The surprising advantages of writing without conscious purpose

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…


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

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

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

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

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…


Ready to go beyond the basics? Try these techniques to add complexity and depth to your characterization

There’s nothing wrong with the standard advice you’ll find everywhere: establish your protagonist early with plenty of character-revealing action and dialogue. I’ve suggested the same technique here along with tips and tricks for how to make it as effective as possible. But while solid advice, it’s not the only choice you can make. If you’re ready to go beyond the basics, here are six advanced characterization techniques to use in your fiction.

Third party viewpoints

The opinion we form of someone we meet for the first time is often decided by the way other people treat them. If everyone else defers to them…


Why thinking about writing may be as important as writing itself

A writer’s obsession with writing

Do you think about writing all the time? I do. It’s a major focus of my conscious activity. “Oh, my goodness, I meant to write today!” are words never likely to pass my lips.

I write more-or-less every day. Not always. For example, if I am so ill that I just can’t get it together for love nor money (the two reasons I write) or if I must be out-and-about all day without so much as a second to scribble a few words in my notebook. But such days are rare. …


But only with a knuckle-load of patience, persistence, reasoned argumentation, and above all, compassion

There’s no challenge like persuading a conspiracy theorist, an ‘anti-vaxxer’, or any other ‘denialist’ to see reason. The attempt can exhaust and distress you. After years of trying, I’d given it up as a lost cause. But then I was proved wrong.

A close friend— a research scientist— called me. “Austin, I just persuaded an anti-vaxxer to go get herself and her kids vaccinated.” I came back with, “That’s great! But… how the hell did you do it?” The rest of this story is an exploration of her answer.

Compassion

The key is to listen and be compassionate throughout. In a…


How to write articles that create buzz and change lives

You’re in bed, it’s late, your eyes are sore, and you have a painful crick in your neck despite the stack of pillows; but you keep turning the pages like an addict keeps squeezing the syringe. You should have been asleep hours ago. You’ll suffer tomorrow and you know it. But you can’t stop reading.

When you write, that’s the effect you want to have on your reader.

As a writer, you don’t just read. You read consciously. You read with a keen sensitivity not only to the emotional effects of what you’re reading and the information you can get…


How to slay distraction, sharpen focus, and achieve your goals

“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. …

Austin Hackney

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

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