How to Write Better: The Definitive Guide

October 31, 2019
Reference

I’ve spent the past 10 years gathering writing tips from the world’s best writers. If you want to see them all in one place, then you’ll love this guide.

I’ve personally used these 281 tips to write two books under my own name, and help over a dozen authors write theirs, through ghostwriting, editing and coaching.

Wherever you’re currently stuck, you can scan the topics and find a solution.

Bookmark the list and treat this as reference material — no need to read it all in one sitting.

Click and scroll around. Happy writing!

(Note: Many of these come from my favorite books, so I've included affiliate links if you want to dig deeper.)

The 64 Essentials

all GIFs via giphy

BONUS: Want my Essential Reading List for Writers? Get it here.


1. Start writing with a question in mind, not an answer.

“Shift your emphasis from ‘what’s the right answer’ to ‘what’s the right question?’” - Michael Gelb, How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci

2. Look for stories first, ideas later. Good storytelling beats good ideas.

The best way to sell an idea is with illustrative story.

3. Take notes, but don't hoard them. Kill them by turning them into creations.

Notes are meant to be used, not stockpiled. I delete almost as many notes every day as I create. - Tiago Forte, paraphrased

4. Don’t fill every spare minute with a podcast or Instagram scroll.

To get new ideas, make time for non-doing.

Don’t fill every minute. Instead of letting my brain relax or work through a problem, I’m constantly stimulating it. It’s not a time suck, but it’s a time waster. I could making strides on a problem, but instead I’m listening to a podcast - Kelly Stocker - “Hack Your Life”

5. When struggling for ideas, call people out on their bullshit.

Some of the best pieces come from a writer's frustration with the world and its charlatans.

“The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.” - Ernest Hemingway

6. There’s no such thing as an original idea, just an original perspective or expression.

People say, “Everything has already been written.” Everything has already been said. But that’s a lie. I think every outline has already been written. But each human has a unique fingerprint. Just putting that fingerprint on an outline makes it yours, different, unique. And through practice and vulnerability, you make that fingerprint something others want to see.
There’s magic in taking what’s been done a billion times before and doing it your way. - James Altucher, Reinvent Yourself
Aspiring writers will often tell me, “I have an idea, but I’m afraid it’s already been done.” Well, yes, it probably has already been done. Most things have already been done—but they have not yet been done by you. - Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

7. Bad ideas are like toilet paper. If you obsess over any one particular piece because it stinks, you’re insane.

Just flush it down the toilet and try again.

8. The prerequisite to a good idea is lots of bad ideas. Run with every Idea Seed.

So the goal isn’t to get good ideas; the goal is to get bad ideas. Because once you get enough bad ideas, then some good ones have to show up. - Seth Godin (via Tim Ferriss, Tools of Titans)
“In nearly everything in human life, the mediocre, not the awful, is the enemy of the great. A bad date is at least perversely enjoyable – and usually teaches us something. It’s the mediocre ones that kill us with numbness.” - Umair Haque, “How to Grow”

9. Whenever you have a big idea, find a small way to test it.

Did the audience react emotionally? If so, double down. If not, pivot and try again.

Tweet your idea. Put snippets on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn. Tell a quick story in your email newsletter. Did people react? Keep going.

You can test in person, too. Tease your idea. Observe their body language. Do they want more?

Mediocre ideas that contain buried within them the seeds of much better ideas. The key is to catch them early. And the only way to do that is by doing the work at least partly in front of an audience.
A book should be an article before it’s a book, and a dinner conversation before it’s an article. See how things go before going all in. - Ryan Holiday, Perennial Seller

10. Only analyze your ideas after you’ve shared them in some small way.

Instead of predicting the response beforehand, analyze it afterward.

Your battle isn’t to find out which ideas are good. It’s to let your curiosity (“this might work”) beat your fear (“this might not work”). Let the world decide, not your head.

When I refer to “creative living,” ...  I’m talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear. - Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

11. If an idea is stuck in your head — even if it seems trivial — write about it. Your subconscious is telling you it’s important.

Your job is to find out why it's stuck in your head. To find the personal meaning, and make it universal.

Off hand I remember hearing about him saying that as he walked out to his mailbox one day and collected its contents, there was a missing persons, “have you seen me?” card. This sparked the idea for a story where those faces could talk to him.
About these ideas, [Stephen] King says that he never writes them down, taking their mental stickiness as a gauge for how interesting they truly are. - Simon Rich (via James Altucher, Reinvent Yourself)

12. Only write about things that fire you up.

Becoming a better writer fires me up. Hence this list.

Almost all advice given to writers by supposed experts is wrong. Because almost all of it tells the aspirant to engage in some kind of calculation about marketing before setting out to write. Now, in nonfiction, this may make sense. But that’s not my thing.
For artists, the most important thing is total engagement. So I always tell writers to follow their curiosity, obsessions, and fascinations. - Brian Koppelman (via Tim Ferriss, Tribe of Mentors)

13. Good ideas are crazy at first, then  obvious. They start with huh and end with duh.

“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” —Albert Einstein
If someone thinks that your ideas, or the changes you want to make, or the dreams bubbling up inside of you, are stupid, welcome to the Club. You’re in the company of the world’s leading innovators, change agents, thought leaders, inventors, entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, philanthropists, executives, employees, educators, youth, moms, dads, families, philosophers, mentors, and more. - Richie Norton, The Power of Starting Something Stupid

14. Don't be a critic or a spectator. Be a participant.

Spectators are the most dangerous, because they’re likable. And they'll like you. You can commiserate in mediocrity.

But they never create, so they’re never truly happy.

And that’s what man has become: man is reduced to being a spectator. He reads the newspapers, he reads the Bible and the Koran and the Gita; he goes to the movie, sits there and watches the movie; he goes to the football match, or sits before his TV, listens to the radio … and so on and so forth. Twenty-four hours a day he is just in a kind of inactivity, a spectator. Others are doing things and he is simply watching.
Meaning comes through participation. Participate in life! Participate as deeply, as totally, as possible. Risk all for participation. If you want to know what dance is, don’t go and see a dancer—learn dancing, be a dancer. If you want to know anything, participate.
Risk all for participation. - Osho, Creativity

15. You only fail if you stop writing or publishing.

“Rejected pieces aren't failures; unwritten pieces are.” Greg Daugherty

16. The best way to succeed is to make as many bets as possible. In writing, lottery tickets are (mostly) free.

When you start off, you have to deal with the problems of failure. You need to be thick-skinned, to learn that not every project will survive. A freelance life, a life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it ...
... and put something in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. And you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back. - Neil Gaiman, “Make Good Art”

17. The best way to find your voice is to write hundreds of thousands of words and look back on what emerged.

“Until you’ve written hundreds of thousands of words, you have no clue what you will enjoy writing about or what other people will enjoy reading from you.” - Mark Manson, "Tips and Advice for Starting a Blog"

18. It can also help to read your writing aloud, or literally speak what you want to write and transcribe it.

Use a service like Otter, (it's free), then rewrite it into coherence.

19. Write how you speak. Edit out the fluff and meandering. Add hot sauce.

20. Don’t try to sound interesting. Just do what nobody does: Be honest.

The most interesting thing you can do is be honest. That’s it. That’s the whole secret to being interesting. - Tucker Max

21. Write like you've had two glasses of wine and are writing an email to one of your best friends.

Literally imagine writing to that friend. Don’t try to write for everyone; you'll sound like a dull lecturer.

I first ended up with this really pompous like Princetonian shtick that I was doing. Shit, too. Like four or five-syllable words. That was horrible, so I scrapped it, and then I went to like Looney Toons/Three Stooges slapstick, which was also horrible. Scrapped that.
So I threw away four, five chapters and had two glasses of wine and sat down and said I’m going to write this like I would write an email to my best friends. That’s how it started. That’s how I found my voice. - Tim Ferriss, "Master Your Fear and Find Your Voice"
Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death, and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist.
In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person—and write to that one. - John Steinbeck

22. Good writing creates a movie in the reader’s mind. Show, don’t tell isn’t just cliche; it’s essential.

23. Every piece of writing needs a beginning (hook), middle (build) and end (payoff). Even a Tweet.

Non-fiction is fiction ...If you want your factual history or memoir, your grant proposal or dissertation or TED talk to be powerful and engaging and to hold the reader and audience’s attention, you must organize your material (even though it’s technically not a story and not fiction) as if it were a story and as if it were fiction. Steven Pressfield, Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t

24. Good writing interrupts routines.

If I say ‘Make up a story’, then most people are paralysed. If I say ‘describe a routine and then interrupt it’, people see no problem.
A film of a mountain climb isn’t necessarily anything more than a documentary. If we interrupt the routine of mountain-climbing by having them discover a crashed plane, or if we snow them up and have them start eating each other, or whatever, then we begin storytelling. As a story progresses it begins to establish other routines and these in their turn have to be broken.
… It doesn’t matter how stupidly you interrupt a routine, you will be automatically creating a narrative, and people will listen. - Keith Johnstone, Impro
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25. Ask yourself: What’s the one thing readers will remember after reading this?

Every piece of writing should have one key thesis, concept or theme.

