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21 writing tips from writers who’ve made it   

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Hannah Connolly
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Writing is a uniquely individual experience. But without enrolling on a creative writing course, how do we know what works and what doesn’t? Here are some interesting and varied pieces of advice from successful authors on how to write.  

Are you an aspiring writer? Or have you ever wondered how your favourite authors manage to get their stories from an initial spark of inspiration to a 45,000-word book? 

We all know that every writer has their own – often mysterious – process. JK Rowling famously wrote the first few Harry Potter novels in a coffee shop, whereas Ernest Hemingway was known to drink whiskey whilst penning his esteemed works. But how do you know what works for you?

Here are the best quotes from literary giants about the process of writing. From Margaret Atwood’s practical tips, to more philosophical thoughts from the likes of TS Eliot and WH Auden, we’ve compiled a list of all the inspiration you need to write your very own bestseller. You’re welcome.

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The best authors’ quotes on discipline 

‘The hardest thing about writing is writing.’ – Nora Ephron

“Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.” – Zadie Smith

“Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom.” – Jeanette Winterson 

The best authors’ quotes on writing for yourself

“My advice to “up and coming writers” is, don’t write at first for anyone but yourself. It doesn’t matter how many or how few universities one goes to, what matters is what one learns, either at universities or by oneself.” – TS Eliot

“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.” – Virginia Woolf

The best authors’ quotes on the process of writing

“A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk.” – Helen Dunmore 

“Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.” – Zadie Smith 

“Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.” – Margaret Atwood

“Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.” – Margaret Atwood

The best authors’ quotes on passion

“Write your heart out.” – Joyce Carol Oates 

“The degree of excitement which a writer feels during the process of composition is as much an indication of the value of the final result as the excitement felt by a worshiper is an indication of the value of his devotions, that is to say, very little indication.” – WH Auden

 “Write without pay until somebody offers pay; if nobody offers within three years, sawing wood is what you were intended for.” – Mark Twain

“You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.”– Margaret Atwood 

The best authors’ quotes on persistence 

“Moments of pure inspiration are glorious, but most of a writer’s life is, to adapt the old cliché, about perspiration rather than inspiration. Sometimes you have to write even when the muse isn’t cooperating.” – JK Rowling 

“I love it when it’s finished. I hate everything else, but in an ecstatic, obsessive, euphoric way.” - Phoebe Waller-Bridge

“A writer, like an athlete, must ‘train’ every day. What did I do today to keep in ‘form’?” – Susan Sontag

“Finish each day before you begin the next, and interpose a solid wall of sleep between the two. This you cannot do without temperance.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The first sentence can be written only after the last sentence has been written. FIRST DRAFTS ARE HELL. FINAL DRAFTS, PARADISE.” – Joyce Carol Oates 

The best authors’ quotes on ‘rules’

“The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.” – Neil Gaiman

“I have to say that I can’t stand lists of ‘must dos’, whether in life or in writing. Something rebels in me when I’m told what I have to do before I’m 50, or have to buy this season, or have to write if I want to be a success.” – JK Rowling

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