Collected wisdom on the art of writing

I would love to write a book. Actually correct that, I would love someone to publish the books that I write (although it may not be all it’s cracked up to be). No, hold on – I would love people to read the books that I write and that are published.

That’s an increasingly common goal as three forces create a perfect storm for would be authors. First we are the beneficiaries of free education and living in a literate age – we are the lucky ones, we were forced by the law to learn to read and write.

Secondly, we live in a highly individualistic and increasingly narcissistic age. We have been conditioned to believe that we have something to say, a unique voice, a hidden talent and a fresh perspective irrespective of the truth about any of those things.

Thirdly, we live in the age of the great plains of writing – anyone can enter these limitless lands, simply by virtue of an internet connection and a free blog. It’s never been easier to publish a book, although ironically that also means it’s never been harder to get it read.

The stream of words flowing into the publishing vat has never been greater, yet it still remains true that the cream rises to the top. To get there it has never been more important for the aspiring writer to learn from the wisdom of those who have succeeded where so many have failed and to conquer new challenges in age of endless distraction. So here are six wells of wisdom to improve your writing.

Choose your research tools & eliminate distractions

There are countless tools available and each have their merits. I use Evernote, it has a good speech-to-text system for when I just want to capture some thoughts. It allows me to annotate books and magazines and the results are searchable. It is also a decent writing tool in its own right. It is a single system, and as they like to say my digital brain.

Then it’s time to work, but to work well we need to eliminate distractions, after all it could take you 25 minutes to get back on track from an interruption. I use Freedom.

Love libraries & the reading of books

Any aspiring writer needs to have a fundamental love of words, of well constructed sentences, and wonder inspiring paragraphs. That love is kept alive by reading. What to read though, there are so many books. Keith Mathison offers some good advice in his account of how the reading of books has shaped his life:

As Ecclesiastes reminds us, “Of making many books there is no end” (12:12). Millions of books have been published, and thousands more are published every year. We cannot read them all, so it is best to read the good ones.

There is no better place to read and discover than your local library, and to remember the truth in Joseph Mill’s poem,

If librarians were honest, they would say, No one spends time here without being changed.

Know what makes a good book good

One of the best ways of figuring this out is to review books, even if only for yourself. John Updike has some good advice on the understanding and reviewing of books.

Listen to advice from these authors (for fiction writers)

You could listen to Umberto Eco who has some straight-talking wisdom along the lines of,

You are not Proust. Do not write long sentences. If they come into your head, write them, but then break them down.

Or you could listen to Grace Paley, or Dennis Lehane.

Definitely listen to Zinsser (for non-fiction writers)

Tim Challies summarizes Zinsser’s classic On Writing Well into five big writing tips.

  1. Be diligent
  2. Be ruthless
  3. Be yourself
  4. Be good
  5. Be practical

Read this for more advice from Zinsser.

Everything you write should be print quality (listen up bloggers)

Demian Farnworth offers up ten ways to improve the quality of your content

  1. Present original, in-depth research
  2. Go beyond the obvious
  3. Use an impartial approach (mostly)
  4. Try a penetrating breakdown
  5. Inject observant commentary
  6. Wield charming stories
  7. Employ impenetrable facts
  8. Be ridiculously specific
  9. Be a credible authority
  10. Utilize impeccable spelling & grammar

What other wells of writing wisdom would you turn to? Do, please, leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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