If I could leave my audience with only one single key takeaway message, what would it be? If my audience was to forget everything else I said, what one single idea or lesson would I want them to remember? - Ted Talks Storytelling, by Akash Karia

26. "Storytelling is all about making the reader ask: What happens next?" - Brian Grazer, A Curious Mind

27. Good writing makes assertions.

You can always admit you were wrong and update your work.

28. Grammar is a tool, not a rule.

Don't make changes for "correct grammar." Make changes if it sounds better in your voice. Read aloud if you're not sure. None of the authors we admire use "technically correct" grammar. Grammar should be used to facilitate readability and voice.

29. First drafts aren't permanent. Get it down, then filter out the fluff.

“Write drunk, edit sober” isn’t a cliche; it’s an apt metaphor. Write as if you’ve had a couple of drinks and have no filter. Then cut out everything unnecessary to tell your argument or story. Nobody will see your drunk scribblings.

30. Even published drafts aren't permanent. You can always update or delete them later.

Everything online (even self-published books) can be updated down the road. If you change your mind or discover a mistake, admit it and fix it.

31. Don’t edit while you write. You can’t create and analyze at the same time.

Research by psychologists Arie Kruglanski, Tory Higgins, and their colleagues suggests that we have two complementary motivational systems: the “thinking” system and the “doing” system – and we’re generally only capable of using one at a time.
Think about how you best generate new ideas. Often, you “brainstorm” or try to come up with as many ideas as possible. That is called diverging and requires our thinking system. At other times, you need to evaluate those ideas and figure out which ones are best. That is called converging, and it requires the activation of the doing system. - Art Markman, “The Thinking Mindset vs. the Doing Mindset”

32. Cut everything you write by at least a third.

33. Don’t “kill your darlings.” Let them rest in a “deleted scenes” folder so you don’t feel like a murderer.

They’ll be sleeping if you need them.

34. 20 minutes of focused writing beats hours of distracted “writing.”

Block the Internet. Put on music with no words or mindless words. Start a timer. Type until it's up.

35. Don’t rely on inspiration to write. Create a unique writing habit that guarantees you write regularly.

To create a habit, create a habit loop of a reminder, routine, reward.

“The reminder is the trigger that initiates the desired (or undesired) behavior. The routine is the actual behavior you perform. And the reward is the reinforcement, or benefit, from doing the behavior.” - Kelly Stocker, “Hack Your Life”

36. When you’re stuck mentally, move your body.

“[Søren Kierkegaard]’s (1813-1855) day was dominated by two pursuits: writing and walking. Typically, he wrote in the morning, set off on a long walk through Copenhagen at noon, and then returned to his writing for the rest of the day and into the evening.
The walks were where he had his best ideas, and sometimes he would be in such a hurry to get them down that, returning home, he would write standing up before his desk, still wearing his hat and gripping his walking stick or umbrella.” - Mason Currey, Daily Rituals

37. When you’re stuck for ideas, free associate.

I say ‘Free-associate’, and then when they’ve produced unconnected material, I say ‘Connect’, or ‘Reincorporate’. A knowledge of this game is very useful to a writer. First of all it encourages you to write whatever you feel like; it also means that you look back when you get stuck, instead of searching forwards. You look for things you’ve shelved, and then reinclude them. - Keith Johnstone, Impro

38. Creativity is the art of relaxing. The harder it feels to write, the more unaligned you are.

That said, feeling tense is normal. Learn to relax over time.

I learned to write by writing. I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure, and to stopo when it felt like work, which meant that life did not feel like work. - Neil Gaiman, “Make Good Art”

39. Before you write, get in a good mood.

Do things that help you relax and make you smile. I often watch comedy.

I consider being in a good mood the most important part of my creative process.” B.J. typically spends the first few hours of his day “powering up” and getting in a good mood, until he gets an idea he’s excited about, or until he has so much self-loathing and caffeine that he has to do something about it.
It can take B.J. hours of walking, reading newspapers over coffee, listening to music, etc., before he hits his stride and feels he can write, his zone generally occurring between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Says B.J., “I find that being in a good mood for creative work is worth the hours it takes to get in a good mood. - Tim Ferriss, Tools of Titans

40. Separate ideation, outlining and writing. They’re three different modes of thinking, and you can’t do them all at once.

Although valuable as a tool for presenting ideas in a formal, orderly fashion, outlining is useful only after the real thinking has been done. If you try to generate your ideas by outlining, you will find that it slows you down and stifles your freedom of thought.
It is just plain illogical to try to organize your ideas before you’ve generated them. Moreover, outlining and other linear note-making systems exclude your brain’s capacity for color, dimension, synthesis, rhythm, and image.
By imposing one color and one form, outlining guarantees monotony. Outlining uses only half of your mind, and half a mind is a terrible thing to waste. - Michael Gelb, How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci

41. You don’t need a degree or certificate. You need a public body of work.

Nobody will ask you to write for them until you’ve written for yourself. Create a portfolio TODAY.

Not once — seriously, not once ever — has anyone ever asked me where I got my writing degree. Or if I even have one. Nobody gives two ferrets fornicating in a filth-caked gym sock whether or not you have a degree, be it a writing degree or a degree in waste management. The only thing that matters is, “Can you write well?” - Chuck Wendiig, The Kick-Ass Writer

42. You also need the courage to publish your ideas before you're completely ready.

And once you do, the courage to call yourself a writer.

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43. That said, the first sign that you’re a writer is that you’re worried you’re not one.

If you're not a little scared, you're a sociopath.

“The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.” - Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

44. The journey to a thousand books starts with a tweet. Publish small things en route to big things.

The blocked artist does not know how to begin with baby steps. Instead, the blocked artist thinks in terms of great big scary impossible tasks: a novel, a feature film, a one-person show, an opera.
When these large tasks are not accomplished, or even begun, the blocked artist calls that laziness. Do not call the inability to start laziness. - Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

45. You don’t need to be the world’s foremost expert to write about your passions. You just need to be honest and helpful.

You need to be one step ahead of your readers, or admit you're an amateur and learn out loud.

46. If you stay silent because this might not work, you either missed an opportunity to connect, or to learn.

As soon as children become able to evaluate themselves, some of them become afraid of challenges. They become afraid of not being smart. I have studied thousands of people … and it’s breathtaking how many reject an opportunity to learn. - Carol Dweck, Mindset

47. It’s better to have 1,000 raving fans and 10,000 haters than 50,000 lukewarm readers.

A smart business friend once described the art of marketing to me as a matter of “finding your addicts. - Ryan Holiday, Perennial Seller
To be a successful creator you don’t need millions. You don’t need millions of dollars or millions of customers, millions of clients or millions of fans. To make a living as a craftsperson, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app maker, entrepreneur, or inventor you need only thousands of true fans.
A true fan is defined as a fan that will buy anything you produce. - Kevin Kelly, "1,000 True Fans"

48. The more you publish, the easier it is to publish. The ability to publish is a muscle.

When the muscle is weak, publishing is scary. Strengthen your muscle and ease your fears by publishing regularly.

49. A writing habit is nothing without a publishing habit.

Create some sort of rules around publishing — whether it’s one short post a day, one long post a month, or one book a year.

50. The more you follow through, the more likely you are to keep it up. Get past the friction of starting ASAP.

You don’t have to get it right, you just have to get it moving.” - Gary Halbert, The Boron Letters

51. The first step to getting noticed is getting attention from strangers. To get attention, you must stand out from the crowd by breaking patterns.

The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern. Humans adapt incredibly quickly to consistent patterns.
Consistent sensory stimulation makes us tune out: Think of the hum of an air conditioner, or traffic noise, or the smell of a candle, or the sight of a bookshelf. We may become consciously aware of these things only when something changes: The air conditioner shuts off. Your spouse rearranges the books. - Chip and Dan Heath, Made to Stick

52. For long-term success, you need to build and own an asset. For most writers, this is an email list.

The ability to access and draw on our assets—whether they are social media or an email list or a phone call to a loyal ally or simply a popular body of work—is what makes an artist successful over the long term. - Ryan Holiday, Perennial Seller
After the comedian Kevin Hart experienced several disappointing failures in a row, his career was at a crossroads. The movies he’d expected to make him a star hadn’t hit; his television deal hadn’t panned out. So he did what comedians do best—he hit the road.
But unlike many successful comedians, he didn’t just go to the cities where he could sell the most seats. Instead, he went everywhere—often deliberately performing in small clubs in cities where he did not have a large fan base.
At every show, an assistant would put a business card on each seat at every table that said, “Kevin Hart needs to know who you are,” and asked for their email address.
After the show, his team would collect the cards and enter the names into a spreadsheet organized by location. For four years he toured the country this way, building an enormous database of loyal fans and drawing more and more people to every subsequent show.” - Ryan Holiday, Perennial Seller

53. You work doesn’t speak for itself. You need to explain the story behind it.

Art forgery is a strange phenomenon. “You might think that the pleasure you get from a painting depends on its color and its shape and its pattern,” says psychology professor Paul Bloom. “And if that’s right, it shouldn’t matter whether it’s an original or a forgery.” But our brains don’t work that way. “When shown an object, or given a food, or shown a face, people’s assessment of it—how much they like it, how valuable it is—is deeply affected by what you tell them about it. - Austin Kleon, Show Your Work
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54. If you want your ideas to stick, wrap them up in a sticky package. Create new words and codify phenomena.

