|Current Adelaide time:||Contact me: +61 410 642 052|
Fresh News: Notes on writing from writers of note
Notes on writing from writers of note
by Philip Yaffe
When I am introduced at social gatherings, the host or hostess usually says: "Hi, I want you to meet Philip Yaffe. He is a professional writer." I almost always get the same response: "Oh, really. What type of novels do you write?"
In other words, people automatically associate the term "writer" with "literature"; as if fiction were the only type of writing. It isn't. And for most ordinary people, such as myself, it is the least important, yet it always seems to take pride of place.
Scholastic snobbery has a lot to do with this.
Virtually every secondary school and many universities require students to take courses in literature. However, virtually no one who takes such courses will ever write a novel, a stage play, a film script; or any other form of fiction. On the other hand, few schools and universities require students to take courses in writing non-fiction. Yet virtually everyone needs these skills to produce reports, memos, letters, marketing plans, company newspapers, and all the other types of non-fiction texts essential for getting on in life.
Internet searches for quotations about writing almost invariable turn of the thoughts of novelists, poets, playwrights, etc., again as if fiction were the only category of writing of any consequence.
I made such a search in order to put together this article. At first I was disappointed by the lopsided results, but on further reflection they turned out to be quite fortuitous.
I normally make a strong distinction between "creative writing" (fiction) and "expository writing" (non-fiction). In fact, this difference is the foundation of a book I recently wrote on the subject, where I explained how and why they are truly very different genres. Nevertheless, when reviewing the quotations, it became apparent that the feelings and emotions of good writers in both genres are remarkably similar.
Thus, whether we are creative writers (the tiny minority of us) or expository writers (the vast majority us), we can all learn something from these renowned writing practitioners.
For convenience, I have tried to categorize their insightful quotations. However, creative writing and expository writing are both highly unified activities. Their fundamental features are so intimately interwoven that any attempt to separate them must necessarily fail. Nevertheless, pretending to disjoin them helps organize our thoughts. So with no apologies for any "mis-categorized" quotes, here is what these respected writers had to say.
1. The Essence of Good Writing
Inventor Thomas Edison once said: "Genius is 1 per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration". In other words, it's hard work. The same is true of writing, both creative and expository. This is good news, because it means that even the least inspired of us can write well if we are just willing to expend the necessary energy.
Here are a few more quotations along the same line.
"A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." - -Thomas Mann
"The secret of good writing is to say an old thing in a new way or to say a new thing in an old way." - - Richard Harding Davis
"Good writing is clear thinking made visible." - - Bill Wheeler
"Writers must constantly ask: what I am trying to say? Surprisingly often, they don't know." - - William Zinsser
"There are two kinds of writers in the world: bad writers and improving writers." - - William Blundell
"Every writer I know has trouble writing." - - Joseph Heller
"Good writing is hard work" - - Snoopy (Charles Schulz)
2. Writing as Discovery
"I know very dimly when I start what's going to happen. I just have a very general idea, and then the thing develops as I write." - - Aldous Huxley
"There are thousands of thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen and writes." - - William Makepeace Thackeray
"The act of writing is the act of discovering what you believe." - - David Hare
"Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn't wait to get to work in the morning. I wanted to know what I was going to say." - - Sharon O'Brien
"I never know what I think about something until I read what I've written on it." - - William Faulkner
In other words, if you believe you have nothing to say, pick a topic and start writing. You may surprise yourself.
3. The Objectives of Good Writing
"We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out - - Ray Bradbury
"I write because I'm afraid to say some things out loud" - - Anonymous.
