20 Tips On Writing From Smart Women

June 25, 2015

Barbara-Kingsolver-001Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.
Barbara Kingsolver

MAThe only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.
Margaret Atwood

CSBuried beneath all the anxiety and sorrow and fear and self-loathing, there’s arrogance at its core. It presumes you should be successful at twenty-six, when really it takes most writers so much longer to get there… You loathe yourself, and yet you’re consumed by the grandiose ideas you have about your own importance. You’re up too high and down too low. Neither is the place where we get any work done. We get the work done on the ground level. And the kindest thing I can do for you is to tell you to get your ass on the floor. I know it’s hard to write, darling. But it’s harder not to. The only way you’ll find out if you “have it in you” is to get to work and see if you do. The only way to override your “limitations, insecurities, jealousies, and ineptitude” is to produce.
Cheryl Strayed

ADDo not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.
Annie Dillard

Toni MorrisonIf there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.
Toni Morrison

ALYou own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.
Anne Lamott

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.
Sylvia Plath

JoyceCarolOatesBe daring, take on anything. Don’t labor over little cameo works in which every word is to be perfect. Technique holds a reader from sentence to sentence, but only content will stay in his mind.
Joyce Carol Oates

zadie-smithProtect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.
Zadie Smith

APEveryone lies about writing. They lie about how easy it is or how hard it was. They perpetuate a romantic idea that writing is some beautiful experience that takes place in an architectural room filled with leather novels and chai tea…. The truth is, writing is this: hard and boring and occasionally great but usually not.
Amy Poehler

Madeleine-LEngleI have advice for people who want to write. I don’t care whether they’re 5 or 500. There are three things that are important: First, if you want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you. Where you just put down what you think about life, what you think about things, what you think is fair and what you think is unfair. And second, you need to read. You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. It’s the great writers who teach us how to write. The third thing is to write. Just write a little bit every day. Even if it’s for only half an hour — write, write, write.
Madeleine L’Engle

TFIt’s a great lesson about not being too precious about your writing. You have to try your hardest to be at the top of your game and improve every joke you can until the last possible second, and then you have to let it go. You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it…You have to let people see what you wrote.
Tina Fey

Doris LessingAdvice to young writers? Always the same advice: learn to trust our own judgment, learn inner independence, learn to trust that time will sort the good from the bad – including your own bad. 
Doris Lessing

JKYou have to resign yourself to wasting lots of trees before you write anything really good. That’s just how it is. It’s like learning an instrument. You’ve got to be prepared for hitting wrong notes occasionally, or quite a lot. That’s just part of the learning process. And read a lot. Reading a lot really helps. Read anything you can get your hands on.
JK Rowling

ALIf something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.
Anne Lamott

MAYou can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.
Maya Angelou

AEImagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you ­finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.
Anne Enright

On writing, my advice is the same to all. If you want to be a writer, write. Write and write and write. If you stop, start again. Save everything that you write. If you feel blocked, write through it until you feel your creative juices flowing again. Write. Writing is what makes a writer, nothing more and nothing less. — Ignore critics. Critics are a dime a dozen. Anybody can be a critic. Writers are priceless. —- Go where the pleasure is in your writing. Go where the pain is. Write the book you would like to read. Write the book you have been trying to find but have not found. But write. And remember, there are no rules for our profession. Ignore rules. Ignore what I say here if it doesn’t help you. Do it your own way. — Every writer knows fear and discouragement. Just write. — The world is crying for new writing. It is crying for fresh and original voices and new characters and new stories. If you won’t write the classics of tomorrow, well, we will not have any. Good luck.
Anne Rice

cherylI’d stopped being grandiose. I’d lowered myself to the notion that the absolute only thing that mattered was getting that extra beating heart out of my chest. Which meant I had to write my book. My very possibly mediocre book. My very possibly never-going-to-be-published book. My absolutely nowhere-in-league-with-the-writers-I’d-admired-so-much-that-I-practically-memorized-their-sentences book. It was only then, when I humbly surrendered, that I was able to do the work I needed to do.
Cheryl Strayed

ALPerfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.
Anne Lamott

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8 thoughts on “20 Tips On Writing From Smart Women

  1. Jessica

    Great compilation of some of my favorites.
    p.s. I think the pic posted with Annie Dillard’s quote is actually Dani Shapiro.

    Reply
  2. Bekah

    A question: are you a fan of Joyce Carol Oates’ books? I have started and put down two of her books because I just couldn’t really get into them and I have finally reached the point in my life in which I will give up books I am slogging through because not every book has to be for me (and I’m not 12 and no, there is not a test – also, they will never find out). I feel like we have similar taste in books so if you have liked something of JCO’s, I would love to give such a prolific, acclaimed author another chance.

    Reply
    1. Kate Post author

      Same problem as you. Please let me know if you find something I should read of hers! (Worst sentence structure <--)

      Reply
  3. Meredith

    Kate, I admire and applaud your writing. I appreciate this post tremendously because my dream is to be a writer (I majored in journalism), but I am terrified of really hunkering down and pursuing it. Plus, it’s very easy claim “business” with working full time as a teacher and raising my toddler son. Regardless, I started a blog last year and rereading this advice from amazing authors has renewed my dedication to working on it, especially since I have the summer off :) Thanks for the inspiration.
    -Meredith

    Reply

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