Name your ideas.

So, a good process for making your ideas stickier is: (1) Identify the central message you need to communicate—find the core; (2) Figure out what is counterintuitive about the message—i.e., What are the unexpected implications of your core message? Why isn’t it already happening naturally? (3) Communicate your message in a way that breaks your audience’s guessing machines along the critical, counterintuitive dimension.
Then, once their guessing machines have failed, help them refine their machines. Common sense is the enemy of sticky messages. When messages sound like common sense, they float gently in one ear and out the other. - Chip and Dan Heath, Made to Stick

55. Create fictional characters, even in nonfiction.

People want to see themselves or their friends in your writing. People want to see a movie in their head.

If you’re trying to describe a certain type of person in an article, create an avatar for them instead of talking about them in the abstract.
Creating people and avatars helps by personalizing what you’re trying to describe. You want to make the type of person you’re describing memorable, so creating a clear person or avatar to represent them will be more effective than making abstract generalizations about a demographic. - Nat Eliason, "21 Tactics to Help You Become a Better Writer"

56. Reading is like a meal, and people aren’t always starving. Make snacks, appetiizers, fast-casual lunches, fancy dinners and everything in between.

People make time for big, fancy meals, but not every day.

To solve this attention crisis, one technique innovative marketers have increasingly turned to is the idea of creating “snackable content.” Content marketing expert Jay Baer describes this quest to create useful bite-sized content in terms of “giving away information snacks in order to sell knowledge meals." Rohit Bhargava, Non-Obvious

57. Create both stock and flow.

For writers, the best flow comes via Tweets and short email newsletters. Turn the best into blog posts.

“Stock and flow” is an economic concept that writer Robin Sloan has adapted into a metaphor for media: “Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people you exist.
Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.”
Sloan says the magic formula is to maintain your flow while working on your stock in the background. - Austin Kleon, Show Your Work

58. Turn the best of your flow into stock like evergreen posts, books and online courses.

59. Treat your writing like a business. But don’t forget that you’re an artist.

60. Don’t write what the data tells you to write. Write what your intuition tells you, then use data and “marketing” to maximize its reach and effect.

My philosophy with writing is: write for yourself, edit/revise for others. So I never choose to write something because I think it’ll get me a ton of attention. I try to write something because it feels important and profound to me.
But once it’s written, then I put my marketing cap on and say, “OK, is there a way to play with the language here so that more people respond to it?” And that’s where the data analysis stuff comes in. - Mark Manson, Writing Routines

61. Better to publish too much and have some of it be ignored, than to publish too little.

62. Balance sharing and creating. Both are essential.

I like to work while the world is sleeping, and share while the world is at work. Of course, don’t let sharing your work take precedence over actually doing your work. If you’re having a hard time balancing the two, just set a timer for 30 minutes. Once the timer goes off, kick yourself off the Internet and get back to work. - Austin Kleon, Show Your Work

63. There's no such thing as Writing Rules, just Writing Tools. Use tools to create your own rules. Then break them.

Use rules to help get you started. Break them to get unstuck and evolve.

None of these are rules; they’re tools so you can make your own rules.
“Remember, these are tools, not rules. They work outside the territory of right and wrong, and inside the land of cause and effect. Don’t be surprised when you find many examples of good writing in the world that seem to violate the general advice described here.” – Roy Peter Clark, Writing Tools

64. If you’re afraid of the reaction to a particular piece, start working on your next project immediately.

Don’t pay attention to the reaction; focus on your next piece.

On Finding Ideas

1. To find ideas, follow your bliss.

You won't win any prizes for being the Phillip Glass of story structure, especially if it starts compromising your creativity. Follow your bliss. If you know what to do, do it. That's called creativity. If you don't know what to do, THEN listen to some guy like me telling you what you HAVE to do. - Dan Harmon, "Story Structure"

2. To remember your bliss, go back to your childhood. What lit you up?

I think the greatest exercise a person can do when they’re stuck is to remember what their favorite children’s book was. A book that you read over and over and over again. Somewhere in that book is the clue to not only what makes you tick, but also to your life’s purpose.
Mine was Peter Pan, which featured a title character who was at once charming and also a complete narcissistic, pathological demon. It was that ambiguous space between good and evil that I sparked to as a kid . . . and am now writing stories about as an adult. - Soman Chainani (via Tim Ferriss, Tribe of Mentors)

3. "Everything is material." Pay attention to the little things.

“Nothing bad can happen to a writer. Everything is material.” - Philip Roth

4. Write down every little experience that speaks to you.

One time when I was about twelve, I was coming out of Muller’s Ice Cream Parlor on Broadway, and across the street outside the University Bar and Grill, my pal Mickey was kicking the shit out of a Juilliard student. The kid was a classical musician with long hair. In 1950 that was the only long hair there was. And Mickey’s yelling: “You longhair fucking music prick.”
Longhair fucking music prick. Great. I wrote it down. Another time I heard this guy Chris calling Mrs. Kohler a “Kraut cunt.” Kraut cunt. Also great! I wrote that down. Some guy came home from the service and I asked him what it was like being in the army. His reply: “Fine if you don’t mind waking up at five in the morning with some burly, loudmouthed cocksucker yelling at you.”
Burly, loudmouthed cocksucker. Great rhythm to that. Loud burly cocksucker: not the same at all. I wrote that down. Soon I had a list of about ten of these. Sure enough, my mother found the list—with dire results: she threatened me with psychiatry.
But twenty years later the list bore fruit. It contained all of the “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” aka the “Seven Dirty Words,” arguably the best-known cut from my breakout album, Class Clown. Which in turn spawned all the pieces on the ways we use, misuse and abuse words I’ve done in the thirty-odd years since. - George Carlin, Last Words

5. Ask yourself: Why did that experience speak to me, specifically?

Your experiences may not be unique, but your perspective is. 

Start with what interests you. Then find a unique expression of that idea that draws on your personal experiences and perspective.

6. Find your “Idea Ikigai.”

The first step in my process is intentionally passive. In order to get my [Thinking-and-Writing] loop going, I set an open invitation to my brain to take note of anything interesting. More specifically, I look for anything within the intersection of: (1) interesting, (2) doesn’t exist online in that exact form, and (3) something I can contribute uniquely to.
For example, I don’t need to tell the world that remote work is growing﹣we have enough people doing that. But perhaps it would be helpful for me to talk about how someone with a non-technical background might find a remote role. I’ve been through multiple of these roles myself, hired a couple dozen non-technical remote teammates, and have spent years thinking about the topic. - Steph Smith, “Writing Is Thinking”

7. Information doesn’t matter. Your packaging of it does.

It's not what you know, it's how you say it.

What matters isn’t the material itself, but how you spin it.

Information is no longer valuable. What you have to say is being said for free by thousands of other people on the Internet. The honest truth is that unless you’re a leading researcher you have nothing profound to offer in terms of content.
The key to success is how you position and package your information. How much do your readers connect with you, the author, and what will they gain by passing on the information? - Jonathan Goodman, Viralnomics

8. If you can't come up with ideas, you either need to live more, or pay closer attention.

If you're alive and paying attention, you'll never run out of ideas.

As long as you have observations to make, as long as you can see things and let them register against your template, as long as you’re able to take impressions and compare them with the old ones, you will always have material.
People have always asked me: “Don’t you ever think you might run out of ideas? Don’t you ever worry about not having anything to say anymore?” Occasionally that does flash through your mind, because it’s a natural human impulse to think in terms of beginnings and endings. The truth is, I can’t run out of ideas—not as long as I keep getting new information and I can keep processing it.” - George Carlin, Last Words

9. Creativity comes from fully engaging with the world.

We believe that geniuses are necessarily removed from the world around them, the absentminded professor being the personification of this trope. But geniuses are more, not less, attuned to their environment than the rest of us. They notice things the rest of us don’t.
Creativity does not happen when we withdraw from the material world but, rather, when we engage with that world, and all its messiness, more authentically and more deeply than we are accustomed. For creative people, it matters not whether their surroundings are good or bad; they derive inspiration from both, taste the salt in all things. Everything is a potential spark. - Eric Weiner, The Geography of Genius

10. Live first, then reflect. Be adventurous.

The more you live, the more you have to write about. And I'm not talking about your age.

Many of the “doers” turned “thinkers” like Montaigne have done a serial barbell: pure action, then pure reflection. - Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile
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11. Everyone you meet is the source of thousands of stories and ideas.

There is no smartest person in the room. Wisdom is the insight that each of us has something to learn from any of us. Great wisdom is the insight that each of us has infinite things to learn from all of us. Living wisdom is the experience that each of us is always learning something new, fresh, vital, life-changing from every single person they meet. - Umair Haque, "Three People Not to Be"

12. To let someone inspire you, listen without any assumptions.

Don't reduce someone to your impression of their group identity (politics, ethnicity, profession, etc). It doesn't matter if you like the group or not — what matters is if you're willing to discover their unique story within that group. Good or bad, why are they the way they are? What's unique or surprising about them?

