Thought Catalog

21 Harsh But Eye-Opening Writing Tips From Great Authors

  • 0

A lot of people think they can write or paint or draw or sing or make movies or what-have-you, but having an artistic temperament doth not make one an artist.

Even the great writers of our time have tried and failed and failed some more. Vladimir Nabokov received a harsh rejection letter from Knopf upon submitting Lolita, which would later go on to sell fifty million copies. Sylvia Plath’s first rejection letter for The Bell Jar read, “There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.” Gertrude Stein received a cruel rejection letter that mocked her style. Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way earned him a sprawling rejection letter regarding the reasons he should simply give up writing all together. Tim Burton’s first illustrated book, The Giant Zlig, got the thumbs down from Walt Disney Productions, and even Jack Kerouac’s perennial On the Road received a particularly blunt rejection letter that simply read, “I don’t dig this one at all.”

So even if you’re an utterly fantastic writer who will be remembered for decades forthcoming, you’ll still most likely receive a large dollop of criticism, rejection, and perhaps even mockery before you get there. Having been through it all these great writers offer some writing tips without pulling punches. After all, if a publishing house is going to tear into your manuscript you might as well be prepared.

1. The first draft of everything is shit. -Ernest Hemingway
2. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass. -David Ogilvy
3. If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy. – Dorothy Parker
4. Notice how many of the Olympic athletes effusively thanked their mothers for their success? “She drove me to my practice at four in the morning,” etc. Writing is not figure skating or skiing. Your mother will not make you a writer. My advice to any young person who wants to write is: leave home. -Paul Theroux
5. I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide. — Harper Lee
6. You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. ― Jack London
7. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. — George Orwell
8. There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. ― W. Somerset Maugham
9. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that. – Stephen King
10. 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. – Neil Gaiman
11. Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die. – Anne Enright
12. If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do. – William Zinsser
13. Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college. – Kurt Vonnegut
14. Prose is architecture, not interior decoration. – Ernest Hemingway
15. Write drunk, edit sober. – Ernest Hemingway
16. Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. Literally, when I wrote the last page of my first draft of Lincoln’s Melancholy I thought, Oh, shit, now I get the shape of this. But I had wasted years, literally years, writing and re-writing the first third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly. – Joshua Wolf Shenk
17. 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
18. Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that — but you are the only you. ― Neil Gaiman
19. Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. – Oscar Wilde
20. You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. ― Ray Bradbury
21. Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously. – Lev Grossman
image – christine zenino

More from Thought Catalog

Thought Catalog Videos


    • http://tissueworld.wordpress.com frokenpea

      Reblogged this on tissueworld.

    • mhalligan

      Reblogged this on Thoughts of an ADHD College Student and commented:
      (Reblogged) Numbers 2, 3, and 13… I about died laughing, but if its true… I just need to know, if number 13 is true, then why do we go to college to become editors and authors?

    • http://jeenagould.wordpress.com jeenagould

      Reblogged this on adventure. love. knowledge..

    • magiczebra

      Reblogged this on Zilch and Zero and Zoom.

    • karlangelicaro

      Reblogged this on We are Pernicious.

    • http://gregcrouch.com/2013/harsh-writing-advice Harsh writing advice | Gregory Crouch

      […] “21 Harsh But Eye-Opening Writing Tips from Great Authors” […]

    • http://www.rocknrollbride.com/2013/09/business-bites-nerd-out/ Business Bites: Nerd Out! · Rock n Roll Bride

      […] ♥ How to become more influential  ♥ Are you really your own boss? ♥ The ultimate cheat sheet for starting your own business ♥ 21 harsh but eye opening writing tips from great authors […]

    • http://rsddating.com/travel/?p=8844 Carousel: Kissin’ September Goodbye! | obsessionsys.com

      […] src="http://galadarling.com/images/heart.gif" alt="Harsh but eye-opening writing tips from great […]

    • http://shedabblesin.org/writing-about-writing/ Writing about Writing. |

      […] post from Thought Catalog is so far my favorite post. It’s just filled with famous author’s […]

    • http://lyndseydeewrites.wordpress.com/2013/09/30/link-3-9-30-2013/ Link <3: 9.30.2013 |

