Writing habits of the the best writers

How to write the next great American novel

Posted Jan 31, 2011

I've been a writer since I mastered cursive back in the second grade. Proudly, I have moved on from scribbling in the wide-ruled pages of my Trapper Keeper to typing 80 words a minute on a pricey backlit keyboard.

While technology has certainly simplified the act of writing, maintaining motivation and focus can be intolerable at times. For me, writing is equal parts agony and joy. My current project, a collection of short stories, is in desperate need of some inspiration, which is why I've turned to my favorite authors for some advice on good writing: 

Haruki Murakami:

"But it takes time. When I started to write this book and I was writing and writing every day, then when that dark­ness came, I was ready to enter it. It took time before that, to reach that stage. You can’t do that by start­ing to write today and then tomor­row enter­ing that kind of world. You have to endure and labor every day. You have to have the abil­ity to con­cen­trate. I think that’s the most impor­tant ingre­di­ent to the writer. For that I was train­ing every day. Phys­i­cal power is essen­tial. Many authors don’t respect that. [Laughs] They drink too much and smoke too much. I don’t crit­i­cize them, but to me, strength is crit­i­cal. Peo­ple don’t believe that I’m a writer because I’m jog­ging and swim­ming every day. They say, 'He’s not a writer.'"

F. Scott Fitzgerald (in his early 20s when his first novel, This Side of Paradise, was published):

"My whole theory of writing I can sum up in one sentence. An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next and the schoolmasters of ever afterward."

David Sedaris (on whether it was difficult to write Me Talk Pretty One Day):

"No. I mean, I'm always happy if I have, like, humiliating asshole things that I did. I think: Oh good, that's a good story. Because if you write about humiliating asshole things other people do it doesn't work as well. I mean, you can, but you can get away with it better if you talk about what an asshole you are. It's much easier. And I'm the biggest jerk in every one of those stories, but that's not faked. I mean, I'm the worst person -- the worst human being -- at this table. And with the exception of that woman over there with the black jacket on [he points at a stranger at an adjacent table] I'm probably the worst person in this entire restaurant."

J.D. Salinger (from The Catcher in the Rye):

"But what I mean is, lots of time you don't know what interests you most till you start talking about something that doesn't interest you most. I mean you can't help it sometimes."

Vladimir Nabokov:

"Above all, beware of platitudes, i.e., word combinations that have already appeared a thousand times.... As a general rule, try to find new combinations of words (not for the sake of their novelty, but because every person sees things in an individual way and must find his own words for them)."

Stephen King:

"A little talent is a good thing to have if you want to be a writer. But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar."

"You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair--the sense that you can never completely put on the page what's in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page."

Pearl S. Buck:

"The secret of joy in work is contained in one word - excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it."

Julia Cameron (of The Artist's Way):

"I have learned, as a rule of thumb, never to ask whether you can do something. Say, instead, that you are doing it. Then fasten your seat belt. The most remarkable things follow."

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