or Do You Need to Drink to Write like a Master?
by Karen Daniels
Hemingway was once a non-famous writer, full of doubt and fear and terrified of the empty page; just like us normal writer folk. There was a time when he was not published, didn’t know if he’d ever “make” it, and questioned his ability to spin a good story. Then he started drinking heavily and success came.
(this page is part of the ZenCopy Author Help: Writing and Personal Branding resource page)
Okay, whether that is true or not, I can’t say. But I do know that writers often feel stuck in themselves and feel it’s vital, at times, to find ways to catapult themselves out of their own mind to become better writers. To some writers that might mean meditation, to others it could be skydiving or other thrills, and to some it could mean pickling themselves with a drink. Probably the variety of methods that exist to help writers get to the next level of writing mastery are as endless as writer’s themselves.
However, before you decide to drink yourself into a pickle in a false attempt to get a more solid grip on mastering your writing, take a look at the following writing tips from these successful sources and writing masters.
From Copyblogger posts:
1. Think brevity
According to Copyblogger, once you hit 20 words in a sentence, every additional word can lose you up to 10% of your readers.
2. Active beats Passive
3. If you can, be funny
4. Can I eat it? Can I have sex with it? Will it kill me?
Susan Weinschenk from, What Makes them Click, says that our brain always asks those 3 questions. Keep them in mind when you write.
5. Writing and editing are 2 different things
You need to do both.
6. Know that spell check can be wrong
7. Make your point then make your point again
Who was it who said you should make your point like a rhino horn – so you can’t miss it?
8. Don’t lecture to your readers, chat with them
9. Get your meaning in right away
This applies within sentences and within paragraphs.
10. Rearrange words for different emphasis
11. Use short sentences
Hemingway wrote with simple genius. Perhaps his finest demonstration of short sentence prowess was when he was challenged to tell an entire story in only 6 words: For sale: baby shoes, never used.
12. Use short first paragraphs.
13. Use vigorous English.
Here’s David Garfinkel’s take on this one: It’s the difference between putting in a good effort and TRYING to move a boulder… and actually sweating, grunting, straining your muscles to the point of exhaustion… and MOVING the freaking thing!
14. Be positive, not negative.
Basically, you should say what something is rather than what it isn’t.
15. Never have only 4 rules.
Actually, Hemingway did only have 4 rules for writing, and they were those he was given as a cub reporter at the Kansas City Star in 1917. But, as any web writer knows, having only 4 rules will never do. So, in order to have 5, I had to dig a little deeper to get the most important of Hemingway’s writing tips of all: “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit,” Hemingway confided to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934. “I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”
17. Put one word after another
Find the right word, put it down.
18. Finish what you’re writing
Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
19. Put it aside
Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
20. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
21. Forget perfection
Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
22. Laugh at your own jokes
23. Have confidence
The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.
24. Increase your word power
Words are the raw material of our craft. The greater your vocabulary the more effective your writing. We who write in English are fortunate to have the richest and most versatile language in the world. Respect it.
25. Read widely and with discrimination
Bad writing is contagious.
26. Don’t just plan to write—write
It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style.
27. Write what you need to write, not what is currently popular or what you think will sell
28. Open your mind to new experiences, particularly to the study of other people
Nothing that happens to a writer—however happy, however tragic—is ever wasted.
29. A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions:
- What am I trying to say?
- What words will express it?
- What image or idiom will make it clearer?
- Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
- Could I put it more shortly?
- Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?
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:
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
From Writing Tips:
30. Cut the boring parts
I try to leave out the parts that people skip. ~Elmore Leonard
31. Eliminate unnecessary words
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
32. Write with passion
Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. ~William Wordsworth
33. Paint a picture
Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. ~Anton Chekhov
34. Keep it simple
Vigorous writing is concise. ~William Strunk Jr.
35. Do it for love
Write without pay until somebody offers to pay. ~Mark Twain
36. Learn to thrive on criticism
You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance. ~Ray Bradbury
The way you define yourself as a writer is that you write every time you have a free minute. If you didn’t behave that way you would never do anything. ~John Irving
38. Write what you know … or what you want to know
If any man wish to write in a clear style, let him be first clear in his thoughts; and if any would write in a noble style, let him first possess a noble soul. ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
39. Learn as much by writing as by reading. ~Lord Acton
40. Be unique and unpredictable
I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite. ~G.K. Chesterton
41. Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. ~Oscar Wilde
42. Zest. Gusto.
If I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road to where he wants to go, I could only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto. ~Ray Bradbury
And to this pantheon of respected writers I’d like to add a few writing tips of my own:
43. Make it easy!
Easy to read, easy to understand, easy on the eyes, easy to buy, easy to click, easy to get more. EASY!
44. Let it marinate
Writing sometimes needs to marinate to reach its potential. Don’t be afraid to set a piece aside and come back to it later.
45. Let it morph
Sometimes you set out to write a certain something but the words keep wanting to be something else. Let them.
46. If an empty page scares the hell out of you
…then copy and paste words from something else to help get you started.
Hemingway did not have a big writing secret!
Hemingway did not have a secret to his colorful writing; drinking or otherwise. He worked hard and long and tried new things within his writing. He owned it for himself and changed the world of writing. May it be so for you.
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