writing advice

18 of the Best Pieces of Writing Advice

Once the words leave your body and exist on the page, they are no longer yours.

This piece of wisdom came from my high school creative writing teacher who taught me a lot about how to edit my own work. 

Having a thick skin, he explained, would be crucial to my development as a writer. It means you’re confident, able to separate yourself from the work you’ve put forth, and understand you won’t please everyone all the time.

It’s a learned skill, one you have to practice over and over again. It means you need to give yourself permission to step back and see the writing objectively. The hard work of bringing it forth has been done. Next comes refinement.

I've held onto this advice throughout my writing career, and was curious to know what other advice fellow writers have received. I posed the question to the Eat This Poem community, who, unsurprisingly, were filled to the brim with encouraging words for how to write better.

1. Simplify your writing. One word is better than two.

—Dina Honke (website | twitter)

2. Some of the best writing advice I've ever received came from Ann Friedman while on a retreat in Guatemala and that is to write without an audience in mind.

It's quite hard to adhere to, but it's crucial, at least at the beginning of the process when ideas are still getting out of your head.

—Kelly Barrett (website | twitter)

3. “Write as if everyone you know is dead.” -Amy Bloom.

It's morbid, but effective for getting me to write more freely, uninhibited.

—Amy Caputa

4. Write first, edit later. Which essentially means don't bother about improving your work while writing itself, let the ideas flow.

Once you are done with writing, leave the doc for a day or so and come back later to edit it. This will make you write much faster.

—Anoop Chawla (website | twitter)

5. An editor told me that once I have a draft, leave it alone—don't look at it, don't edit, do nothing to it and let it simmer for at least a month if you can, and the longer the better.

He said that the time apart will lend clarity to the piece, similar to what absence can do for lovers.

—Lima Charlie

6. From the book, The Right To Write, I loved the advice of letting the story flow through the writer and not be so hung up on "I". A little detachment goes a long way to better writing.

—Kurt Jacobson (website | twitter)

7. Once when an editor needed to cut my article for space, she asked me, "Which parts are you married to?" She was respecting what I believed needed to be kept in the article and wouldn't cut those parts.

It's a good idea to know the answer to that question before you submit your article for publication. It's an even better idea to take a good look at your article and cut the parts "you're not married to" before you submit to decide if they are even necessary to include.

More succinct writing is usually better. Think Hemingway.

—Susan Miller (twitter)

18 Best Pieces of Writing Advice

8. "Write what you DON'T know, in order to tap into your own imagination, find your creative singular voice."

This advice perhaps best applies to writers of fiction and creative nonfiction. Otherwise you're just recounting facts or reporting what others believe to be true.

—Julie M.

9. From my old English teacher—"It's all about clarity. Keep things simple for your readers. This should be the foundation."

Also, you've got to learn the rules before you can break them.

—Lauren Orlina (twitter)

10. Believe in yourself.

—Larissa Saco

11. Always write first. Write every day, every morning when you first get up. Make coffee, sit down and write. Don't check email, don't dig into work, don't tend your people and animals that need tending (so wake up earlier!).

Habit becomes practice - and words WILL come. If you can't think of what to write, or your project isn't getting going, write something else. Write a short story. Write a letter to your grandma. Write a poem. JUST WRITE.

Also, write when you write, then edit. Don't edit as you go along, it will bog you down. Get the words out and clean them up later. Your writing will be cleaner and brighter for it.

—Jessie Voigts (website | twitter)

12. During a time I needed to read these words, I read them deeply. Now it's forever a reminder when I need it:

"You just go on your nerve. If someone’s chasing you down the street with a knife you just run, you don’t turn around and shout, 'Give it up! I was a track star for Mineola Prep.' That’s for the writing poems part."
-Frank O'Hara, Personism: A Manifesto 

Now, this is how I choose to write.

—Crystal Rivera (website)

13. Write.

—Mike Mahaffey (website)

14. Write the book you want to read.

—Caryn Wille (twitter)

15. Don't be afraid of "word vomiting." Get your thoughts down first and edit later. Even when you think you're not making sense, it's better than staring at a blank page.

Don't overthink your thoughts and judge your own words. Just sit, breathe, drink tea and write.

—Lu Ann Pannunzio (website | twitter)

16. Do it afraid.

—Nicole Mackey (website | twitter)

17. Imagine no one will ever read your words. I'd never write half the stuff I scribble if I thought anyone would read it.

—Deleonora Abel (twitter)

18. I received two really good pieces of writing advice at two very different times in my life.

The first was during my freshman year of college when I was all about using fifty-cent words and phrasing things in the most convoluted way possible.

A professor told me that she couldn't see through the window I'd fogged up—when I wrote in that manner, it was difficult for my readers to understand what I wanted them to understand.

She told me that good writing is a crystal clear window into the author's thoughts. Stayed with me forever.

The second piece of writing advice was given to me much, much later, sometime when I was in graduate school for my MFA in creative writing (see?! That first piece of advice was crucial!).

I don't remember who specifically told me this, but I do remember learning that I ought to be as surprised as my characters by the unfolding of the story.

As writers, we're in the business of discovery—and in order to craft a convincing discovery, we need to write from a place of genuine unearthing.

We need to lose control, let go of the plan.

—Helen McLaughlin (website | twitter)