Writing Tips from Professional Writers

General Tips

    Ernest Hemingway: Use short sentences and short first paragraphs. These rules were two of four given to Hemingway in his early days as a reporter–and words he lived by.
    Mark Twain: Substitute “damn” every time you want to use the word “very.” Twain’s thought was that your editor would delete the “damn,” and leave the writing as it should be. The short version: eliminate using the word “very.”
    Oscar Wilde: Be unpredictable. Wilde suggested that “consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”
    Anton Chekhov: Show, don’t tell. This advice comes out of most every writing class taught. Chekhov said it most clearly when he said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
    EB White: Just write. The author of Charlotte’s Web, one of the most beloved of children’s books, said that “I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all.”
    Samuel Johnson: Keep your writing interesting. “The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.”
    Ray Bradbury: Learn to take criticism well and discount empty praise, or as Bradbury put it, “to accept rejection and reject acceptance.”
    Toni Morrison: Remember that writing is always about communication. “Everything I’ve ever done, in the writing world, has been to expand articulation, rather than to close it.”
    George Orwell: Orwell offered twelve solid tips on creating strong writing, including an active voice rather than a passive one and eliminating longer words when shorter ones will work just as well.
    F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.”
    Anais Nin: “The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.”
    Truman Capote: Editing is as important as the writing. “I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”
    Maurice Sendak: Keep revising. “I never spent less than two years on the text of one of my picture books, even though each of them is approximately 380 words long. Only when the text is finished … do I begin the pictures.”

Tips for Beginning Writers

    Bill Cosby: “Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it.”
    Stephen King: “Read a lot and write a lot.” Reading and understanding different styles is integral to finding your own style.
    Margaret Mahy: Be persistent. This popular New Zealand author suggests that being persistent will pay off when facing adversity while writing or trying to get your writing published.
    John Grisham: Keep your day job. Grisham suggests finding your career outside of writing. Experience life, suffering, and love to be able to write effectively.
    Dolly Parton: “Find out who you are, then do it on purpose”
    Oscar Wilde: “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh. Otherwise they’ll kill you.”
    John Steinbeck: “I’ve always tried out material on my dogs first.” Make sure that above all, you are happy with your work…and see if the dogs stay awake.
    Flannery O’Connor: Sometimes you need to stir the emotions to be heard. “I am not afraid that the book will be controversial, I’m afraid it will not be controversial.”
    Isaac Asimov: Use humor effectively.” Jokes of the proper kind, properly told, can do more to enlighten questions of politics, philosophy, and literature than any number of dull arguments.”
    Lillian Hellman: Trust your instincts. “If I had to give young writers advice, I would say don’t listen to writers talking about writing or themselves.”
    Doris Lessing: “I don’t know much about creative writing programs. But they’re not telling the truth if they don’t teach, one, that writing is hard work, and, two, that you have to give up a great deal of life, your personal life, to be a writer.”
    Jessamyn West: “Talent is helpful in writing, but guts are absolutely necessary.”
    William Faulkner: “A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others.”
    Margaret Atwood: Don’t be afraid of failure. “A ratio of failures is built into the process of writing. The wastebasket has evolved for a reason.”
    Richard Bach: Never stop trying. “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”
    Isabel Allende: Follow your passion, despite the obstacles. “I couldn’t write a novel sitting in a car but I could write short stories. The advantage to this is because with a short story you write fragments. In a couple of weeks you have a story and then you do some more. If you really want to do something you do it in the most awkward circumstances, of course.”

Fiction Tips

    Kurt Vonnegut: Vonnegut offers eight rules of writing a short story, including tips such as “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water” and “Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action.”
    Roald Dahl: From one of the most magical of storytellers: “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
    Louis L’Amour: “A plot is nothing but a normal human situation that keeps arising again and again….normal human emotions–envy, ambition, rivalry, love, hate, greed, and so on.”
    John Irving: Know the story. Irving suggests knowing the basic outline of the entire story before you begin writing the first paragraph.
    Jack Kerouac: Although Kerouac set down 30 tips, the gist of most of them is to know yourself and write for yourself with abandonment.
    F. Scott Fitzgerald :“Writers aren’t exactly people…they’re a whole lot of people trying to be one person.”
    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Write about what you know. “If a man writes a book, let him set down only what he knows. I have guesses enough of my own.”
    Leo Tolstoy: “Drama, instead of telling us the whole of a man’s life, must place him in such a situation, tie such a knot, that when it is untied, the whole man is visible.”
    Katherine Anne Porter: “If I didn’t know the ending of a story, I wouldn’t begin. I always write my last line, my last paragraph, my last page first.
    Robert Louis Stevenson: “The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean.”
    W. Somerset Maugham: Make your own rules. “There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
    Vladimir Nabokov: The careful construction of details can make all the difference in your writing. “Caress the detail, the divine detail.”
    EL Doctorow: “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.”