“Every individual set of eyes you look into gives you something, whether it’s a blank wall or an infinite regress of barbershop mirrors. Just as fascinating. There’s something in all individuals. I make room for them psychically—even though I might want to get away after a minute and a half. People are wonderful one at a time. Each of them has an entire hologram of the universe somewhere within them.” - George Carlin, Last Words

13. Ideas come from combining internal and external experiences. Don’t neglect either.

If we look only at our problems, [Antoonio]  Machado said, the inner world dissolves; if we look only at the world, it begins to dissolve. If we want to create art, we have to stitch together the inner world and the outer world. -  Stephen Harrod Buhner, Ensouling Language

14. Any experience can be meaningful — if you give it meaning. As a writer, your job is to discover and assign meaning.

Your experiences are meaningless until you give them meaning. Why might your observation or impression be universally interesting?

"Finding ideas" is the process of assigning meaning to your experiences, or how you experience other's experiences.

Life in itself has no meaning. Life is an opportunity to create meaning. Meaning has not to be discovered: it has to be created. You will find meaning only if you create it. - Osho, Creativiity

15. When looking for nonfiction ideas, look for patterns and dots to connect.

“Nonfiction seems to me photographic; it poses the same challenge of finding form and pattern in the stuff already out there and the same ethical obligations to the subject. Fiction like painting lets you start with a blank canvas.” - Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

16. When looking for writing ideas, look for questions to explore or reframe, rather than answers to explain.

“Shift your emphasis from ‘what’s the right answer’ to ‘what’s the right question?’” - Michael Gelb, How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci

17. You don’t need all of the answers before writing. You just need to explore what you don’t know.

“‘Confusion endurance’ is the most distinctive trait of highly creative people, and Leonardo probably possessed more of that trait than anyone who has ever lived.” - Michael Gelb, How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci
“If you understand your painting beforehand, you might as well not paint it.” - Salvador Dali, 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship

18. Look for stories first, ideas later. Good storytelling beats good ideas.

19. Take notes obsessively and habitually.

“What I do is, I collect my notes. I have about 1,300 separate files in my computer – they change from week to week, because I combine or expand files – and they are 44 years worth of collecting thoughts, notions, ideas, pieces of data, and material. Anything I think might have promise for my writing sometime in the future goes on a piece of paper, and that becomes a stack of papers, and that gets a topic title.
So I’m drawn to something and start writing about it, and then you really start writing, and that’s when the real ideas pounce out, and new ideas, and new thoughts and images, and then bing, ba-bam ba-boom, that’s the creative part.” - George Carlin, Last Words

20. Don’t just take notes. Periodically review them and trim them down with “progressive summarization.”

“You read a book, investing hours of mental labor in understanding the ideas it presents. You finish the book with a feeling of triumph that you’ve gained a valuable body of knowledge. But then what?” - Tiago Forte, “Progressive Summarization"

21. Don’t hoard notes. Make them obsolete by turning them into creations.

22. Don’t obsess over taking notes. You'll remember the great ideas, because great ideas stick.

My final reducing advice can be summed up in two words: think small. Don’t rummage around in your past—or your family’s past—to find episodes that you think are “important” enough to be worthy of including in your memoir.
Look for small self-contained incidents that are still vivid in your memory. If you still remember them it’s because they contain a universal truth that your readers will recognize from their own life. - William Zinssner, "How to Write a Memoir"

23. To get a new idea, combine two old ones and ask, what if?

I get my ideas from everywhere. But what all of my ideas boil down to is seeing maybe one thing, but in a lot of cases it’s seeing two things and having them come together in some new and interesting way, and then adding the question ‘What if?’ - Stephen King

24. To get new ideas, make time for non-doing. Don’t fill every spare minute with a podcast or Instagram scroll.

Don’t fill every minute. Instead of letting my brain relax or work through a problem, I’m constantly stimulating it. It’s not a time suck, but it’s a time waster. I could making strides on a problem, but instead I’m listening to a podcast - Kelly Stocker - “Hack Your Life”

25. Your best ideas are buried in your subconscious. Get in touch with it.

Neuroscientists estimate that your unconscious database outweighs the conscious on an order exceeding ten million to one. This database is the source of your creative potential.
In other words, a part of you is much smarter than you are. The wisest people regularly consult that smarter part. You can, too, by making space for incubation. - Michael Gelb, How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci

26. Write what you’re ashamed of.

Just like me, there is a part of you that you are hiding. The part of you that are hiding might not be the depressed part, like me. It might be the exuberant part, or the curious part, or the giving part.
But there is always a part or two, isn’t there? And the curious thing is this: the part of you that you are hiding is also precisely what is what you are usually longing for most in your life. - Umair Haque, “Being All of You”
I think the way to write standup, if you want longevity in this business, at least for me, is to start by asking yourself personal questions. I write from this. I ask myself what I’m afraid of, what I’m ashamed of, who I’m pretending to be, who I really am, where I am versus where I thought I’d be. . .
If you watched yourself from afar, if you met yourself, what would you say to yourself? What would you tell you? - Bryan Callen (via Tim Ferriss, Tools of Titans)

27. Write what you’re afraid of.

“What would you write if you weren’t afraid? I honestly didn’t know at first. But I knew finding the answer would unlock the writing for me.” - Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir

28. When in doubt, call people out on their bullshit.

Some of the best pieces come from a writer's frustration with the world and its charlatans.

“The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.” - Ernest Hemingway

29. When in doubt, curate and add your own twist.

“Curation is the ultimate method of transforming noise into meaning.” - Rohit Bhargava, Non-Obvious
“Do what you do best and link to the rest.” —Jeff Jarvis

30. You don’t need to be completely “original,” you just need to add your original twist.

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31. There’s no such thing as an original idea, just an original perspective or expression.

People say, “Everything has already been written.” Everything has already been said. But that’s a lie. I think every outline has already been written. But each human has a unique fingerprint. Just putting that fingerprint on an outline makes it yours, different, unique. And through practice and vulnerability, you make that fingerprint something others want to see.
There’s magic in taking what’s been done a billion times before and doing it your way. - James Altucher, Reinvent Yourself
Aspiring writers will often tell me, “I have an idea, but I’m afraid it’s already been done.” Well, yes, it probably has already been done. Most things have already been done—but they have not yet been done by you. - Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

32. Instead of trying to come up with something new, you can simply shine the brightest, clearest light on things people are already talking or thinking about.

If the creative person isn’t actually creating something new, what is she doing? The answer, says Hallman, lies in “substituting intensity for originality.” For Hindus, the genius is like a lightbulb illuminating a room. The room has always been there and always will. The genius does not create or even discover the room. She illuminates it. This is not insignificant. Without that illumination, we remain ignorant of the room’s existence, and of the wonders that lie inside. - Eric Weiner, The Geography of Genius

33. If you’re still stuck, write where you want people to go. Give them a map, get them moving.

Rally people around a cause. Suggest a change and show people how to do it.

Human nature is to need a map. If you’re brave enough to draw one, people will follow. - Seth Godin, Poke the Box

34. Counterintuitively, the more ideas you publish, the more ideas you’ll have.

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” - Maya Angelou

On Evaluating Ideas

1. The prerequisite to a good idea is lots of bad ideas. Run with every Idea Seed.

So the goal isn’t to get good ideas; the goal is to get bad ideas. Because once you get enough bad ideas, then some good ones have to show up. - Seth Godin (via Tim Ferriss, Tools of Titans)

2. Run with mediocre ideas, but don't stop there. Run with the seeds until they sprout into greatness.

Ninety-nine percent of people in the world are convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre. The level of competition is thus fiercest for “realistic” goals, paradoxically making them the most time- and energy-consuming.
It is easier to raise $1,000,000 than it is $100,000. It is easier to pick up the one perfect 10 in the bar than the five 8s. If you are insecure, guess what? The rest of the world is, too. Do not overestimate the competition and underestimate yourself. You are better than you think. - Tim Ferriss, The Four-Hour Workweek

3. Whenever you have a big idea, find a small way to test it.

Did the audience react emotionally? If so, double down. If not, pivot and try again.

Tweet your idea. Put snippets on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn. Tell a quick story in your email newsletter. Did people react? Keep going.

You can test in person, too. Tease your idea. Observe their body language. Do they want more?

Mediocre ideas that contain buried within them the seeds of much better ideas. The key is to catch them early. And the only way to do that is by doing the work at least partly in front of an audience.
A book should be an article before it’s a book, and a dinner conversation before it’s an article. See how things go before going all in. - Ryan Holiday, Perennial Seller

4. Don’t waste weeks, months or years writing something people might ignore. Test!


5. If there’s even a 1% idea your idea is good, you must test it.

In your life so far: Imagine how many hundreds you would’ve tested, and how many dozens would have worked?

