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Learn from the Best: Writing Tips and Tricks from Famous Writers

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Storytellers are a special breed. They are paid to sit down and dream up new worlds, taking readers on adventures that transport them to far away places. They have the ability to make our imaginations sore by plugging their minds into the stream of the universe and reporting back on what they see.

Have you ever dreamed of becoming a writer? Do you have a story inside of you that is screaming to get out? That’s good because we need more stories and talented writers to put them down on paper.

And yet the life of a writer isn’t for everyone. It’s a challenging and often painful journey. Having an idea for a story isn’t enough. And even being talented doesn’t mean you have what it takes to be a professional.

Keep reading to learn writing tips and tricks offered by some of the most talented and famous writers who have kept us entertained over the years.

Ask Yourself Why You Want to Write

Make no mistake, becoming a professional writer can be an arduous experience. The process of giving life to the story inside you is brutal enough, then comes the rejection.

This is a job that requires thick skin. Perhaps thicker skin than any other career path. There’s nothing heartwarming about dreaming up a story, bleeding on the page, spending years perfecting your choice of words, only to have some faceless editor refuse to publish it.

So ask yourself why. Why do you want this? Are you motivated by money? Well, you might never make a dime. Are you motivated by a desire for fame? Good luck with that. 

As Stephen King once said, “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”

Even writers who have gone on to become rich and famous will tell you they didn’t have a choice. Real writers write because they have to. The story growing inside them simply must be told.

Dealing with Writer’s Block

Is writer’s block real? It depends who you ask. 

Louis L’Amour said it best, “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

The simple reality is that writing is hard work. It requires one to sit down and focus, and attempt to transpose the vision held within your mind onto paper or a computer screen. 

Writer’s block is a term used to describe the phenomenon of when the words stop flowing. Staring at a blank page, watching the blinking cursor, with all that white space staring back at you can be utterly terrifying. 

Getting started is often the hardest part, thus L’Amour’s advice to simply begin, no matter what. You must push past your fear. The mind will always seek the path of least resistance, and yet the act of writing is hard labor.

Just consider the fact that most novels take many months to complete a draft, with many revisions and drafts to follow. It’s a difficult and lonely task.

Having an Idea

Many of the most talented professional writers will confess that the most difficult part of writing a story is having an idea. Believe it or not, great ideas are in short supply.

Aaron Sorkin, one of the most talented and successful screenwriters in the history of television and film, has much to say about the challenges of finding an idea worth writing. He will actually spend many months searching, desperate for his subconscious to latch on to something he can use.

When asked about his process, he once remarked, “To the untrained eye, my process looks a lot like lying on the couch watching ESPN.”

Sorkin goes on to describe taking up to eight showers a day, then putting on fresh clothes, going for long drives and listening to music from his high school and college days, anything to create a spark within his imagination.

Keep in mind that good ideas are typically not just one thing. A solid story is built on multiple ideas often collected over a period of years. A writer will have an idea and store in away in the subconscious until another juicy little nugget can be added to it. And then, eventually, something deep inside will click. That’s when she knows that she finally has enough to begin.

Nobody Knows Anything

This is one of the most famous quotes from the movie business. In his book Adventures in the Screen Trade, Academy Award winning screenwriter William Goldman said of his business, “Nobody knows anything.”

Goldman was perhaps the greatest screenwriter to ever live, and yet he was making the point that no one understands what makes a movie successful. The creative process is a mystery, and attempting to figure out exactly what the audience wants is a lost cause.

You might be convinced you’ve got the best idea in the world, but there’s no way to predict what the public will pay to see. This is why popular actors tend to get paid millions of dollars. They represent a bankable variable. Yet even an actor’s popularity is often wildly unpredictable and fleeting.

The moral of this story is learning to find the balance of what you believe will appeal to a mass audience while also writing from the heart.

What Makes a Successful Writer?

An interviewer once asked Aaron Sorkin what qualities it takes to become a brilliant and successful writer for TV? Sorkin replied, “If I knew the answer to that, my stomach wouldn’t hurt all the time.”

Remember kiddos, nobody knows anything. Sorkin is brilliant, and yet brilliance isn’t necessarily quantifiable.

The key to good writing is to simply write the story the you want to read. And hopefully a lot of people like the same stuff that you do. The rest is out of your control.

Seriously, What Makes a Successful Writer?

Let’s take another stab at this. What generally separates a wannabe from someone who becomes very successful at the art of storytelling?

On the most basic level, you have to be honest with yourself and determine whether you have any natural talent. Then you have to do the work. While others are out Saturday night having fun, you have to be chained to the desk, digging deep, putting words on the page.

You have to produce material. Lots of it. Be prepared for most of it to be bad. You’ll have good days and bad days. But when you look back through the pile of pages on your desk, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to determine what pages were written on good days or bad days.

Here’s another great Stephen King quote about struggling through the work, “Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”

Keep in mind that Stephen King is perhaps the bestselling novelist in history. Yet even he still struggles. That should be highly motivational to every writer on the planet, regardless of your level of success.

Find Your Strengths

Sometimes the key to success is to find a genre that suits you. Perhaps your storytelling skills are best suited for television, like Aaron Harberts, Damon Lindelof, or Sam Esmail.

Others were born to be novelists, journalists, or a combination of both, such as the great Tom Wolfe.

Believe it or not, every type of storytelling requires a different set of skills that don’t necessarily transfer to other disciplines.

Find Your Process

Something to keep in mind is the old adage that if you asked ten writers the best way to write, you’ll get eleven different answers.

Many writers use computers. Others prefer composing first drafts longhand. While some still bang away on typewriters. Novelist John Irving writes thousand-page drafts with a pen on blank sheets of paper, then types it up on an IBM Selectric.

At the end of the day, your process doesn’t matter. The key is to get the work done. You might write early in the morning or late at night. You simply have to focus on doing what works for you.

Follow Your Bliss

Writing is work. It’s hard labor. But it’s also a calling. It’s a profession that not everyone has the gift to do, but this is a gift that requires discipline, grit, and dogged determination. 

Writing Tips and Tricks from the Best of the Best

There’s no magic formula to becoming a successful writer. No secret sauce or direct path you can take. The pros have plenty of writing tips and tricks they use to stay motivated and get the job done. But mostly writing is about keeping your head down and plowing forward.

At the end of the day, those who succeed do so because they refused to give up. Perhaps that’s the biggest trick of all!

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