Tips for Creativity during Writer’s Block

    Annie Dillard: “Writing sentences is difficult whatever their subject. It is no less difficult to write sentences in a recipe than sentences in Moby Dick. So you might as well write Moby Dick.” No matter what, write.
    William Wordsworth: Write with passion. Wordsworth advocated, “Fill your paper with with the breathings of your heart.”
    Alice Walker: Walker recommends meditation for writing, as well as life. She credits meditation for helping her write her books.
    James Patterson: “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.”
    John Cheever: Looking inwards and learning from yourself provides great material for writing. “The need to write comes from the need to make sense of one’s life and discover one’s usefulness.”
    Agatha Christie: Let your mind go while keeping your hands busy. “The best time for planning a book is when you’re doing the dishes.”
    Francis Bacon: Always carry something to write on. “A man would do well to carry a pencil in his pocket and write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought are commonly the most valuable and should be secured, they seldom return.”
    Jack London: “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” Sometimes you need to actively seek your sources of inspiration.
    Maya Angelou: Follow your instincts and do what you feel you must. “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.
    Virginia Woolf: “Arrange whatever pieces come your way.” Sometimes you have to recognize what you have and make the best of it.
    Charles Dickens: Play with your ideas, talk with them, and coax them into a fully-formed creation. “An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.”

School and Education

Anonymous: To school or not to school that is often the beginning writer’s question.
The majority of our most celebrated authors learned just by doing.
The quotes below focus mostly on the value of opening one’s mind to education as a student of life.
    Ralph Waldo Emerson: Recognize what students can give to teachers as well as what teachers can impart. “Of course you will insist on modesty in the children, and respect to their teachers, but if the boy stops you in your speech, cries out that you are wrong and sets you right, hug him!”
    Barbara Kingsolver: “Libraries are the one American institution you shouldn’t rip off.”
    Martin Luther King, Jr: Use education to build character. “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically… Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education.”
    Robert M Hutchins: Keep in mind what school provides for the long run. “The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.”
    Norman Cousins: “The purpose of education is to enable us to develop to the fullest that which is inside us.”
    Nelson Mandela: Use your knowledge to make a difference. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
    John Dewey: “Education is a social process; education is growth; education is not a preparation for life but is life itself.
    BF Skinner: Appreciate knowledge and the rest will come. “We shouldn’t teach great books; we should teach a love of reading.”
    Aristippus: Use your education to cultivate what you already have. “Native ability without education is like a tree without fruit.”
    Robert Frost: Learn to separate emotion from knowledge. “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.”
    Charlotte Bronte: Embrace the opportunity to see beyond your known world. “Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.”

Lifelong Learning

    Aristotle: Learn to analyze what you are being told. “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
    Robert Frost: Don’t ever stop learning. “Education is hanging around until you’ve caught on.”
    Albert Einstein: Don’t ever stop questioning. “The important thing is not to stop questioning.”
    WB Yeats: Discover what lights your fire. “Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.”
    CS Lewis: Learn by doing. “Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.”
    Friedrich Nietzche: Learn the basics first. “He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance, one cannot fly into flying.”
    Socrates: Learning is ultimately your own responsibility. “I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.”
    Aldous Huxley: Don’t become complacent. “A child-like man is not a man whose development has been arrested; on the contrary, he is a man who has given himself a chance of continuing to develop long after most adults have muffled themselves in the cocoon of middle-aged habit and convention.”
    Willa Cather: Embrace every opportunity to learn. “There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.”
    Confucius: Education should be much more than memorizing facts. “Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous.”

