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

“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.”

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.”

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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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Great tips Henrik… allow me to express my opinion… :)

    1. I had a similar problem. I waited for inspiration and I experienced the writers block. Then I realized that it was enough to start.To start with the research or writing or anything. But just start!

    2. I liked Elmore Leonard quote… I think that we should always read our texts more than once, and throw out anything that seems needlessly…

    3. Well, this is an interesting idea, to be in now :) I like it.

    4. Yes, that’s for each skill there is. The only way to become better at most of the skills is to use that skill more.

    5. Interesting… Of course, this is true, we shouldn’t get too hung up on being original… especially with blogs, however, we should not give up on new researches neither… ;)

  • Anonymous

    I am really loving the article, but the not pop up telling me to sign up for the e-book. =\

  • Create My Mind Movie

    Wow. I really like these writing tips. The point that resonated with me the most was the ability to take your “inspiration” into your own hands, so to speak, but just writing even though for that moment you don’t feel inspired.

    In addition I love what you say about having presence when you write and really speaking your truth.I think its important not only to harness this in your writing, but also in your life.

    Thanks again for a great post =)

  • Just finished my 2nd book! Everything that you wrote here really rings true!!!

  • Number 5 is a big one for and others, I’m sure. I believe our writing evolves with time and reflection. With time, we are learning more truth and gaining more experiences to draw from. And with reflection, we are analyzing the reasoning behind these events, noticing the patterns, and gaining revelations that we can bring to our writing.

    Writing and editing are forms of reflection, too. Sometimes, you can write yourself through a problem, gaining more knowledge than you had at the start.

  • Hi Henrik. This is my first time posting on your blog. I have been peeking in for a while now but your post today is too good to just look at. :) It especially speaks to me as I have recently started my own blog after going through a few extra hard times in my life. The main thing is that I survived and the 3 most imporant things that helped me do it were, books, writing and having a positive approach to life. I have only come here a few times but I am already in love with your approach. I want to make my own blog a happy place for people to drop by, to possibly have a few giggles to themselves but leave with the feeling that its good to be alive. You are an inspiration! There are very few links on my blog – I could be the last person to jump on the blogging wagon, yours is one of them. Many thanks for your wonderful articles. Cheers from downunder. :)

  • i really loving the article.

  • Good tips,
    if you are a reader, read; if you are a writer, write.

    Thanks for your sharing, love it.

  • I love your last tip on telling your truth and not worrying about being original! I agree wholeheartedly that true originality does not exist, everything has been said by someone at some point over time, albeit in different ways.
    I just started my own blog about a month ago, and I am delighted with the positive results that have come from being courageous like you say and just telling my truth. Not only am I more confident in what i believe, but I have actually had some friends tell me how much they enjoy reading my blog! Turns out there are many benefits to having the courage to be authentic, thanks for the great post!

  • Thank you for another great article. Where else could anyone get that kind of information in such a perfect way of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I am on the look for such information.

  • Thank you for posting these great tips Henrik as I’m going through some creation process process as well.

  • Kim

    Well a writer is someone who is someone with deep insight in worldly affairs and who is courageous enough to express his thoughts to the world. It needs something to become a writer !
    This test is just for then !
    Handwriting Analysis
    Your handwriting reflects your true personality.

  • Thank you all for the comments and for sharing your own writing experiences. :)

  • Hey Henrik,

    This is a beautiful, inspiring post you’ve got here, and I know it’s fallen on attentive ears. Besides the plethora of awesome quotes (about half of which I am writing down!), I wanted to add a comment to your third point about being “wholly alive and present.”

    That point is: Let writing HELP you come alive. When you feel, write. As Natalie Goldberg says, “writers live everything twice.” When you write honestly about the details of your life, you strengthen the part of yourself that lives openly. I have found that in doing so, the whole world opens up, and everything becomes interesting. It’s an incredible, 2 way relationship.

  • 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.