Writing Advice


In a 2017 Literary Hub article titled I Talked to 150 Writers and Here’s the Best Advice They Had, Joe Fassler highlights seven of the most common writing tips, which I found interesting as some one who is aspiring to be a better technical writer.

Just because John Irving does it that way doesn’t mean you should. Not only is every writer different, but each poem, each story and essay, each novel, has its own formal requirements. Advice might be a comfort in the moment, but the hard truth is that literary wisdom can be hard to systematize. There’s just no doing it the same way twice.

After talking with more than 150 writers, Joe Fassler found some recurring writing ideas and found the following which he thinks “will most help you—no matter how unorthodox your process, how singular your vision”.

The following are the Joe Fessler’s SEVEN most common writing tips:

  1. Neglect everything else. “It starts with a simple fact: If you’re not making the time to write, no other advice can help you. Which is probably why so many of the writers I talk to seem preoccupied with time-management. … Ultimately, the literary exercise is about finding ways to defend something fragile—the quiet mood in which the imagination flourishes.
  2. Beginnings matter. “Everyone knows that the opening line is a crucial invitation, something that can make or break a reader’s interest in a book. ‘The first line must convince me that it somehow embodies the entire unwritten text’ – William Gibson.
  3. Follow the headlights. “Give yourself some leeway in the early drafts. Throw out all your plans and assumptions, and make room to surprise yourself. … ‘It tends to happen when I get out of the way—when I let go a little bit, I surprise myself’ – Aimee Bender
  4. Sound it out. “In the absence of a concrete plan, how to know when you’re headed in the right direction?
  5. It’s supposed to be difficult. “One of the things that’s surprised me most is how much the process—even for best-selling and critically acclaimed writers—never seems to get any easier. … ‘My path as a writer became much more smooth, when I learned, when things aren’t going well, to regard my struggles as curious, not tragic’ – Elizabeth Gilbert
  6. Keep a totem. “Many of the writers I talk to keep a totem—an object of special significance, whether it’s a small trinket or printed slogan—nearby as they work, something that serves as a source of inspiration or a barrier against despair. …. There’s nothing more inspiring than the awareness that time is short, and that the ultimate deadline is soon approaching.
  7. Find the joy. “Ultimately, the writers I speak to seem committed to finding the joy within their work, even if that means looking in the most unexpected places. … ‘One of the things that aids me, and which he helped teach me, is this: fundamentally, I do not believe in despair as a real aspect of the human condition’ – Ayana Mathis.

“The joy of being an author is the joy of feeling I can do anything. There are no rules. Only: can you do this with confidence? Can you do it with aplomb? Can you do it with style? Can you do it with joy?”.

Neil Gaiman in Light the Dark (source: Literary Hub)

Though the article was mainly for literary writers, I found several points relatable to technical writing as well. Indeed, writing is interesting and a joy! as the Fessler concludes his article “Find the joy, and when you do, there are no rules”.