There are people who prefer to say ‘Yes’, and there are people who prefer to say ‘No’. Those who say ‘Yes’ are rewarded by the adventures they have, and those who say ‘No’ are rewarded by the safety they attain. There are far more ‘No’ sayers around than ‘Yes’ sayers, but you can train one type to behave like the other. - Keith Johnstone, Impro

6. The more right an idea feels, the more test-worthy it is. Trust that your gut is telling you other guts will agree.

Trust that the things you feel, that insist they be said, are there inside you, pushing on you, for a reason, Trust that there are people out there that need to hear those things, just as much as you need to say them. Understand that, as Antonio Machado said, “My feeling is not only mine, but ours.” - Stephen Harrod Buhner, Ensouling Language
I filter ideas with my body more than my mind. Internally, it feels like a slot machine with the little symbols changing in the three windows until some combination of three makes me literally “feel” something – a laugh, a wince, an ah-ha, whatever. It’s the ideas you can feel in your body that will engage others. - Scott Adams, “How to Be Creative

7. Literally check in with your gut after writing. Does your writing feel good?

Lincoln remembered that he had heard an old man testify “that when he did good he felt good, when he did bad he felt bad. That…is my religion—deeds done in the body.” - Fred Kaplan, Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer

8. While your gut can give you some insight, you’ll still be surprised at what resonates. Especially early on. Don’t guess; test.

The things I've done that worked the best were the things I was the least certain about, the stories where I was sure they would either work, or more likely be the kinds of embarrassing failures people would gather together and talk about  until the end of time. They always had that in common: looking back at them, people explain why they were inevitable successes. While I was doing them, I had no idea.
I still don't. And where would be the fun in making something you knew was going to work? - Neil Gaiman, “Make Good Art”

9. Only analyze your ideas after you’ve shared them in some small way. Instead of predicting  the response, analyze it.

Your battle isn’t to find out which ideas are good. It’s to let your curiosity (“this might work”) beat your fear (“this might not work”). Let the world decide, not your head.

When I refer to “creative living,” ...  I’m talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear. - Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

10. If an idea is stuck in your head — even if it seems trivial — write about it. Your subconscious is telling you it’s important.

Your job is to find out why it's stuck in your head.

Off hand I remember hearing about him saying that as he walked out to his mailbox one day and collected its contents, there was a missing persons, “have you seen me?” card. This sparked the idea for a story where those faces could talk to him.
About these ideas, [Stephen] King says that he never writes them down, taking their mental stickiness as a gauge for how interesting they truly are. - Simon Rich (via James Altucher, Reinvent Yourself)

11. When in doubt, choose the idea that’s “craziest.”

“Sometimes it’s crazier to pick the conventional idea than it is to go with the craziest.” - Steven Pressfield, “Pick the Idea That’s Craziest”
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12. All ideas worth writing live at the extremes. Live an extreme life. Write extremely.

More barbells. Do crazy things (break furniture once in a while), like the Greeks during the later stages of a drinking symposium, and stay “rational” in larger decisions. Trashy gossip magazines and classics or sophisticated works; never middlebrow stuff.
Talk to either undergraduate students, cab drivers, and gardeners or the highest caliber scholars; never to middling-but-career-conscious academics. If you dislike someone, leave him alone or eliminate him; don’t attack him verbally. - Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile

13. Extreme ideas are ones that change lives. Better to fail at changing lives than succeed in advancing the status quo.

An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. And an artist takes it personally.
Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. An artist is an individual who creates art. The more people you change, the more you change them, the more effective your art is.
Art is any original idea that can be a gift. - Seth Godin, Linchpin

14. Life’s too short to not write something stupid.

“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” —Albert Einstein
If someone thinks that your ideas, or the changes you want to make, or the dreams bubbling up inside of you, are stupid, welcome to the Club. You’re in the company of the world’s leading innovators, change agents, thought leaders, inventors, entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, philanthropists, executives, employees, educators, youth, moms, dads, families, philosophers, mentors, and more. - Richie Norton, The Power of Starting Something Stupid

15. All good writers are a little crazy. Perhaps a lot.

“A man who is a hundred percent sane is dead.” - Osho, Creativity

16. Only write about things that fire you up.

Becoming a better writer fires me up. Hence this list.

Almost all advice given to writers by supposed experts is wrong. Because almost all of it tells the aspirant to engage in some kind of calculation about marketing before setting out to write. Now, in nonfiction, this may make sense. But that’s not my thing.
For artists, the most important thing is total engagement. So I always tell writers to follow their curiosity, obsessions, and fascinations. - Brian Koppelman (via Tim Ferriss, Tribe of Mentors)

17. Pursue ideas that will outlive you.

Follow the Lindy Effect.

Lindy is a deli in New York, now a tourist trap, that proudly claims to be famous for its cheesecake, but in fact has been known for the fifty or so years of interpretation by physicists and mathematicians of the heuristic that developed there.
Actors who hung out there gossiping about other actors discovered that Broadway shows that lasted, say one hundred days, had a future life expectancy of a hundred more. For those that lasted two hundred days, two hundred more. The heuristic became known as the Lindy Effect. - Nassim Nicholas Taleb, “An Expert Called Lindy”

18. If you want to write a classic, do these three things: Write about fundamental human problems, write beautifully with imagery, and be profound.

“First,” [Richard J.] Smith advises, “the work must focus on matters of great importance, identifying fundamental human problems and providing some sort of guidance for dealing with them. Second, it must address these fundamental issues in beautiful, moving, and memorable ways, with stimulating and inviting images. Third, it must be complex, nuanced, comprehensive, and profound, requiring careful and repeated study in order to yield its deepest secrets and greatest wisdom.”
The checklist applies to short messages, too. Take the classic quote “My mama always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’” You can see how it meets the three criteria. It addresses a fundamental human problem: the inability to fully predict the future. It builds a mental picture in your mind. And the metaphor bears repeating. - Carmen Simon, Impossible to Ignore

19. The more afraid you are of writing it, the better it will be.

If a piece of writing is not hard, it’s weak. It’s not worth writing. It’s not worth sharing. If it’s not hard, it’s soft. If you can’t BLEED or KILL or SLASH YOUR GUTS with your word, then keep it to yourself. If you can’t take it to the edge, then you played it too safe. Every time.
Mostly, for me, if I can’t say something that has really hurt me, or helped me, or changed me in some way, then I need to just shut up. I need to not write it. Find a pain inside of you. Tease it out. This is hard. This is art. If it’s not so hot you feel like it brands you, then it’s cold and you’re nothing. - James Altucher, Reinvent Yourself

20. Good ideas are crazy at first, then  obvious. They start with huh and end with duh.

21. Bad ideas are like toilet paper. If you obsess over any one particular piece because it stinks, you’re insane.

Just flush it down the toilet and try again.

“In nearly everything in human life, the mediocre, not the awful, is the enemy of the great. A bad date is at least perversely enjoyable – and usually teaches us something. It’s the mediocre ones that kill us with numbness.” - Umair Haque, “How to Grow”

On Dealing With Haters and Criticism


1. There are two types of people: critics and creators. Be a creator.

And don't associate with critics. It's contagious.

“Criticizing is easier than creating. If you’re a critic you get to avoid the risk of failing, looking stupid, and making the world wonder what the hell you were thinking. As a critic, you’re off the hook.” - Srini Rao, Unmistakable Creative

2. Actually, there’s a third type of person: a spectator. Don't be a spectator, either.

Spectators are the most dangerous, because they’re likable. And they'll like you. You can commiserate in mediocrity.

But they never create, so they’re never truly happy.

And that’s what man has become: man is reduced to being a spectator. He reads the newspapers, he reads the Bible and the Koran and the Gita; he goes to the movie, sits there and watches the movie; he goes to the football match, or sits before his TV, listens to the radio … and so on and so forth. Twenty-four hours a day he is just in a kind of inactivity, a spectator. Others are doing things and he is simply watching.
Meaning comes through participation. Participate in life! Participate as deeply, as totally, as possible. Risk all for participation. If you want to know what dance is, don’t go and see a dancer—learn dancing, be a dancer. If you want to know anything, participate.
Risk all for participation. - Osho, Creativity

3. If your intentions are good, don’t worry about offending people.

If someone is offended by your generous creation, that's their problem. Apologize if you were wrong. But if they don’t accept, that’s on them.

4. Those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter.

5. Haters don’t hate you, they hate themselves. Criticism is projection.

“People want you to remain as you are because you make them realize they’re ignoring their own calling. People are uncomfortable when you start to change, because your actions remind them what they’ve been avoiding in their own lives.
They’re forced to confront the fact that they’re choosing to remain the same while you’re making a drastic shift in the direction of your life. You hold a mirror up to all the fears they’ve given in to and all the goals they’ve chosen not to pursue.” - Srini Rao, Unmistakable Creative

6. If someone hates on your writing, ask: What’s up? Are you having a hard time with something?

This strategy comes from Ramit Sethi:

25% of the time, they completely transform their tone of voice. The lesson here is that you can easily shift the direction of an exchange with someone who is angry or frustrated — all you have to do is stay calm. And if you push a little, you might learn a lot about where they’re coming from. - Ramit Sethi (via Tim Ferriss, "Becoming the Best Version of You")

7. You will screw up. Own it, apologize, and do better next time.

Admitting your mistakes actually makes people trust you more. So don't let fear of messing up stop you from writing or publishing.