"The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think." - - Edwin Schlossberg
"When I sit down at my writing desk, time seems to vanish. I think it's a wonderful way to spend one's life" - - Erica Jong
4. The Techniques of Good Writing
"The faster I write, the better my output. If I'm going slow, I'm in trouble. It means I'm pushing the words instead of being pulled by them." - - Raymond Chandler
"Work extra hard on the beginning of your story, so it snares reader's instantly. And know how you're going to end your story before you start writing. Without a sense of direction, you can get lost in the middle." - - Joan Lowery Nixon
"Detail makes the difference between boring and terrific writing. It's the difference between a pencil sketch and a lush oil painting. As a writer, words are your paint. Use all the colors." - - Rhys Alexander
"What I like in a good author is not what he says, but what he whispers". - - Logan Pearsall Smith.
"Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes." - - F. Scott Fitzgerald
"Nothing is so simple that it cannot be misunderstood - - Jr. Teague
5. Writing & Rewriting
"I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter." - - James Michener
"Having imagination, it takes you an hour to write a paragraph that, if you were unimaginative, would take you only a minute. Or you might not write the paragraph at all." - - Franklin P. Adams
"Write your first draft with your heart. Re-write with your head." - - Anonymous
"The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say." - - Mark Twain
"I have made this [letter] longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter" - - Blaise Pascal
"I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead." - - Mark Twain
In other words, the first draft is almost always too long and poorly structured. To be clear and concise requires at least a second draft, and often more. Or put more succinctly:
"The first draft of anything is sh*t." - - Ernest Hemingway
6. Clarity & Conciseness
"When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing." - - Enrique Jardiel Poncela
"Easy reading is damn hard writing." - - Nathaniel Hawthorne
"What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure." - - Samuel Johnson
"Resist the temptation to try to use dazzling style to conceal weakness of substance."
- - Stanley Schmidt
"Don't write merely to be understood. Write so that you cannot possibly be misunderstood." - - Robert Louis Stevenson
"The writer does the greatest good who gives his reader the most knowledge and takes from him the least time." - - Sydney Smith
7. Style & Words
"'I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.' - - James Michener
"A good style should show no signs of effort. What is written should seem a happy accident." - - W. Somerset Maugham
"You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what's burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke. - - Arthur Polotnik
"Writers must rely more on the feel of a sentence than on the dictates of a rule book." - - James J. Kilpatrick
"Like stones, words are laborious and unforgiving, and the fitting of them together, like the fitting of stones, demands great patience and strength of purpose and particular skill." - - Edmund Morrison
"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug." - - Mark Twain
8. Egoism Unbound
Few writers ever have the opportunity to quote themselves. I don't know if anything I have ever said will be remembered a hundred years from now, or even a hundred minutes from now. But for what they are worth, here are few ideas I have encountered, developed, and believed in for over 40 years.
"Convoluted writing is easy, it takes little thought. Simple writing is difficult; it takes all the thinking you can muster - and then some."
"Simple writing is a challenge whose rewards are boundless. Once a writer recognizes this, everything else falls into place."
"Good writing - and by extension good speaking - depend on only a handful of fundamental principles. Once you have mastered these, all the tips and techniques for applying them become almost self-evident."
"Clarity can be defined as a quasi-mathematical formula, which is also a recipe for effectively applying it. To be clear, you must do three things:
1. Emphasise what is of key importance.
2. De-emphasise what is of secondary importance.
3. Eliminate what is of no importance.
In short: CL = EDE"
"Conciseness can be defined as a quasi-mathematical formula, which is also a recipe for effectively applying it. To be concise, your text must be as:
1. Long as necessary, i.e. adequately cover all essential material
2. Short as possible, i.e. avoid all superfluous words, sentences and paragraphs
In short: CO = LS"
"Clarity and conciseness are two sides of the same coin. To be clear, you must be concise. Unnecessary verbiage obscures, so it must be eliminated. Likewise, to be concise, you must be clear. Only by knowing precisely what you want to say can you eliminate obscuring words, sentences and paragraphs."
"Writing is like cooking. You assemble the ingredients and start mixing. When the lifeless liquid begins to stiffen and take shape, you know you are making a cake. For me, the feeling is really that physical."
