Writing Advice From The World’s Best, Including Stephen King
It might come as a surprise, but some of the best writers in history struggled in school. Many didn’t even go to university. But something drove them to improve their craft: they fell in love with what they did and felt compelled to put pen to paper.
Over the years, they gained both knowledge and wisdom, honing the art of the written word until they produced their masterpieces, whether essays, novels or screenplays. Here’s their advice on the written word, no matter what you’re writing.
Rainer Maria Rilke – Don’t Compare Yourself To Others
You may love the deftness and turn of phrase of Tom Sharpe or the creativity of Tolkien, but their writing emerged from their unique histories. No matter what, you’ll never truly be able to emulate these greats, and nor do you want to. Rainer Maria Rilke, author of Letters to a Young Poet, says that artists should forget comparisons and celebrate their uniqueness. Yes, she says, there are certain standards of writing that you’ll need to attain before people can enjoy your work, but beyond that, you’re free to be as creative as you like. Ultimately, it will be your individuality that will be remembered.
Joseph Conrad – Make Your Writing Believable
Joseph Conrad, the author of numerous essays, novels and short stories, says that writers have to immerse themselves in believable worlds if they want to transfer this believability to the reader through their writing. There need to be universal, shared elements within the reader’s experience that create a sense of familiarity. Without these, there is only alienation and confusion.
Stephen King – Don’t Be Cliched
Stephen King wants aspiring writers to stop using tired and cliched phrases. They should, in his opinion, think harder about the way that they express their ideas. Not everything is “amazing,” he says, and even if something is, there’s a better way of describing it than using that particular over-used word. Companies like Proof Master agree that “waffle” is a problem for many of today’s writers, and that written English must be more concise.
Mark Twain – Forget Originality
In the modern academic world, plagiarism is seen as the ultimate crime. Copying another’s ideas is both dishonest and lazy. But Mark Twain had a different take. While reading the biography of his friend Helen Keller, Twain discovered that she had once been accused of plagiarism. Shocked by the accusation, Twain immediately penned a letter in which he argued that practically all substantive ideas built on one another, and that all the greatest writers in history were plagiarists, having derived some kernel of their ideas from those that came before.
Originality for Twain was little more than the slight peculiarities of a particular individual’s character and writing style. For him, true innovation was a fantasy.
Victor Hugo – Don’t Allow Distractions
Hugo believed in the power of isolation. While writing the Hunchback of Notre Dame, he reportedly asked his servants to hide his clothes and only allow him to wear a cloth tunic so that he couldn’t go outside. Now that’s being in the zone!