Writing Wednesday: 8 Tips for Success from the Pros

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The goal of our Writing Wednesday series is to offer helpful and interesting suggestions that you might not have thought of. But sometimes the best ideas are the ones tried and tested by the real pros – internationally successful authors, screenwriters and columnists. So check out what these eight accomplished writers have to say about honing your craft and achieving your ambitions.

On Self-Editing

“If there’s a phrase you don’t need then get rid of it… In an ideal world the perfect script is one you can’t cut a line from.”

– Sean Nash, Australian writer and director

“Read it aloud to yourself because that’s the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK (prose rhythms are too complex and subtle to be thought out—they can be got right only by ear).”

– Diana Athill, British literary editor, novelist and memoirist

On Finding Focus

“Characters, plot and dialogue and getting things ready for publication are what count.”

– William Gallagher, British writer and journalist

“Write the book that is burning a hole in your soul. If you had six months to live, what would you tell the world? If you were on your deathbed, what would you shout to the world?”

– Regina Brett, American author and newspaper columnist

On Being Kind to Yourself

“When it comes to creating art, remove responsibility in a way, not as an excuse to be lazy, but so that you can fail and be fine and keep editing. Make whatever is in you and be okay with it for what it is. Take some of that pressure off yourself… that helps me a lot. It’s all trial and error, and everyone is entitled to making cheesy art or writing bad poetry. Chill out and be nice to yourself; that’s generally my blanket of advice for anyone.”

– Tavi Gevinson, American writer, magazine editor and actress

“Don’t panic. Midway through writing a novel, I have regularly experienced moments of bowel-curdling terror, as I contemplate the drivel on the screen before me and see beyond it, in quick succession, the derisive reviews, the friends’ embarrassment, the failing career, the dwindling income, the repossessed house, the divorce . . . Working doggedly on through crises like these, however, has always got me there in the end. Leaving the desk for a while can help. Talking the problem through can help me recall what I was trying to achieve before I got stuck. Going for a long walk almost always gets me thinking about my manuscript in a slightly new way. And if all else fails, there’s prayer. St Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers, has often helped me out in a crisis. If you want to spread your net more widely, you could try appealing to Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, too.”

– Sarah Walters, Welsh novelist

On (Bot) Planning Ahead

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as the headlights but you can make the whole trip that way.”

– E.L. Doctorow, American novelist, editor and professor

“I write really fast, not worrying about making mistakes when I’m working on a first draft. I think novice writers make a mistake when they worry too much about where their novel is going, or get buried in too much outline. Surprise yourself, sentence by sentence; don’t worry about the next chapter. In reality, the first page of your novel is the most important of all. It’s where you define the pace and mood of your story.”

– Matt Marinovich, American author

What’s the best professional writing advice you’ve ever read?

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