Writing better…

John Steinbeck

“If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that makes a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story.” 

~ John Steinbeck


Other writing tips from my favorite authors:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted. (Vonnegut)
  2. Start as close to the end as possible. (Vonnegut)
  3. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia. (Vonnegut)
  4. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material. (John Steinbeck)
  5. If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech. John Steinbeck
  6. Don’t over define your characters. Let the reader imagine them. (Hollinghurst)
  7. Read. Read. Read. (Hollinghurst)
  8. Know where you’re going before you start. (Hollinghurst)
  9. Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it. (Zadie Smith)
  10. Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand—but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied. (Zadie Smith)


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  1. As someone who is contemplating writing his first book, this is more than usually useful, David. You provide us all with such a service in the research and wide range of sources you use. Where on earth do you get the time and energy for it?



  2. These are all gold nuggets of advice. I agree with all the quotes.


  3. Thank you for all your valuable information and tips. I am trying and with your tips, I hope I do better. Thanks for sharing.



  4. As a corollary to Steinbeck’s advice – nobody can tell you how to write. No book can make you a better writer. No workshop, seminar, or conference can make you a better writer. For the same reasons that no book can make you a better ballplayer. You want to be a better ballplayer, get in the game and throw the ball around. Hit a few. And they don’t all have to be home runs.

    Write. And dont’ worry about the reader. You’re not writing for them – you’re writing for you. If you’re waiting for the jury to enter the courtroom and decide your fate, then you’re no longer in control of what you want to write. And you need to want to write. That’s Steinbeck’s point. You want to write. You have to, must, need to, write. And you need to know why you write. Then you’ll understand why other people’s opinion about your writing doesn’t count. Unless you’re looking for a paycheck, or celebrity, or famiosity. In which case you’re going to be terribly disappointed.

    Egad – I’m writing too much… 🙂

    – J.

    PS – Read Verlyn Klinkenborg’s “Several short sentences about writing”. Okay…that’s enough…for now… 🙂


    • I am going to copy and hang your comment next to my desk Jeff. Inspiring. Thank you for sharing. And I hope some day to approach your proficiency. And I’ve bought Klinkenborg’s book. Thank’s for pointing me to it.


  5. I love anything Steinbeck….including his tips. Thanks for sharing his and the other’s.


  6. Great tips! Thanks for sharing. Steinbeck is one of my favorites.


  7. Reblogged this on .


  8. Very , very useful post indeed. I have copied it just for reading again and again. Am I permitted? Thanks for sharing. Have a nice day.


  9. Thanks again, David. As a novel writer of three thrillers, there is never too much that can be said about the mystery of writing. Will I be seeing a David Kanigan book in the near future?


    • John, hmmmmm. You know, the endeavor just seems so far out of reach. I see what you’ve done, and I’m in awe. I’m not sure the time is right just yet to even give it a shot. (Although there is probably no “right” time.) Thanks for the continued inspiration.


  10. Be real. Write your heart out and filter later. Speak your conversations as you write them. I could reiterate each bit of advice – and follow a lot of it perhaps – and I still would never be within touching distance of these remarkable writers. But their advice – priceless.


  11. Wonderful compilation of wisdom on the subject, David, thx! Those who write well make it looks so effortless–I’m always in awe when I read a well crafted tale. It renews my determination to do it “the best way that I can,” while like Mimi acknowledging that I will never be walking among giants. In the end, J is right, no one can really tell ya how to do it. That said, I’ve enjoyed a couple of books that try, including Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird.” L


    • I’ve read Bird by Bird and loved it…and while they do make it feel effortless, there is that undercurrent where you just know, they labored to get it to where it landed. Labor of love comes to mind.


  12. “Say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.” This is something I’ve started doing when I prepare speeches. Otherwise I sound like one of those ponderous, know-it-all folks. Snoozefest. Keep it real …



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