8. “You only fail if you stop writing.” - Ray Bradbury

“Rejected pieces aren't failures; unwritten pieces are.” Greg Daugherty

9. You also fail if you don't publish.

In the age of cheap blog hosting, Medium.com and social media, you have no excuse to not publish regularly.

10. Failure is feedback. The key to success is getting as much feedback as possible (and utilizing it).

“Errors [are] stepping-stones to truth.” - J.R. Moehringer, The Tender Bar
I hope you'll make mistakes. If you're making mistakes, it means you're out there doing something. And the mistakes in themselves can be useful. I once misspelled Caroline, in a letter, transposing the A and the O, and I thought, “Coraline looks like a real name… - Neil Gaiman, “Make Good Art”

Coraline became a novella that won multiple awards and was turned into a movie.

11. The path to acceptance is paved with rejection. Seek rejection.

The only truly safe thing you can do is to try over and over again. To go for it, to get rejected, to repeat, to strive, to wish. Without rejection there is no frontier, there is no passion, and there is no magic. - James Altucher, Choose Yourself
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12. Once you start getting accepted, don't listen to your cheerleaders. They'll lead you away from yourself.

You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance. - Ray Bradbury

13. A small minority will hate on your work and assume the worst. Instead of worrying about those people, make yourself antifragile to their nitpicking.

Antifragility is the ability to thrive under disorder and stress. Instead of breaking you down, it stimulates growth.

“Give me a few lines written by any man and I will find enough to get him hung” goes the saying attributed to Richelieu, Voltaire,” - Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile

14. Become antifragile by not being beholden to gatekeepers or goalkeepers. Strive to own your platform, your income, your life.

Too many creators are distracted by critics, by prizes, by buzz or media attention or impressing their friends, and they forget this. They forget their audience, customers, fans. The fashion designer Marc Ecko has good advice: We can’t prioritize the gatekeepers (the media) over the goalkeepers (the audience). To do so is foolishly shortsighted. - Ryan Holiday, Perennial Seller

15. The best way to succeed is to make as many bets as possible. In writing, lottery tickets are (mostly) free.

When you start off, you have to deal with the problems of failure. You need to be thick-skinned, to learn that not every project will survive. A freelance life, a life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it ...
... and put something in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. And you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back. - Neil Gaiman, “Make Good Art”

16. Practice unlimited bowling.

When we were kids, my mom, fully exasperated, would survive a day when school was closed by dropping a bunch of us off at Sheridan Lanes for a few hours of bowling.
You only had a certain amount of money to spend, and each game (and the snacks) cost, so we knew that one could only play a few games. Which meant that every single roll mattered. Don't waste one.
Unlimited bowling is a whole different concept. As many games as you want. Roll to your heart's content.
When you're doing unlimited bowling, you can practice various shots. You can work on the risky splits. You can bowl without remorse.
As you've guessed, the fat pipes of the internet bring the idea of unlimited bowling to much of what we do. Interesting is enough. Generous is enough. Learning is enough.
It's a special kind of freedom, we shouldn't waste it - Seth Godin, "Unlimited Bowling"

On Finding Your Voice


1. The only thing you have and other writers don’t is you. Find your uniqueness and dump it on your writing.

Everyone has one competitive advantage. Themselves.

The urge, starting out, is to copy. And that's not a bad thing. Most of us only find our own voices after we've sounded like a lot of other people. But the one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can. - Neil Gaiman, “Make Good Art”

2. Your voice is that part of you deep down that you’re afraid to unleash.

3. The more your writing scares you, the better it is.

The more afraid you are of sharing something, the better it’ll be.

The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you're walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That's the moment you may be starting to get it right. - Neil Gaiman, “Make Good Art”

4. The best way to find your voice is to write hundreds of thousands of words and look back on what emerged.

“Until you’ve written hundreds of thousands of words, you have no clue what you will enjoy writing about or what other people will enjoy reading from you.” - Mark Manson, "Tips and Advice for Starting a Blog"

5. To help find your voice, literally speak what you want to write and transcribe it.

Use a (free) service like Otter.

6. After writing (or rewriting your transcription), read it aloud. Does your “voice” sound like you?

7. Write how you speak. Edit out the fluff and meandering. Add hot sauce.

8. Don’t try to sound interesting. Just do what nobody does: Be honest.

The most interesting thing you can do is be honest. That’s it. That’s the whole secret to being interesting. - Tucker Max

9. Subjective honesty is better than fake objectiiviity.

There’s no such thing as being “objective;” we all have our hidden biases. Bring them to the surface and own them.

As well, nonfiction is not as nonfictional as it seems when you sit down and really look at it. There is no such thing as a completely objective report of reality; everything is shaded by the person encountering it, shaded by unexamined beliefs, biases, orientations, assumptions, fears, hopes, and dreams. - Stephen Harrod Buhner, Ensouling Language

10. Don’t try to "be a writer." Just tell your story and translate it to the page as directly as possible.

It now occurs to me that my father, who didn’t try to be a writer, was a more natural writer than I am, with my constant fiddling and fussing. Be yourself and your readers will follow you anywhere. Try to commit an act of writing and your readers will jump overboard to get away.
Your product is you. The crucial transaction in memoir and personal history is the transaction between you and your remembered experiences and emotions. - William Zinssnner, "How to Write a Memoir"

11. Don't try to sound like an expert. Don't lecture. Connect.

“The goal of a voice is to speak not with objective authority but with subjective curiosity.” - Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir

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12. Write like you've had two glasses of wine and are writing an email to one of your best friends.

Literally imagine writing to that friend. Don’t try to write for everyone; you'll sound like a dulllecturer.

I first ended up with this really pompous like Princetonian shtick that I was doing. Shit, too. Like four or five-syllable words. That was horrible, so I scrapped it, and then I went to like Looney Toons/Three Stooges slapstick, which was also horrible. Scrapped that.
So I threw away four, five chapters and had two glasses of wine and sat down and said I’m going to write this like I would write an email to my best friends. That’s how it started. That’s how I found my voice. - Tim Ferriss, "Master Your Fear and Find Your Voice"
Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death, and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist.
In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person—and write to that one. - John Steinbeck

13. Don’t write from a pedestal. Otherwise, how do you expect to connect?

Meaning, purpose, and happiness in this life, you see, do not come ever from standing above, atop, and astride others. They come only from standing beside them, and holding their hands. - Umair Haque, “A Tiny Letter to All the Young People I Know”

14. Tell your story or argument one step at a time. Start where your readers are, not where you are.

People are tempted to tell you everything, with perfect accuracy, right up front, when they should be giving you just enough info to be useful, then a little more, then a little more. - Chip and Dan Heath, Made to Stick

15. If you’re trying to be persuasive, start by being likable. Connect emotionally, then persuade logically.

If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.
Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what he will, is the great high road to his reason, and which, once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing his judgment of the justice of your cause, if indeed that cause really be a just one. - Fred Kaplan, Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer

16. If your argument or story is new, relate it to something the reader already knows. Otherwise, they’ll be lost.

A good analogy can wield a lot of power. In fact, in Hollywood $100 million movies can be green-lighted based largely on the strength of a one-sentence analogy ...
The concept of the movie Speed, before it was pitched, obviously did not exist in the minds of the execs. It was like the word “pomelo,” before you knew what it meant. The compact, five-word phrase “ Die Hard on a bus” pours a breathtaking amount of meaning into the previously nonexistent concept of Speed. - Chip and Dan Heath, Made to Stick

17. It’s not the reader’s job to read your mind. If they don’t understand you, you need to connect the dots in their head.

If I’m trying to explain something and you don’t follow me, it’s not simply your job to catch up. It’s my job to slow down. This is at the heart of communicating: If I tell you something without making sure you got it, did I really communicate anything? Was I talking to you, or was I just making noises? - Alan Alda, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?

18. It's not what you write, it's what people read.

It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.
You can have the best message in the world, but the person on the receiving end will always understand it through the prism of his or her own emotions, preconceptions, prejudices, and preexisting beliefs.
It’s not enough to be correct or reasonable or even brilliant. The key to successful communication is to take the imaginative leap of stuffing yourself right into your listener’s shoes to know what they are thinking and feeling in the deepest recesses of their mind and heart.
How that person perceives what you say is even more real, at least in a practical sense, than how you perceive yourself. Words That Work, by Frank Luntz

19. Turn off your inner naysayer and chill with your inner child.

You are not imaginatively impotent until you are dead; you are only frozen up. Switch off the no-saying intellect and welcome the unconscious as a friend: it will lead you to places you never dreamed of, and produce results more ‘original’ than anything you could achieve by aiming at originality. - Keith Johnstone, Impro

20. You were more creative as a child. Do things that made you creative, then!

“Adults are atrophied children.” - Keith Johnstone, Impro

21. You can’t aim to be original. You can just switch off your mind, and after the fact, you’ll see if originality emerged.