"Continually ask yourself: 'Why the hell should anyone want to read what I am writing?' If you can't give at least three good reasons, stop writing and start thinking. Otherwise, you will be wasting everyone's time - principally your own."
"Aim for the lowest common denominator. Virtually no one will object that your text is too easy, but some may object that it is too hard. Focus on those who may not understand; they are your true audience. The others will not object."
"The basic principles of good writing and speaking are few and easy to understand. Unfortunately, most books on the subject bury them under an avalanche of tips and techniques."
Having just written a book myself, let me conclude with something I wish I had said, but in fact comes from someone else.
"Inside every fat book there is a thin book struggling to get out" - - Anonymous
Philip Yaffe is a former writer with The Wall Street Journal and international marketing communication consultant. He now teaches courses in persuasive communication in Brussels, Belgium. Because his clients use English as a second or even third language, his approach to writing and public speaking is somewhat different from other communication coaches. His new book The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional will be published in March 2010, and will be available from Amazon.com and other online booksellers. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Reports I have written:
- Create Advertising That Sells
An interactive advertising course featuring book, workbook, and video instruction. And since we can all learn from the masters, it also features several reproductions of hugely successful ad campaigns. Click here to learn more about Create Advertising That Sells.
- With Subconscious Internet Marketing you will learn how to bypass your prospects' unconscious minds and get them to buy anything you sell - be that a product, a service or an idea. An e-book that tells you 746 ways to get people to buy your products and services. Click here to learn more about Subconscious Internet Marketing.
Guerrilla Marketing During Tough Times is the only course that will show you exactly how to survive during bad economic times. Written by the acclaimed marketer Jay Conrad Levinson, you can click here to learn more about Guerrilla Marketing During Tough Times
Measuring the impact and ROI of social media - for Ark Group
Making Social Media work for your business - for Ark Group
Social Media: The New Business Communication Landscape - for Ark Group
How to get started with podcasting in your organisation - for Melcrum Publishing
Contributing author to How to use social media to solve critical internal communication issues - for Melcrum Publishing
Contributing author to How to communicate with hard-to-reach employees - for Melcrum Publishing
As a subscriber you get kept up-to-date on when new articles are added.
Subscribe now! and receive a free version of my $79 report, Master the Art and Science of Twitter for Business.
It's the first in a series of reports I'm writing on how to master the various key elements of social media.
Each report is an-depth, step-by-step process that explains in clear, plain English how to master a particular social media tool and help your business communicate better for better business results.
Each report is easy to read, easy to implement and easy on the pocket -- just $79 per copy.
But as a new subscriber to my blog and newsletter, I'm giving you a copy of the free version of Master the Art and Science of Twitter for Business report as a way of saying "thank you" for joining my community.
Please subscribe, then check for the email you will receive from me shortly after, because in the email will be details of how to download the report [1.2mb pdf]
If you would like to use any of the articles on this site that I have personally written (they will either have 'By Lee Hopkins' on them, or nothing at all) please feel free to do so as long as you include the following 'resource box' text and a link back to www.LeeHopkins.com:
Finally, if this site or any of the articles have been of any help to you, perhaps you'd like to say 'thank you' by throwing a few pennies my way. If so, please click on the button below and donate whatever you feel is appropriate. The payment is handled by PayPal and is extremely secure. Thanks.
Subscribe to my weekly business communication newsletter and receive a FREE version of my highly-regarded report, 'Master the Art and Science of Twitter for Business' (that sells for $79)
Find out more...
Related material :
A 12-step plan to take you from Twitter newbie to Twitter supremo and grow your business in the process.
Better Business Writing
You’ve probably always wanted to improve your writing skills in your workplace, but perhaps there wasn't a training course around to help you.
Well, now there is.
Turn Guesstimates into Estimates & close more sales!
