How to Write

I love talking about writing, and I love working out simple but effective ways to teach it. I don’t say much, on this blog or elsewhere, about how to feel good about yourself, or about motivating yourself to write, or believing everything you do is already great, because I feel there are a lot of books already talking about this. And also—I don’t simply want to write. I want to write well. Really well.

The techniques described below should help you do that.

1. Prose StyleLunch break with pen

To write well, you need to understand, love, and care for the words you put on the page. My series draws together advice on style from many sources, and presents it simply enough that anyone who likes words can understand and immediately use.

Introduction to the Series

Highlights: Put the key word last, Write like Hemingway, The Cumulative Sentence.

The entire series is described here.

Also: my analysis of Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence was published by the Fiction Writers Review. I’m quite proud of that essay.

2. Lessons from the Greats

If you want to improve your writing, it makes sense to study the writers you most love and admire, to figure out how they did it.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Keats: How did John Keats so rapidly improve as a poet? As shown in Walter Jackson Bate’s biography, Keats’ poems went from “average” to “best in the language” in only a few years of hard, focused work. Here is how I think he did it.

Light and Dark: how James Baldwin organised the great short story Sonny’s Blues around warring metaphors of light and darkness.

Hemingway, and Books about Nothing: this post is a brother to the Baldwin one, also hinting at ways to take your “realistic” story to a more intense, mythic level.

The Confusing Pleasures of Saul Bellow: I spent a season reading his novels, essays, and letters, and was left in troubled awe.

This page will expand. I have lots more to discuss. Let me know if there is a particular topic you’d like me to write about.


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