22. Do you sound likable? If not, you’re not telling the full story.

"Frankly, there isn't anyone you couldn't learn to love, once you've learned their story." - Mr. Rogers

23. If you’re bullshitting people, they’ll know. Don’t be a bullshitter.

24. The only way to find your voice is to sound like someone else, then course-correct.

I have not so much thought my way through life as done things and found out what it was and who I was after the doing.” - Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

25. Emulate your heroes. Use them for inspiration.

26. While you should be inspired by many, you should be impressed by no one.

If you’re constantly impressed, you’re constantly feeling inferior. Which means you’re blocked.

You should not be impressed, because all impressions are like dust gathering on the mirror. I am not saying not to allow inspiration; that is totally different. To be inspired is totally different from being impressed. Anybody can be impressed, but to be inspired you need great intelligence, understanding. - Osho, The Search

27. Read the biographies and autobiographies of your heroes (if they’re honest). They’re never as perfect as you imagined — they spent much of their lives as scared as you.

What the world needs, I decide, is a Museum of Crap. Or, if you prefer something more PG, a Museum of Mistakes. Such an institution would provide a valuable public service. Visitors could see a life preserver from the Titanic, the actual sword that Napoléon carried into battle at Waterloo, a genuine can of New Coke, as well as a lovingly restored Betamax.
The gift-shop possibilities are endless. T-shirts riddled with typos, eight-track tapes, a complete collection of Michael Bolton albums. Granted, I might be mistaken about the Museum of Mistakes, but my mistaken belief could itself become one of the exhibits. That is the beauty of the Museum of Mistakes. It’s all-inclusive. - Eric Weiner, The Geography of Genius

28. Everything you’ve read was written by people no smarter than you. Just those ahead of you on their journey.

Life can be much broader, once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call ‘life’ was made up by people that were no smarter than you.
And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again. - Steve Jobs

29. There’s no such thing as an overnight success. Just overnight redemption after a lifetime of incubation.

“Could you sketch something for me? I’ll pay you for it. Name your price.
Picasso took a charcoal pencil from his pocket made a rapid sketch of a goat. It took only a few strokes, yet was unmistakably a Picasso. The man reached out for the napkin, but Picasso did not hand it over. ‘You owe me $100,000,’ he said.
The man was outraged.’“$100,000? Why? That took you no more than 30 seconds to draw!’
Picasso crumpled up the napkin and stuffed it into his jacket pocket. “You are wrong,” he said, dismissing the man. “It took me 40 years.”
The angry man’s mistake was missing the invisible.”- Charles Chu, “Picasso’s Napkin,” citing Creating the Vital Organization

30. “Talk about the things you love. Your voice will follow.” - Austin Kleon, Show Your Work

31. Balance optimism and pessimism. Don’t be a snarky critic, but don’t be a naive optimist.

There’s a great rabbinical motto that says you start each day with a note in each pocket. One note says, “The world was created for you today,” and the other note says, “I’m a speck of dust in a meaningless universe,” and you have to balance both things. - Harold Ramis (via Judd Apatow’s Sick in the Head)

32. Once you’ve found your voice, it should be so unmistakable that people would recognize you under a pseudonym.


On Good Writing: What Is It?

1. Good writing creates a movie in the reader’s mind. Show, don’t tell isn’t just cliche; it’s essential.

2. Good writing uses “generative metaphors” to illustrate your points.

Good metaphors are “generative.” The psychologist Donald Schon introduced this term to describe metaphors that generate “new perceptions, explanations, and inventions.” Many simple sticky ideas are actually generative metaphors in disguise.
For example, Disney calls its employees “cast members.” This metaphor of employees as cast members in a theatrical production is communicated consistently throughout the organization:
Cast members don’t interview for a job, they audition for a role. When they are walking around the park, they are onstage. People visiting Disney are guests, not customers. Jobs are performances; uniforms are costumes. - Chip and Dan Heath, Made to Stick

3. Good writing is good storytelling. Even nonfiction/how-to.

Nonfiction is fiction ...
If you want your factual history or memoir, your grant proposal or dissertation or TED talk to be powerful and engaging and to hold the reader and audience’s attention, you must organize your material (even though it’s technically not a story and not fiction) as if it were a story and as if it were fiction. - Steven Pressfield, Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t

4. Follow the eight principles of storytelling.

1. Every story must have a concept. It must put a unique and original spin, twist or framing device upon the material.
2. Every story must be about something. It must have a theme.
3. Every story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Act One, Act Two, Act Three.
4. Every story must have a hero.
5. Every story must have a villain.
6. Every story must start with an Inciting Incident, embedded within which is the story's climax.
7. Every story must build to a climax centered around a clash between the hero and the villain that pays off everything that came before and that pays it off on-theme.
There is nothing about any of these principles that cannot be applied to nonfiction, including your presentation on geraniums to the Master Gardening class. - Steven Pressfield, Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t:

5. Every piece of writing needs a beginning (hook), middle (build) and end (payoff). Even a Tweet.

6. Find your hook: What is something surprising will interrupt their current state of mind enough to get them to click and read instead of scrolling Instagram?

It’s very useful to remember that the BEGINNING is all about HOOKING your reader…getting them so deeply curious and involved in the Story that there is no way they’ll abandon it until they know how it turns out. - Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid

7. A good hook opens a loop that only the rest of the piece can close.

We need to open gaps before we close them. Our tendency is to tell people the facts. First, though, they must realize that they need these facts ...
As an example, most local news programs run teaser ads for upcoming broadcasts. The teasers preview the lead story of the evening, usually in laughably hyperbolic terms: “There’s a new drug sweeping the teenage community—and it may be in your own medicine cabinet!” …
These are sensationalist examples of the gap theory. They work because they tease you with something that you don’t know—in fact, something that you didn’t care about at all, until you found out that you didn’t know it. “Is my daughter strung out on one of my old prescriptions? I wonder if I ate at the restaurant with the slime?” - Chip and Dan Heath, Made to Stick

8. The middle must build tension.

The MIDDLE is about BUILDING progressive complications that bring the stress and pressure down so hard on your lead character(s) that they are forced to take huge risks so that they can return to “normal.” - Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid

9. The end must relieve tension.

The ENDING is the big PAYOFF, when the promises you’ve made from your HOOK get satisfied in completely unique and unexpected ways. STORY distilled is…HOOK, BUILD, PAYOFF. That’s it. - Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid
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10. Good writing is the opposite of what you were taught.

“It’s easy to play the role of ‘artist’, but actually to create something means going against one’s education.” - Keith Johnstone Impro
“Horace Mann, often credited as the father of the modern education system, started a school 150 years ago, called the Common School. The purpose of the Common School was to teach students how to follow directions effectively so they would be prepared for factory work.
A few years after the school opened, Mann realized that he had a shortage of teachers for the Common School, so he started the Normal School. The Normal School was where teachers were trained before going to give classes at the Common School.
We needed normal teachers to train students to be common. The modern educational system is built on the back of this premise—creating normal, common workers.” - Taylor Pearson, The End of Jobs

11. Writing is guesswork. It’s not about writing the right words; it’s about telling good stories.

“Can I tell you something?” the priest asked. “Do you know why God invented writers? Because He loves a good story. And He doesn’t give a damn about words. Words are the curtain we’ve hung between Him and our true selves.
Try not to think about the words. Don’t strain for the perfect sentence. There’s no such thing. Writing is guesswork. Every sentence is an educated guess, the reader’s as much as yours. Think about that the next time you curl a piece of paper into your typewriter.” - J.R. Moehringer, The Tender Bar

12. Most writing sucks. Glance at all writing, ignore mediocrity, then read the greats over and over.

13. Don’t just read good writing. Absorb it. Get drunk with it.

In India, when somebody is reading an ordinary book it is called “reading”; but whenever somebody is reading the Gita we have a special term for it − we call it path. Literally translated it will mean “lesson.” Ordinary reading is just reading – mechanical; but when you read so deeply absorbed in it that the very reading becomes a lesson, then the reading goes deep into your being. It is not only part of your memory now but has become part of your being. You have absorbed it, you are drunk with it. - Osho, The Search

14. Reading about writing won’t make you a better writer, but it will guide you when you start.

“Most things that we believe were “invented” by universities were actually discovered by tinkering and later legitimized by some type of formalization. I have shown in Antifragile how the knowledge we get by tinkering, via trial and error, experience, and the workings of time, in other words, contact with the earth, is vastly superior to that obtained through reasoning, something universities have been very busy hiding from us.” - Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Skin in the Game

15. Obvious (clear) writing is better than fancy writing.

16. Just tell the interesting parts.

“Marilyn Manson taught me how to write in a lot of ways. It has to be interesting. You don’t have to tell everything. Just tell the interesting parts.” - Neil Strauss, WTF Podcast

17. “Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.” - Kurt Vonnegut

This is a fiction-specific tip, but it mostly applies for nonfiction. For every sentence, ask: What purpose does this serve? Would the reader care if I deleted it?

