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Timeless Wisdom: 5 Tips on Writing from the Last 1900 Years


Image by JohnONolan (license).

[hana-code-insert name=’social down’ /]“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.”
E.L Doctorow

“Whether or not you write well, write bravely.”
Bill Stout

“Writing is the hardest way of earning a living, with the possible exception of wrestling alligators.”
Olin Miller

I usually don’t write much about writing. But today, as I am working on my next book and am writing a lot, I felt like mixing things up a bit and bringing in some variation.

So here are five timeless tips on writing. I suppose this article could be useful if you are a blogger but also if you’re a writer of some other kind. Perhaps one with an unfinished novel still waiting in the drawer.

1. It won’t always be easy.

“Every writer I know has trouble writing.”
Joseph Heller

“Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time… The wait is simply too long.”
Leonard Bernstein

When I started writing articles about music and film in Swedish quite a few years ago I used to wait for inspiration to come. I did the same thing when I first started blogging. I don’t do that anymore.

Inspiration can show up on its own, waltzing in through a door or a window. But doing things that way makes work inconsistent – both in quality and quantity – and you spend a lot of time waiting.

It’s often better to just start working. For the first minutes what you do may suck quite a bit and it’s hard going. But after a while inspiration seems to catch up with you. Things start to flow easier and your work is of a higher quality.

So don’t limit yourself to the moments where you feel inspired or you feel like the moment is just right to do something. Act instead. A lot of the time you can find inspiration along the way.

2. Remove.

“Even the best writer has to erase.”
Spanish Proverb

“I try to leave out the parts that people skip.”
Elmore Leonard

“When you wish to instruct, be brief; that men’s minds take in quickly what you say, learn its lesson, and retain it faithfully. Every word that is unnecessary only pours over the side of a brimming mind.”
Cicero

Not much to add here. Get to the point quickly and you’ll have a better chance of getting through to the one you writing to. Just like when you are talking to someone in real life.

3. Be wholly alive and be present.

“The most solid advice for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”
William Saroyan

Be present and alive with whatever you do. Focus on what’s in front of you. This is not an easy habit to cultivate.

But I have found that over time you can learn to spend more and more time in the now.

In this space your writing will be easier and you may be surprised at how wonderful some of the things that flow out of you are. Again, this is useful in conversations too.

When you start to think too much you are going down a slippery slope. Your communication becomes overly complicated, unclear and with less emotional power behind it.

4. Write, write, write.

“If you would be a reader, read; if a writer, write.”
Epictetus

Good old Epictetus. Always gets to the point quickly. Just like when playing tennis you need to put in the hours. Maybe not the easy answer one wants to hear. But massive amounts of practise tend to sharpen your skill considerably in just about any field.

5. Focus on your truth.

“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”
C.S Lewis

When you write I think it’s better to focus less on being original and more on expressing what you feel is the truth. What you feel has some truth to it often has truth to a lot of other people too. Because we are all pretty much the same. And the truth tends to get through to people. When you read something that tells the truth you can feel it in your body and in how it resonates with your emotions and thoughts.

This is not easy though. And the people that do it a lot often have a lot of courage. But I think it’s something to strive for.

Few things under the sun are new. Things often just seem new to someone because that person hasn’t heard about them before. But most of the time some guy talked about it many hundreds or thousands of years ago. In personal development, loads of people borrow from people like Buddha. And he probably borrowed stuff from some guy no-one can remember anymore.

I’m not saying that people do not add new things and parts of themselves when they express truths that have been said over and over throughout the ages. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t get too hung up on being original because a big part of human interaction and communication is being able to really connect, relate to and understand each other in some way. And you can do that by telling your truth.

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  • TESOL Certification November 1, 2010, 3:30 am

    You have posted great inspiring quotes. I learned a lot and it helped me get motivated in starting to write an article and a blog post. I may also start to create posts from life quotations to help me get inspired and let my writing flow.

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