“My imagination functions much better when I don’t have to speak to people.”
~ Patricia Highsmith
Whether writing persuasive marketing copy or the next bestselling novel, all writers need to nurture a deep understanding of people and what makes them tick. And understanding other people is only possible once you understand yourself. But self-knowledge needs resources that are scarce in the modern world: silence, solitude, and time.
To slay distraction, sharpen your focus, and achieve your writing goals, you need to create an abundance of all three. The bad news is, for most of us it’s difficult. …
When you think about how to improve as a writer, you focus on things you need to do. It’s all about discipline and productivity. Write every day, write faster, write more. Right? Wrong. So, so wrong.
The most important thing you can do to be the best writer you can be is to stop doing all the things that hold you back, block you, and undermine your success. You may not even know you’re doing them. It’s time to change that.
There’s no-one here but you. Even I’m not here anymore by the time you’re reading this! So, you can…
Among the very first written documents, inscribed on papyrus in ancient Egypt some 6,800 years ago, is a collection of short stories commissioned by the pharaoh Khufu. Khufu is better known in the West as Cheops, the mummified occupant of the Great Pyramid of Giza. His short story collection, named after its discoverer as the Papyrus Westcar, is now housed in the Ägyptisches Museum in Berlin.
These short stories — magical tales of wizardry and wonder — pre-date the first Western poets such as Homer and Ovid by millennia. They were almost certainly drawn from earlier oral traditions. Wonder tales…
At the age of 80, after a life of meditation, introspection, and spiritual teaching, the Buddha died of violent food poisoning. He’d just eaten either a pork or mushroom dish (scholars debate the translation of the earliest texts) offered him by a well-meaning blacksmith.
He was born at least 500 years before Christ.
Like Christ, he enjoys a highly mythologized biography in which historical facts rub shoulders with unlikely stories of miracles and wonders.
But putting the legendary figure to one side, the Buddha’s teaching reflects many of the most important developments in contemporary psychology, philosophy and neuroscience.
Getting the narrative viewpoint right or wrong can make or break your novel. Beginner writers rarely realize how important it is to choose the right narrator or narrators to tell their story. They just assume that it must be the person whose story is being told, the protagonist.
But that’s not a good assumption. The choice of narrative viewpoint needs serious thought as it will influence the plot, voice, narrative style, tone, and emotional arc of the book. It’s a keystone in the architecture of your novel. …
You’re welcome to Le Carré — he hasn’t got any future
— a publisher’s rejection of The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.
After being rejected dozens of times, John le Carré’s world-class, bestselling spy thriller sold hundreds of millions of copies worldwide and still sells. If you can hunt down a first edition copy, it’ll set you back at least $3000. And not only did his book have commercial success, it also received several literary awards and became a Hollywood blockbuster movie.
Le Carré’s story isn’t unique. You won’t need to search long to uncover dozens of similar…
Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good
— Dr. Samuel Johnson
At a certain stage of your literary development, you look for serious critiques of your work. You don’t stuff your recycling bin with unfinished drafts anymore. Now, if you start an article, a story, a blog post, or even a novel, you finish it. The relationship between form, style, and content is clearer to you; your work has a sense of direction; and you see the quality of your writing improve.
Publishing houses and literary agents almost never give any editorial feedback on the work they reject. Many authors think they’re cruel and snobbish to behave in such a fashion. But they don’t have the time. They’re businesses, not charitable institutions. The more time they spend critiquing sub-par work, the less time they have to look after the interests of the clients they already represent.
If you get a sentence or two of advice, critique, or encouragement from a literary agent or publisher who rejects your manuscript, rejoice and be glad. No agent or publisher, especially if they work for the…
Good writers know they must write for their readers. Writers of all stripes — advertising copywriters, content writers, bloggers, journalists, novelists, and even poets — have a clear image of their ideal reader in mind. I’ve written here about reader-focused content and how to write it. It’s a vital practice for success. But taken to the extreme, it can have a crushing effect on creativity.
We make much these days of so-called ‘writing to market’. It extends the idea of writing for a specific readership. …
Writing a novel is like choreographing a dance or composing a symphony. The universal factor which pulls all the other elements together into a harmonic whole is rhythm. Dance or music with no variation in tempo would be monotonous and meaningless. Likewise, with the novel.
A novel needs well-crafted rhythmic variation to make sense to the reader. Studies in linguistics, cognitive neuroscience and evolutionary psychology suggest that language itself has close evolutionary links with dance, ritual, music, and rhythm. The most powerful technique for modulating the rhythmic sense of a novel is ‘psychic distance’ or ‘narrative distance’. …
Austin is a professional writer and editor. Skeptical about everything else, he believes in kindness. Here, he shares sensible advice for serious writers.