Mark Twain on Writing

1. “Write what you know.”  When writing, it’s best to focus on subjects in which you possess some personal knowledge. If you’re going to expand beyond those boundaries, do your research.

2. “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” Learn to be your own critic. If that doesn’t work, find someone who will fill that role for you. Brutally.

3. “To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement.” Take the time to find those words. As Twain also noted, this often comes down to the difference between the almost right word and the right word. If you want your writing to matter, strive for the right word.

4. “Anybody can have ideas–the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.” Avoid verbosity. Cut to the chase and tell the story.

5. “Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.” Give your stories life; let the characters—even when they’re actual people—tell your stories in their own voice.

6. “When you catch an adjective, kill it.” Adjectives themselves aren’t bad, but when you use them as a crutch for weak writing everyone takes notice.

7. “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” There are words that convey little added value to writing. Very is one of them.

8. “I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English—it is the modern way and the best way.” Nothing much has changed since Twain spoke these words. And still few people choose to listen.

9. “There are some books that refuse to be written. They stand their ground year after year and will not be persuaded.” Don’t force a poorly conceived idea onto a blank page. Nurture the idea until it is ready to be written.

10. “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” In life as well as in writing, it’s best to stick to the facts. The more you embellish, the more likely you’re going to be written off. Told well, the truth is every bit as interesting.



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