Writing Tips from Famous Authors

Writing Tips

Possibly because my mantra is ‘words matter’ or that I’ve been writing continuously for many years, I get asked for tips on better writing. For years, I quoted George Orwell’s advice on how to be simple and clear, including my personal favorite:

If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

Simpler writing is often better writing.

In the spirit of great writing tips from famous authors, here are more of my favorite quotes:

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

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

“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

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

“Every sentence must do one of two things – reveal character or advance the action.” 
Kurt Vonnegut (9 more quotes)

“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

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
E. L. Doctorow

“Easy reading is damn hard writing.”
Nathaniel Hawthorne

Of course, if none of the above helps, there’s always this advice from Ernest Hemingway:

Write drunk, edit sober.

While it may not improve your writing, it’s probably more fun.

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16 Responses to Writing Tips from Famous Authors

  1. liv4music September 23, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

    I’m a sucker for Mark Twain quotes; he can be equally profound and humorous simultaneously. I have a break coming up. Which Twain book would you recommend? (“All of them” does not narrow down my selection)

    Funny you should post this now, as I am just wrapping up a legal memo that’s due tomorrow.

    • Jonathan September 23, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

      If you haven’t read “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, that’s my first choice. But if you’ve read that and Tom Sawyer, I would recommend a “Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”. Time travel, social commentary, wry humor — it has it all.

    • Battered Employee September 29, 2012 at 5:30 am #

      I had an editor who told us never to use the word ‘very.’ Mark Twain said it a whole lot better!

  2. Raunak September 24, 2012 at 1:33 am #

    wow! so many wonderful quotes on the same page.I love Chekhov’s words.

    One of the feedbacks I got for my E-book was that it is too short. When I asked the reader if he meant short in content or in words, I was told in words. I was comfortable with that.Next time I shall use George Orwell’s line as the epigraph 🙂

  3. Alexandre Lacerda September 24, 2012 at 4:23 am #

    Thanks for the tips, (damn) useful!

    In Portuguese: “escrever é cortar palavras”.

  4. Anonymous September 24, 2012 at 7:13 am #

    To mis-quote and often misquoted quote, best advice is :-

    “Take more time, write less”

  5. eastcarolina5280 September 24, 2012 at 7:54 am #

    i love that hemingway quote at the end. might steal that one for my quotes page.

  6. Ekua Odoi September 24, 2012 at 10:19 am #

    Thank you! I really enjoyed reading these quotes and they are so true!

  7. Ben September 27, 2012 at 7:14 pm #

    Glad to see Vonnegut on here. His video on The Shape of Stories is truly hilarious and truly profound. Here’s a link in case you haven’t seen it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oP3c1h8v2ZQ


  8. thomasseamanco October 11, 2012 at 8:31 pm #

    Isnt Orwells advise on cutting words out ver Bg Brother of him?

  9. thomasseamanco October 11, 2012 at 10:13 pm #

    I meant to say: Isnt Orwells Advise on writing very Big Brother of him (i.e. infospeak)?

  10. Rūben Santos October 23, 2012 at 11:53 pm #

    Reblogged this on Daily Shenanigans.

    • olaab October 29, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

      Love these, and need them.


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