Sticking with it to Achieve Success

    Isak Dinesen: “When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself.”
    Margaret Atwood: Speak your mind and stand up for what you believe. “A voice is a human gift; it should be cherished and used, to utter fully human speech as possible. Powerlessness and silence go together.”
    Malcolm S. Forbes: “Failure is success if we learn from it.”
    Helen Keller: Find the joy in small accomplishments. “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.”
    Dr. Seuss: Be responsible for your own success. “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”
    Kahlil Gibran: Stay the course, even when it feels like you aren’t making progress. “One may not reach the dawn save by the path of the night.”
    Ralph Waldo Emerson: Believe in yourself. “Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.”
    Paul Coelho: “Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.”
    Tennessee Williams: Let success happen in its own time. “Success is blocked by concentrating on it and planning for it… Success is shy – it won’t come out while you’re watching.”

On Living

    Alexander Pope: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Pope is the author of one of the most famous quotes on allowing yourself to make a mistake with his famous, “To err is human, to forgive divine.”
    Benjamin Franklin: “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
    JK Rowling: “If you want to see the true measure of a man, watch how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”
    Barbara Kingsolver: “The truth needs so little rehearsal.”
    Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
    Umberto Eco: Sometimes things are just as they seem. “But now I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.”
    John Ruskin: “There is no wealth but life.”
    George Bernard Shaw: Appreciate the good and the bad–it is all a part of life. “Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.”
    Arthur Miller: “Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.”
    Charles M. Schulz: “Life is like a ten speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use.”
    John Burroughs: Realize what is important to you. “I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.”

Poetry

    Robert Frost: Poetry offers many levels for readers. Capitalize on all you can. “A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom.”
    Salman Rushdie: “A poet`s work is to name the unnamable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it from going to sleep.”
    WH Auden: Anticipate and recognize ideas. “All works of art are commissioned in the sense that no artist can create one by a simple act of will but must wait until what he believes to be a good idea for a work comes to him.”
    TS Eliot: Seek life experience. “Any poet, if he is to survive beyond his 25th year, must alter; he must seek new literary influences; he will have different emotions to express.”
    Henry David Thoreau: Understand the power of each word. “A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art.”
    Paul Valery: Keep revising. “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.”
    Percy Bysshe Shelley: Think about the obvious in new ways. “Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.”
    Plato: Don’t just rely on the beauty of the words: make a statement. “Poetry comes nearer to vital truth than history.”
    Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Remember the importance of each word used in each poem. “I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is, prose = words in their best order; –poetry = the best words in the best order.”
    Robert Graves: Write poetry because you want to, not because you expect to earn a living. “There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money either.”
    Lillian Hellman: “If I had to give young writers advice, I’d say, don’t listen to writers talking about writing.”

Excerpts. 12

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”
~ William Blake

“One way to understand your own condition is to write something and spend a long time revising it.
In revising you teach yourself. You find your own information buried in your body. It is still alive until you are not.”
–Fanny Howe

“they say that hell is crowded, yet,
when you’re in hell,
you always seem to be alone.
& you can’t tell anyone when you’re in hell
or they’ll think you’re crazy
& being crazy is being in hell
& being sane is hellish too.

those who escape hell, however,
never talk about it
& nothing much bothers them after that.”
~ Bukowski

“Adversity is the first path to truth.”
— Lord Byron

“Poetry is ordinary language raised to the Nth power. Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words.”
— Paul Engle

“The poet, the one you’d expect to have faith in language, knows that naming alone does nothing to dispell mystery. For [them] a word is a gesture in the direction of reality, and does not limit or circumscribe; the poet knows that nothing at all is settled by the word.”
-Mark Doty

“A good education (only) occurs at home.”
-Wolof proverb



Compiled by MDSHall, in collaboration with the Poet Tree of Discoursing Drums beating By Any Dreams Necessary.





Excerpts. 11

“The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.”
–Friedrich Hegel

“When the litters are overturned by the whirlwind
and faces are covered by cloaks,
the new republic will be troubled by its people.
At this time the reds and the whites will rule wrongly.

Alas, how we will see a great nation sorely troubled
and the holy law in utter ruin.
Christianity governed throughout by other laws,
when a new source of gold and silver is discovered.

The false trumpet concealing madness
will cause Byzantium to change its laws.
From Egypt there will go forth a man who wants
the edict withdrawn, changing money and standards.

