Even if you don’t start writing when you’re young, it’s never too late to start.In fact, good writing skills are crucial to success, whether you want to be a professional writer, or if you’re just looking for a job.
Employers are looking for people with good communication skills and improving your writing is one way to make you stand out from the pack.
I could give you some advice on how to write better (and I do have one tip), but I’d rather share advice from writers I admire.
These writers are truly masters at the art of writing and you should listen to them.
Advice from Fiction Writers
Gaiman is the writer who helped define comics as a literary medium through his “Sandman” series. He went on to write “Neverwhere,” “American Gods,” “Stardust” and “The Graveyard Book.” He’s also written a couple of episodes of “Doctor Who” which is pretty damn cool.
Here, Neil Gaiman talks about how he became a better writer at 23.
“What I did was work as a journalist. It forced me to write, to write in quantity, to write to deadline. It forced me to get better than I was, very fast.
It got stuff I wrote into print. There is nothing for a young author that teaches you how to get better faster than reading something you wrote in print — suddenly every mistake, every infelicity, every laziness, shows up as if in neon letters.
And the process of transcribing conversations forced me to learn to write dialogue and learn the economies of getting speech patterns into just a few words. (Dialogue — even “naturalistic dialogue” — isn’t how people speak. So you need to learn to distill.)
And I was also lucky in finding myself with several book review columns, being forced to read and review everything, including stuff way out of my comfort zone, or books I simply would never have picked up. (I think writers should read from the shelves they wouldn’t normally go.) And it was great reading stuff where I’d read something and go “I may be crap, but I’m better than this.” (Working on Ghastly Beyond Belief was a great help on this, too.)
Also I got to do some living. That bit was important too, and much of it was a side effect of being a journalist — I got to see lots of bits of the world I hadn’t known existed, and talk to people I would never otherwise have encountered. That was important too.”
At this time, Stephen King has published 54 novels and over 200 short stories. He defines the prolific writer.
His book “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” should be read by anyone looking to improve. The story about the sale of his first novel “Carrie” is incredibly inspirational.
If you haven’t heard it enough, maybe hearing it from Stephen King will help.You have to read a lot and write a lot to be a great writer.
“You don’t need writing classes or seminars any more than you need this or any other book on writing. Faulkner learned his trade while working in the Oxford, Mississippi post office. Other writers have learned the basics while serving in the Navy, working in steel mills or doing time in America’s finer crossbar hotels. I learned the most valuable (and commercial) part of my life’s work while washing motel sheets and restaurant tablecloths at the New Franklin Laundry in Bangor. You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”
Barker has written fantasy novels like “Weaveworld,” “Imagica” and “Sacrament” but is probably known best for his horror fiction which led to the series of Hellraiser and Candyman movies.
Clive Barker tells us that you have to write even when you’re not feeling inspired.
“Whether you are a good or bad writer is an irrelevancy when you first begin. What’s important is that you write, you get up in the morning and you say, ‘I’m going to treat this like a job and I’m not going to just do this when I feel like it. I’m going to really get to work on making this the best I can make it, and work hard to achieve something’. You can’t sit around waiting for inspiration to strike like lightning, cause you’ll wait around for a long time. Maybe once every blue moon a piece of lightning will strike, but most of the time you’ll wait around twiddling your thumbs. What you have to do is just get on with it, and write whatever comes out and not worry over much about whether the punctuation is right or the spelling is right or even if the order of the words is right, but just get on with it.”
Chuck Palahniuk is best known for writing the novel “Fight Club”, but has made a reputation for what he calls “transgressional fiction” with other novels like “Choke,” “Survivor” and “Invisible Monsters.”
Sometimes just getting started is the hardest part. Palahniuk has a method to get you started.
“Two years ago, when I wrote the first of these essays it was about my ‘egg timer method’ of writing. You never saw that essay, but here’s the method: When you don’t want to write, set an egg timer for one hour (or half hour) and sit down to write until the timer rings. If you still hate writing, you’re free in an hour. But usually, by the time that alarm rings, you’ll be so involved in your work, enjoying it so much, you’ll keep going. Instead of an egg timer, you can put a load of clothes in the washer or dryer and use them to time your work. Alternating the thoughtful task of writing with the mindless work of laundry or dish washing will give you the breaks you need for new ideas and insights to occur. If you don’t know what comes next in the story… clean your toilet. Change the bed sheets. For Christ sakes, dust the computer. A better idea will come.”
Advice from Non-Fiction Writers
It was James Altucher that got me interested in writing at Quora. In fact you should follow him on Quora and read everything he writes. Not only does he give great advice on writing, he’s got a style that is both frank and disarming.
On that note, Altucher tells us to swing for the fences when you write.
“Be Honest. Tell people the stuff they all think but nobody ever says. Some people will be angry you let out the secret. But most people will be grateful. Else you aren’t delivering value. Be the little boy in the Emperor Wears No Clothes. If you can’t do this, don’t write.”
Darren Rouse is a writer who created two highly influential blogs, ProBloggerand Digital Photography School. His work on ProBlogger is great resource for people who want to blog and make money while doing it.
Rouse has a few ideas about how to keep your writing fresh.
“While I focus fairly heavily upon blogging as my primary medium I do occasionally take on work for other mediums. I’ve written newspaper and magazine articles, have written for other types of websites and have even tried my hand at non written mediums like podcasting. Each time I’ve done this I find that it teaches me something new about communication. There’s something about writing for a new audience in a slightly unfamiliar medium that makes you pay a little more attention to what you’re doing.”
Seth Godin is an author, entrepreneur and public speaker. He’s written books on business and marketing like “Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable,” “Linchpin: Are You Indispinsable” and “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us”. He’s a highly prolific blogger as well.
If you still need convincing on how important it is to write regularly check out this quote from Godin.
“Writing a book is a tremendous experience. It pays off intellectually. It clarifies your thinking. It builds credibility. It is a living engine of marketing and idea spreading, working every day to deliver your message with authority. You should write one.”
The Write Stuff
I don’t pretend to be as wise as the writers above, but I can tell you something that has made me a better writer. I’ve found that the right tools and resources can help you get the job done.
Medium and Quora
If you’re writing non-fiction, Medium and Quora can be amazing resources for ideas.
Medium has so many great writers that there’s a lot of inspiration here. Look no further than Medium to see how to format stories beautifully and what articles get the most engagement.
Quora is filled with writing prompts in the way of questions. Need an idea? Just find a question and start typing the answer.
Quora also has the added benefit of giving you some much-needed feedback and occasionally some editing help.
My productivity on book projects exploded when I found the Scrivener writing software. Unlike other word processors, Scrivener was designed for professional writers and has tools built-in to help with the structure and research for your book.
Scrivener also keeps track of daily word counts, which keeps you honest.
The key to writing success is to find out what works for you. There are no rules when it comes to getting it done.
Amy Tan, Quentin Tarantino and Joyce Carol Oates write in longhand on paper. Danielle Steele and P.J. O’Rourke use a typewriter. “Game of Thrones” author George R. R. Martin writes on an “old DOS machine running WordStar 4.0.”
Agatha Christie used to structure her plots in a bathtub. Maya Angelou got a hotel room and removed everything that could be a distraction when she wrote. James Joyce wrote from bed, while laying on his stomach. Maybe a change of location is what you need.
If you’re not being productive, mix things up and see what happens. A new resource, tool or environment may be the thing that makes you a successful writer.