Award-winning ProposalKit gives your clients the detailed price quote and proposal they need so YOU close more sales (and boost your bottom line!) Finally you can quote with accuracy, increasing your profitability and professionalism. ProposalKit is easy, customizable, proven, and downloadable now! http://www.proposalkit.com
Social Media White Paper
Trevor Cook and I wrote a booklet to help our clients and friends come to grips with this new online phenomenon called 'Social Media' or 'Web2.0'. Now in its third edition, it is still being widely cited and is receiving lots of favourable comments.
Find out more about it (opens new window)
Vodburner is my tool of choice for recording skype video calls, either for later podcasting or simply for my own record. Now that video is becoming more and more important, I can't imagine online life without it.
More about Vodburner...
Find out what email marketing can do for your business [opens in new browser window].
What you say about Lee Hopkins:
"One of the best days I've spent with a man! "
"As a speaker, Lee and his alter ego in the guise of avatar 'Lee Laperriere' played a key role in making our virtual event in Second Life a success. Lee was well-researched, engaging and enthusiastic about the possibilities that virtual collaboration brings and his presentation showed that he had really thought about the needs of our audience"
"Wow - what a presentation, it went so well, thank you very much! Fantastic job! "
"Lindy and Lee, you were both brilliant and I'm very thankful and pleased for your efforts, it was excellent. Thank you. "
"One of Australia's leading public relations practitioners in the so-called new media"
"While I only had the pleasure of actually meeting Lee face-to-face several months ago, I have been aware of him in conference programs and through feedback from one of my team members for a while. Lee has an amazing and unique skill for managing the new media to support business outcomes"
"Oz's best social network strategist"
"As for Local Royalty, you really are a Superstar among the bloggers and blogosphere!"
"Lee Hopkins, one of Australia's most respected social media experts"
"Lee was very entertaining and knowledgeable. He demystified social media for me and he made me feel it IS possible."
"His enthusiasm is infectious - exciting stuff!"
"Excellent. A really fascinating insight from an engaging speaker."
"A very difficult topic but it was explained in a fantastically simple way."
"The Walkleys relies on the good will of Australia’s talented communicators to make events like these happen and I can’t thank you enough for taking time out from your heavy schedule to make the convention such a memorable event."
"The workshop was very useful in that it enabled us to directly relate what we learnt in the seminar to our business. Lee was very easy to relate to and he presented all the information in a way that was simple to understand."
"Informative and engaging - gave good overview of new on-line technologies and how they can be applied to businesses. Particularly valued the opportunity to have a separate session to look at the specific needs and potential uses for my own business."
"Great to talk to someone who is expert in their field and passionate."
"The ability to interact one on one with Lee, as well as seeing new technologies and how they can be easily implemented into current business processes [was great]"
"Great. Lee was very engaging and presented info in easy to understand language and examples. Use of music, video, PowerPoint etc keep contents fun and educational. Great stuff!"
“Great! Even I could understand and appreciate the content. Excellent examples, wonderful presentation. I’m going back to share with my team. Thank you. "
“Lee was a great facilitator and his energy and passion for social media was evident."
“Excellent, enthusiastic presenter who is right into what he is talking about. Walking the talk. Just the right amount of info about the different topics. Not too geeky. Strong emphasis on how the tools can assist effective business communication. Relaxed friendly atmosphere. The workshop opened lots of doors, stimulating. I’m strongly encouraged to try things out. Many thanks.”
“Lee was great – knowledgeable, enthusiastic, generous in sharing his expertise. I liked the demonstrations."
"Great Workshop... helped me crystalise my thoughts on social media and now I feel ready to develop the strategy and make use of this great new medium"
Would you like me to run a workshop in-house for YOUR company?
Contact me to discuss how we can bring your company into this new and exciting communication universe.
View many of the presentations I have given over at Slideshare
Why does employee communication matter?
Download a presentation I gave to a group of PR students on slideshare
For your consideration:
Writing for a web audience