The trumpet shakes with great discord.
An agreement broken: lifting the face to heaven:
the bloody mouth will swim with blood;
the face anointed with milk and honey lies on the ground.”
–Nostradamus, 16th Century

“All poets, all writers are political. They either maintain the status quo, or they say, ’Something’s wrong, let’s change it for the better.’”
—Sonia Sanchez

“Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.”
—T.S. Eliot

“I’m a great believer in poetry out of the classroom, in public places, on subways, trains, on cocktail napkins. I’d rather have my poems on the subway than around the seminar table at an MFA program.”
—Billy Collins

“If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”
—Emily Dickinson

“Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.”
—Rita Dove

“Poetry is like a bird, it ignores all frontiers.”
—Yevgeny Yevtushenko

“Poetry is the lifeblood of rebellion, revolution, and the raising of consciousness.”
—Alice Walker

“Poetry might be defined as the clear expression of mixed feelings.”
—W.H. Auden

“Poetry, I feel, is a tyrannical discipline. You’ve got to go so far so fast in such a small space; you’ve got to burn away all the peripherals.”
—Sylvia Plath

“When I began to listen to poetry, it’s when I began to listen to the stones, and I began to listen to what the clouds had to say, and I began to listen to other. And I think, most importantly for all of us, then you begin to learn to listen to the soul, the soul of yourself in here, which is also the soul of everyone else.”
—Joy Harjo

“There’s a reason poets often say, ‘Poetry saved my life,’ for often the blank page is the only one listening to the soul’s suffering, the only one registering the story completely, the only one receiving all softly and without condemnation.”
—Clarissa Pinkola Estes
 
“You can find poetry in your everyday life, your memory, in what people say on the bus, in the news, or just what’s in your heart.”
—Carol Ann Duffy

“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry.”
—Emily Dickinson

Compiled by  the Poet Tree of Discoursing Drums in collaboration with the By Any Dreams Necessary Collective.


Excerpts. 10

“Concerning nonviolence, it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.”
-Malcolm X

“No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.”
–Voltaire

  “Conflict follows wrongdoing as surely as flies follow the herd.”
—Doc Holliday

“Life has a way of testing a persons will, either by having nothing happen at all or by having everything happen at once.”
—Paulo Coelho

“While older black voters are paralyzed by pragmatism when faced with the potential for a second term of Donald Trump, they have also been conditioned to accept the absolute least from political representatives. At the same time, young black people are rebelling against the strangulation of the status quo. This includes a stale black leadership that regularly fails to rise to challenges confronting this generation, which refuses to accept the symbolism of black leadership without its professed rewards. Black elected officials have become adept at mobilizing the tropes of black identity without any of its political content.”
–Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, “The End of Politics”

Compiled by AfroDamus Jonze in collaboration with the WordSoundPower Collective.


June, 2020.

Influences Pt. 2: A More Extensive List

(in no particular order)

Federico Garcia Lorca
Haki Madhubuti (Don L. Lee)
Gwendolyn Brooks
Sterling Brown
Countee Cullen
W. E. B. DuBois
Paul Laurence Dunbar
Robert Hayden
Claude McKay
Clarence Major
Etheridge Knight
Nikki Giovanni
Ishmael Reed
Ntozake Shange
Michael Harper
Quincy Troupe
Dudley Randall
Melvin B. Tolson
Jean Toomer
Margaret Walker
Alice Walker
Frantz Fanon
Yusef Komuyakaa
Cheikh Diop
Derek Walcott
Jack Kerouac
Allen Ginsberg
Nelson George
Rita Dove
Xam Cartier
Toni Morrison
Laurence Lieberman
Jay Wright
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
All Young
David Henderson
Zora Neale Hurston
Darryl Holmes
Angela Jackson
Ruth Forman
Eugene B. Redmond
Maya Angelou
Eldridge Cleaver
Huey P. Newton
Kevin Young
Tracy K. Smith
Terrance Hayes
Ai
Lucille Clifton
William Burroughs
Larry Neal
Walt Whitman
William Carlos Williams
T. S. Eliot
E. E. Cummings
Gil Scott-Heron
The Last Poets
Saul Williams
Sonia Sanchez
Bob Kaufman
Kamau Brathwaite
Michael Warr
Albert Camus
Tricia Rose
Linton Kwesi Johnson

June, 2020.