      […] Oh so true! 21 Harsh-but-true opening writing tips from great authors […]

    • http://thisplagueofdays.com/2013/10/02/this-is-the-post-i-shouldnt-write-i-shouldnt-therefore-i-must/ This is the post I shouldn’t write. I shouldn’t, therefore I must. | This Plague of Days

      […] 21 Harsh But Eye-Opening Writing Tips From Great Authors (thoughtcatalog.com) […]

    • http://elaineneo89.wordpress.com themeltingpopsicles

      Reblogged this on The Melting popsicles and commented:
      Alcohol and a thick-skin is recipe to being a good writer.

    • http://www.carolinejordanfitness.com/all-natural-ways-to-pump-up-your-energy/ All Natural Ways to PUMP up your energy. | Caroline Jordan

      […] 21 Tips for Writers : many of these apply to life in general too […]

    • http://jennyblake.me/blog/coffee-talk-8/ Weekend Coffee Talk: Mind, Body, Business & Books (#8)

      […] Fun quotes from Thought Catalog on 21 Harsh But Eye-Opening Writing Tips From Great Authors: […]

    • http://thousandshadesofgray.com/2013/10/14/something-good-99/ Something Good | A Thousand Shades of Gray

      […] Shared on last week’s Positively Present Picks: Need-To-Know: Practical Magic, and 21 Harsh But Eye-Opening Writing Tips From Great Authors, and The path is not straight, and Dog People Unite Temporary Tattoo, and Be Happy: 46 Proven […]

    • http://jamieschlansky.wordpress.com Jamie Schlansky

      Reblogged this on The Ghost Writer and commented:
      #22. Just keep writing, you moron.

      A great read for a great audience.

    • http://blog.crowdscribed.com/jb111213/ Just Browsing for November 12, 2013 | CrowdScribed

      […] + 21 Harsh But Eye Opening Writing Tips from Great Authors. […]

    • simonsylvester

      Reblogged this on Simon Sylvester and commented:
      I’m a sucker for a compilation of writing advice. No.7 rings especially true for me right now. But still, I love to write.

    • http://inklingzine.wordpress.com impossiblegirl

      Reblogged this on Inkling Magazine.

    • http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/nanowrimo-tip-17-listen-to-the-advice-of-great-authors_b80350 NaNoWriMo Tip #17: Listen to the Advice of Great Authors - GalleyCat

      […] seventeenth tip is: Listen to the Great Authors. Think Catalog has put together a very entertaining and useful list of writing tips from authors including: Mark […]

    • http://www.publishingopinions.com/2013/11/25/nanowrimo-tip-17-listen-to-the-advice-of-great-authors/ Publishing Opinions | NaNoWriMo Tip #17: Listen to the Advice of Great Authors

      […] seventeenth tip is: Listen to the Great Authors. Think Catalog has put together a very entertaining and useful list of writing tips from authors including: Mark […]

    • http://writermummy.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/write-now-write-naked-2013-365-challenge-330/ Write Now, Write Naked: 2013 365 Challenge #330 | writermummy

      […] a list of great quotes on writing by famous authors, on the Thought Catalog blog. Entitled 21 Harsh But Eye-Opening Writing Tips by Great Authors, my favourites include […]

    • http://howtowriteshop.loridevoti.com/2013/11/holiday-happenings-here-and-there/ Holiday happenings here and there | How To Write Shop

      […] Good writing tips (a few oldies but goodies […]

    • http://bprao.wordpress.com/2013/11/29/writing-tips-from-great-authors/ Writing Tips From Great Authors | People at Work & Play

      […] saw this delightful collection of “21 Harsh But Eye-Opening Writing Tips from Great Authors.” and very useful tips on writing from great authors in Thought […]

    • http://emorywritingcenter.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/writing-advice-or-how-to-enjoy-a-break-and-get-something-done/ Writing advice, or how to enjoy a break and get something done | Emory Writing Center

      […] recently featured on our Twitter feed this article on 21 harsh writing tips that are nonetheless good to hear. Famous authors giving glib but true commentary on the writing process – you should take a […]

    blog comments powered by Disqus