5 Famous Writers Share Essential Lessons on Mastering the Craft
by Writing Workshops Staff
A year ago
A dose of motivation is best delivered by someone who understands your journey, dear writer. Whether you’re a published author or are just getting started on your first writing endeavor, there’s always something you can learn from the greats.
Follow the advice from the five famous writers below to enhance your writing skills today:
Stephen King’s Advice: Ditch the TV and Pick up a Book Instead
Stephen King warns against the perils of the television set for writers cultivating the habit. Instead of watching Netflix, make binge-reading your habit of choice.
“Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot,” King shares in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. “It’s not just a question of how-to, you see; it’s also a question of how much to. Reading will help you answer how much, and only reams of writing will help you with the how. You can learn only by doing.”
As one of the most celebrated authors of our time who reads between 70-80 books a year, we trust his advice on this one!
Ernest Hemingway’s Advice: Write One Simple Declarative Sentence
Writer’s block is an inevitable part of the craft, but Hemingway has a tip. Instead of forcing yourself to churn out pages of descriptive, plot-twisting text, just sit down and write one true sentence. Cut out the fluff until you’ve whittled it down to something that feels real.
He shares this golden tip in A Moveable Feast:
“Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.”
J.K. Rowling’s Advice: Develop Resilience and Humility
It’s impossible not to covet the success of J.K. Rowling, whose books continue to pass through generations as cornerstones of childhood upbringing.
But she didn’t get there without developing a strong sense of resilience and humility along the way.
“These go hand-in-hand, because rejection and criticism are part of a writer’s life. Informed feedback is useful and necessary, but some of the greatest writers were rejected multiple times,” she shares on her website. “Being able to pick yourself up and keep going is invaluable if you’re to survive your work being publicly assessed. The harshest critic is often inside your own head. These days I can usually calm that particular critic down by feeding her a biscuit and giving her a break, although in the early days I sometimes had to take a week off before she’d take a more kindly view of the work in progress. Part of the reason there were seven years between having the idea for Philosopher’s Stone and getting it published, was that I kept putting the manuscript away for months at a time, convinced it was rubbish.”
George Orwell’s Advice: Avoid Common Metaphors
Common metaphors that spring up are often representative of trite, clichéd writing. Animal Farm author George Orwell warns aspiring writers to avoid similes and metaphors that are so common they fail to evoke any sort of emotional response. “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print,” he shares. Instead, lean into your own creativity to conjure up a comparison that will ring fresh and true in your reader’s mind.
Anton Chekhov’s Advice: Make Every Story Element Count
This is perhaps one of the most challenging elements of storycrafting to follow, but is invaluable advice for truly mastering the craft. Russian Playwright Anton Chekhov advises writers, “If in the first act, you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one, it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”
Each story element should layer into a larger theme exposed over time. Commonly referred to as “Chekhov’s Gun,” the concept challenges writers to avoid superfluous details and only add in parts that contribute to the entire picture, whether that be the mood, setting, or plot of the story.
By far, the most important piece of advice that any famous writer would give is to keep writing! By remaining diligent and disciplined throughout your journey and implementing these tips into your practice, you will be well on your way to mastering your craft!