The surprising advantages of writing without conscious purpose

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Even with a moderate lifestyle, a healthy diet, happiness, and luck, I’ll never live long enough to write up all the good article outlines I have on file. Not even if the world-renowned gerontologist, Aubrey de Grey, gets his way and extends my active life by several hundred years. I have a lot of notes!

But before you ask, no, they’re not for sale. I don’t know which will make it to the published page yet. Maybe I’ll arrange for someone to compile the leftovers and publish them as a resource after my death. But the point of this story…


The science of doing one thing at a time to harness the power of better concentration, focused thought, and effective action

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Do you want to get as little as possible done in the time you have, crucify your concentration, massacre your memory, and skyrocket your stress-levels? Then I can’t recommend multitasking enough. And to extirpate your intellect entirely, go for multimedia multitasking. Oh yes, that will nuke your neurons once and for all.

Just say it: Multitasking. How marvelous it sounds! How jauntily it skips across the tongue! How sweetly it rings in the ear! Oh, it positively thrums with productivity-promise.

Yet never was a term more disingenuous, nor a promise so vainly made, nor so artfully deceiving. …


Scribbled in his private diaries, I found Tolstoy’s writing algorithm

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy by Pasternak. Public Domain via WikiMedia Commons

Millions of words of writing advice have been written and published since Aristotle first penned his masterworks, Rhetoric and Poetics. The online environment — not least the blogosphere and Kindle Direct Publishing — has transformed giving writing advice and other forms of self-help into a multi-billion-dollar industry. And you don’t need to be a great philosopher to have a go these days. Everyone and their aunts are writing gurus now; often when the only writing they’ve ever done is rehashing another writing guru’s already plagiarized advice. Sigh, laugh, or cry? I never can decide on that one.

But given the…


Rid yourself of these to see your productivity and free time soar

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Original thinking and daring action don’t come naturally to most of us. We tend to enjoy genius and adventure vicariously through novels, movies, comic books, and games. In reality, we fall back on socially programmed expectations and established habits to get us through the day.

Habits can be useful. The habit of getting up every day to write one thousand words before breakfast, for example, was a life changer for me. But other habits are senseless. They only distract you from what matters and waste your precious time. …


Locked down, furloughed, remote working: the pandemic seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally write that novel. So, what went wrong?

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I’ve since abandoned all social media, but at the start of the pandemic I still had Twitter. Of my 1,499 followers on that platform, about a dozen engaged often in meaningful interactions. They were all artists, musicians, and writers.

When we first went into lockdown, Twitter buzzed with posts from writers and other creatives about the opportunity this sudden super-abundance of solitude and time offered us.* Everyone was going to finish that novel.

A year on and very few have even knocked out a first, rough draft. Maybe you’re among them. Progress reports and completed novels never followed those first…


Everything you need to earn $1000+ per short story

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It’s a common misunderstanding that there’s no money to be made from the literary short story. Hundreds of small literary magazines offer only a token payment and a couple free copies of the edition in which your story appears. But at the top end of the literary scene — think Harpers, Virginia Quarterly, The New Yorker, Narrative Magazine, The Sun, Grays Sporting Journal, etc. — you’ll get up to several thousand dollars for a single story. Much more than the couple hundred you can expect from even the best ‘low brow’ genre markets.

So how do you write for these…


How to escape the mental trap that holds you back from writing success

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So, let’s get straight down to the meat-and-bones. Do you dream of writing one or more commercially successful novels? Or publishing a portfolio of highly acclaimed short stories? Or building a content-based blog which serves up a cool six-figure income? Maybe your ambition is to publish a poetry collection, write your autobiography, get a column in a national newspaper, sell a screenplay to Hollywood, ghostwrite your way to secret riches, or any other writing ambition.

So, why haven’t you? It costs nothing to write. There’s no other profession on the planet that has so few barriers to entry. …


How to become a better writer by reading deep inside the text

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It’s summer in 1978. A ten-year-old me curls up on the scratchy, sunflower-yellow carpet, in the narrow space between my bed and the wall of my attic bedroom. Sunlight streaks through open sash windows, illuminating the thick, ocher-tinged pages of a first edition of Henry Gilbert’s Robin Hood and the Men of the Greenwood. Walter Crane’s glorious illustrations flash into vivid, almost animated life.

But I’m not here for the color plates or the captivating line drawings which accompany the text. I’m here for the text itself. Not even the story, enchanting as it is, but the language.


4 simple techniques for well-written complaints that get results

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Most of us need to write a letter — or email — of complaint at some point in our lives. The service we paid through the nose for was a joke; the goods didn’t arrive, or when they arrived, they were damaged; parts were missing; the staff were rude. We all know how frustrating it is to receive poor service and the annoyance and difficulty caused by damaged or mislaid goods. Often, we resolve these issues with a quick phone call. …


Examining the evidence, debunking the myths, and highlighting what’s useful for creative writers

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The idea of a link between creativity and mental illness is venerable and enduring. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare writes, “The lunatic, the lover, and the poet / Are of imagination all compact.” The poet and literary critic, John Dryden, wrote, “Great wits are sure to madness near allied / And thin partitions do their bounds divide”. And Lord Byron has said, “We of the craft are all crazy. Some are affected by gaiety, others by melancholy, but all are more or less touched.”

The mad poet and the crazed novelist

The image of the mad poet or the novelist crazed by sudden inspiration, driven by…

Austin Hackney

Austin is a professional writer/editor. He shares sensible advice for serious writers and odd diversions into science, philosophy, culture, and the arts. He/him

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