My Favorite Harsh But Eye-Opening Writing Tips

So, a while ago, I stumbled upon this article on Facebook. It’s called “21 Harsh But Eye-Opening Writing Tips From Great Authors” by Cody Delistraty. Of course, you know I was all over that like a hobo on a ham sandwich. So, just like my favorite Pixar rules, these were my favorites. Be sure to visit the link to the original article at the bottom to read all 21 quotes.

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

When I see this quote, it’s one of those situations where it’s funny because it’s true. Not that you want to shoot them, but every aspiring writer thinks that his/her writing is the shit. You go out into the world with your first short story and you give it out to all of your family members. And they all tell you, “It’s great.” “Aren’t you talented?” they say. “Looks like we have an author in the family.” They’re family and friends, and they love you. They’re doing you a huge disservice, because they’re setting you up for the biggest fall of your life.

It took me four years to recover from mine.

Once you give your manuscript to someone who knows a little about literature, looks at it every day, that’s it. Your little hobby becomes work. And no matter what you do, there’s going to be something to work on. It’s not going to be perfect, and it’s going to be crushing. Rising back up from that is hard. Most people never recover from the shattering of that illusion.

I don’t actually recommend shooting someone while they’re happy. However, if you come across a young friend who wants your opinion on his/her work, I recommend being honest, but uplifting. My friend, Lindsey, says she likes to use the three up and one down model. That’s three positives for every negative. Let them know early that this is work and not everything they touch is gold; however, make it fun for them. Make it about the journey, learning and improvement.

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

This is definitely one of the best answers to “why do you write” that I have ever heard. Every time I write a novel, when it’s done, I look down at it and think to myself, “Holy shit, is that my still beating heart on the page there? Why is it bleeding like that?!” And every time someone reads it, it gets even worse. Every person gets to sit there and poke and prod at it with their little knife fingers, each one of them commenting on whether its color and texture is good enough or if its beat is strong or steady enough. (Or worse, they look down and say, “Oh, that’s nice. No, I don’t want to look at it.” Indifference kills people!)

When I’m done, I realize that I seem to have grown another heart, and I have to tear it out again. Why would I do this to myself over and over? Because I have to. I have to do it to live. I cannot be happy unless I’m writing. That’s the only reason to write.

12. If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do. – William Zinsser

This one’s on the house. See #7.

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

This just made me laugh. This is an example of a highly amusing style preference. Sometimes, I use semicolons, usually in dialogue when people are speaking through and combine their sentences. It doesn’t make sense to have a full stop flow-wise. Most of the time though, it’s just as good without as it is with. Hehe, “hermaphrodites”.

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

Also, see this quote. From Dead Poets Society. It’s not in the list, but I felt it relevant.

“So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys – to woo women – and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do. It also won’t do in your essays.”
― N.H. Kleinbaum, Dead Poets Society

When I first read this piece of advice, I was worried. Actually, every time I read a piece of writing advice, I sit there and worry whether or not I do whatever it is they’re talking about. Luckily, I found that I don’t use “very” often. And when I do, it’s in dialogue. I think my characters are allowed to say “very”. (My poison is the word “just” instead.)

But if you have a problem with it, and have a hard time catching yourself, there’s a way to go into Word’s autocorrect and add in your own. I learned this from a friend (not a touch typist) whose brother programmed the autocorrect to write “dumb-ass” every time she wrote the word “the”. When she looked up after typing a few paragraphs, she saw about fifteen occurrences of “dumb-ass” all over her paper. So, every time you write “very”, it will automatically switch to “damn” before your… uhm… very eyes.

21. Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously. – Lev Grossman

Yes, this. Oh, I should elaborate. There are many ways to interpret this, and I think that’s why I like it. It could mean “follow your heart” or “you’re never going to please everyone” or “there’s no right way to write”. I also like it, because it makes it okay to disagree with someone else’s opinion. There are a lot of times where I traverse the blogosphere and read these “how to write” blogs, and they just make me sad. I often disagree with what they’re saying, and this makes that okay. There’s no single way to write.

– “21 Harsh But Eye-Opening Writing Tips From Great Authors” by Cody Delistraty


One thought on “My Favorite Harsh But Eye-Opening Writing Tips

  1. *laughs* These are great. I’ll have to read the whole list when I get the chance, but I loved these gems you pulled out. 🙂

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