3If you intend to write as honestly as you can then your days as a member of polite society are numbered. – Stephen King

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

A4Notice how many of the Olympic athletes effusively thanked their mothers for their success? “She drove me to my practice at four in the morning,” etc. Writing is not figure skating or skiing. Your mother will not make you a writer. My advice to any young person who wants to write is: leave home. – Paul Theroux

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. – Jack London

My most important piece of advice to all you would-be writers: When you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip. – Elmore Leonard

A5Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. – George Orwell

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. – W. Somerset Maugham

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

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

A15Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die. – Anne Enright

If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do. – William Zinsser

Write the book the way it should be written, then give it to somebody to put in the commas and shit. – Elmore Leonard

A8Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college. – Kurt Vonnegut

Prose is architecture, not interior decoration. – Ernest Hemingway

Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. Literally, when I wrote the last page of my first draft of Lincoln’s Melancholy I thought, Oh, shit, now I get the shape of this. But I had wasted years, literally years, writing and re-writing the first third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly. – Joshua Wolf Shenk

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

A1If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. – Elmore Leonard

Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that — but you are the only you. – Neil Gaiman

The scariest moment in writing is just before the start. – Stephen King

Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. – Oscar Wilde

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. – Ray Bradbury

A13Write drunk, edit sober. – Ernest Hemingway

Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously. – Lev Grossman

It’ s okay to write shitty first drafts – Anne Lamott

And here’s a bonus that I forgot to put in the original post to make it 27 tips:

A16When asked, “How do you write?” I invariably answer, “One word at a time,” and the answer is invariably dismissed. But that is all it is. It sounds too simple to be true, but consider the Great Wall of China, if you will: one stone at a time, man. That’s all. One stone at a time. But I’ve read you can see that motherfucker from space without a telescope. – Stephen King 


  1. Sue Coletta

    Most of these I’ve heard, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a great post. I like having them all together in one glance. Good idea, Garry. I think my favorite is Anne Enright’s — that’s one I’ve never heard. She makes a valid point, too. Hmm… Fodder for my WIP.


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