Writing tips: from writers for writers

Writing tips from writers (Volume II)

Writer’s Block. It sounds like a fearsome condition, a creative blockage. The end of invention. But what is it, really?

Often, it’s created from conflicting, unhelpful desires – we want the writing to be perfect; but we also want the novel to be finished as quickly as possible. We want the words we write to be good; but can’t bear to put them down on the page in case they are bad. We like using semi-colons, because we’ve been to college; but we also love Kurt Vonnegut and we know how he feels about them, so we just use boring old commas instead.

Okay, so that last one isn’t the most difficult challenge to overcome in writing our magnum opuses; but it’s often these smaller, minute details that cause writers the most grief. You can be overcome by a fear that the precise way you’ve written a sentence isn’t quite right – and you grow frustrated as you try to change your story on a sentence-by-sentence basis. Surely, if every sentence and word and turn of phrase is constructed perfectly, the novel will take care of itself?

Such concerns are, of course, ultimately self-defeating. Because the only way to actually write something is to write it!

But then, perhaps the hardest part of writing is actually starting to write. Hemingway, after all, famously opined that the most frightening thing he had ever encountered was “A blank sheet of paper.”

So just how do you go about facing an empty page, coaxing your ideas into the world of form, and steering the end result toward shore? To help you cast off, we’ve compiled a list of #WritingTips – from writers; for writers.


Cherish feelings of inadequacy – Will Self


“You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.”

Stay drunk – Ray Bradbury

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”

You need rules you can rely on – George Orwell

George Orwell at a typewriter

“One can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”

Only tell stories you can tell – Neil Gaiman


“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.”

Allow yourself to lose track of your writing – John Steinbeck

 John Steinbeck

“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. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.”

Cut out exclamation marks – F. Scott Fitzgerald

F Scott Fitzgerald

“Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.”

You need to have guts – Sylvia Plath

 Sylvia Plath

“Everything in life is writable is you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

Find your writing signature – Raymond Carver


“Every great or even every very good writer makes the world over according to his own specifications. It’s akin to style, what I’m talking about, but it isn’t style alone. It is the writer’s particular and unmistakable signature on everything he writes. It is his world and no other. This is one of the things that distinguishes one writer from another. Not talent. There’s plenty of that around. But a writer who has some special way of looking at things and who gives artistic expression to that way of looking: that writer may be around for a time.”

Protect your writing time and space – Zadie Smith

 Dress to impress … Zadie Smith's Miss Adele Amidst the Corsets has been nominated for the BBC's £15,

“Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.” 

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