18. Write as many words as you need, but no more.

19. Good writing interrupts routines.

If I say ‘Make up a story’, then most people are paralysed. If I say ‘describe a routine and then interrupt it’, people see no problem.
A film of a mountain climb isn’t necessarily anything more than a documentary. If we interrupt the routine of mountain-climbing by having them discover a crashed plane, or if we snow them up and have them start eating each other, or whatever, then we begin storytelling. As a story progresses it begins to establish other routines and these in their turn have to be broken.
… It doesn’t matter how stupidly you interrupt a routine, you will be automatically creating a narrative, and people will listen. - Keith Johnstone, Impro

20. Writing that flows is a result of writing in flow. You can’t sound poetic without feeling poetic.

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21. Writing mechanically leads to mechanical writing.

The rhythm is an unconscious result of the poetic mood. If one should stop to consider it mechanically, when about to write a poem, one would become bewildered and accomplish nothing of real poetical value. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

22. Thinking is the enemy of good writing. Feel! Now translate that feeling on the page.

The intellect is a great danger to creativity … because you begin to rationalize and make up reasons for things, instead of staying with your own basic truth — who you are, what you are, what you want to be.
I’ve had a sign over my typewriter for over 25 years now, which reads “Don’t think!” You must never think at the typewriter — you must feel. Your intellect is always buried in that feeling anyway. – Ray Bradbury (via Brain Pickings)

23. That said, thinking is how you edit your wild feelings into logical coherence.

The trouble with a lot of people who try to write is they intellectualize about it. That comes after. The intellect is given to us by God to test things once they’re done, not to worry about things ahead of time. - Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

24. If you want to surprise the reader, surprise yourself.

What you’re trying to do as a creative person is surprise yourself — find out who you really are, and try not to lie, try to tell the truth all the time. - Ray Bradbury

25. Don’t teach people by lecturing. Teach them through stories through which they can see themselves.

“Tell people enjoyable stories that teach them about themselves.” - Matthew Berry

26. Unless you’re writing pure how-to info, your writing should be more about inciting questions than giving answers.

It is less important for the novelist to solve his questions than it is to frame them in such human terms that each reader will be incited to come up with his own answers. - Budd Schulberg, What Makes Sammy Run?

27. Every piece of writing ⁠— even books, should be reducible to one central thesis or thematic statement. The rest of the piece simply expresses that statement fully.

“In the novel The Plague by Albert Camus, a character spends part of his life searching for the perfect opening sentence for a novel. Once he had that sentence, he had the full book as a derivation of the opening.
But the reader, to understand and appreciate the first sentence, will have to read the entire book.
… Every sentence in [Antifragile] was a derivation, an application, or an interpretation of the short maxim. Some details and extensions can be counterintuitive and elaborate … but at the end everything flows from it.” - Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile

28. Ask yourself: What’s the one thing readers will remember after reading this?

If I could leave my audience with only one single key takeaway message, what would it be? If my audience was to forget everything else I said, what one single idea or lesson would I want them to remember? - Ted Talks Storytelling, by Akash Karia

29. Storytelling is joke-telling. Do you have a setup, building tension and a punchline?

Storytelling is joke telling. You need to know your punchline, your ending, knowing that everything you're saying, from your first sentence to your last, is leading to a singular goal, and ideally confirming some truth that deepens our understanding of who we are as human beings. - Andrew Stanton, “The Clues to a Great Story”

30. "Storytelling is all about making the reader ask: What happens next?" - Brian Grazer, A Curious Mind

31. Good writing creates tension. Tension keeps people reading. Release keeps them satisfied.

"The real writer is the one that makes you feel uncomfortable." - George Saunders

32. Balance tension, release and surprise, like a rollercoaster.

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33. “Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.” - Mark Twain

34. Be as simple as possible, but no more.

35. Simplicity + beauty = elegance. Complexity is ugly.

36. Good writing makes assertions.

You can always admit you were wrong and update your work.

37. Better to overshoot and apologize than undershoot and have no impact.

38. To make something funny, take an old premise and flip it on its head.

“All you’d have to do is be, like, have somebody say, yeah, I won.  All right, great.  So what did I win?  You know, then all of a sudden you’re – and it’s like, why’s everybody looking at me.  Is it a car?  It’s a car, right?  I mean, you know, it doesn’t take that much to flip something.
The Simpsons has been doing it for years, all their Halloween specials.  You just take a classic Twilight Zone premise, a high-stakes Twilight Zone premise and you just tweak it really very slightly and all of a sudden you’ve got a great comedy premise.” - Simon Rich, in James Altucher’s Reinvent Yourself

39. Most writers don’t even try to be funny. Stupid f*cks.


On Editing


1. Grammar is a tool, not a rule.

Don't make changes for "correct grammar." Make changes if it sounds better in your voice. Read aloud if you're not sure. None of the authors we admire use "technically correct" grammar. Grammar should be used to facilitate readability and voice.

2. First drafts aren't permanent. Get it down, then filter out the fluff.

“Write drunk, edit sober” isn’t a cliche; it’s an apt metaphor. Write as if you’ve had a couple of drinks and have no filter. Then cut out everything unnecessary to tell your argument or story. Nobody will see your drunk scribblings.

3. Even published drafts aren't permanent. You can always update or delete them later.

Everything online (even self-published books) can be updated down the road. If you change your mind or discover a mistake, admit it and fix it.

4. Don’t edit while you write. You can’t create and analyze at the same time.

Research by psychologists Arie Kruglanski, Tory Higgins, and their colleagues suggests that we have two complementary motivational systems: the “thinking” system and the “doing” system – and we’re generally only capable of using one at a time.
Think about how you best generate new ideas. Often, you “brainstorm” or try to come up with as many ideas as possible. That is called diverging and requires our thinking system. At other times, you need to evaluate those ideas and figure out which ones are best. That is called converging, and it requires the activation of the doing system. - Art Markman, “The Thinking Mindset vs. the Doing Mindset”

5. Cut everything you write by at least a third.

6. Eliminate all fancy language.

7. Write directly and explicitly.

Plain words on plain paper. Remember what Orwell says, that good prose is like a windowpane. Cut every page you write by at least a third. Stop constructing those piffling little similes of yours. Work out what you want to say. Then say it in the most direct and vigorous way you can.
Eat meat. Drink blood. Give up your social life and don’t think you can have friends. Rise in the quiet hours of the night and prick your fingertips and use the blood for ink; that will cure you of persiflage!
But do I take my own advice? Not a bit. Persiflage is my nom de guerre. (Don’t use foreign expressions. It’s elitist.) - Hilary Mantel, Giving Up the Ghost

8. “The first draft of anything is shit.” - Ernest Hemingway.

Don’t stress about it. Finish it.

9. Don’t “kill your darlings.” Let them rest in a “deleted scenes” folder so you don’t feel like a murderer.

They’ll be sleeping if you need them.

10. The key to creativity is non-interference. The key to art is discernment.

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” - Scott Adams (via Originals, by Adam Grant)

11. Make sure you’re emphasizing the right words. Make sure what you wrote is what you meant.

A written sentence has two facets to it: what you 𝙬𝙧𝙤𝙩𝙚, and what you 𝙢𝙚𝙖𝙣𝙩.
We can read what you wrote, but YOU are the only person who truly knows what you meant.
If you’re not careful, there can be a great chasm between those two things—your job is to bridge that gulf.
One of the simplest ways to ensure clarity is emphasis.
Emphasizing one word over another often changes the meaning of a sentence entirely. Employed correctly, this helps readers look past what you wrote and understand what you meant. - John Romaniello

Romaniello uses this "absolutely ridiculoous (and memorable) example ... I never said he licked my asshole."

Write the sentence five different ways, emphasizing a different word each time. The meaning is completely different. This can be done with italics, bold, or rearranging the sentence.

Does that make sense?

Does that make sense?

12. Read your writing aloud while editing and before you publish. Do you sound like yourself?

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13. If it’s a really important project, like a book, read it aloud to friends and watch their reactions. Or watch their faces while they read.

14. Ask your peers what they don’t like, but don’t listen when they tell you how to fix it.

When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. - Neil Gaiman, "8 Rules of Writing"

15. You should only care what one group of people thinks about your writing: your readers.

Too many creators are distracted by critics, by prizes, by buzz or media attention or impressing their friends, and they forget this. They forget their audience, customers, fans. The fashion designer Marc Ecko has good advice: We can’t prioritize the gatekeepers (the media) over the goalkeepers (the audience). To do so is foolishly shortsighted. - Ryan Holiday, Perennial Seller

16. Edit in three phases. First, for you. Then, for your fans. Finally, your critics.

That advice comes from Neil Strauss. Here, he elaborates on the third phase:

I always use Eminem as an example. You can’t really criticize Eminem, because [in his songs] he impersonates the critics and then answers them. . . . There’s nothing that people have said about him that [isn’t] already answered or accomplished in some self-aware way.
So, I really want to answer the critics—their questions, their critiques—in a way that is still fun and entertaining. [That’s] the idea of ‘hater-proofing’ it.” - Neil Strauss (via Tim Ferriss, Tools of Titans

17. Editing is mostly about trimming the fat, but it’s also about sprinkling on some hot sauce. Spice that shit up!

On Distraction, Procrastination and Focus

1. 20 minutes of focused writing beats hours of distracted “writing.”

2. You can only focus on one thing at a time. When writing, ignore everything but writing.

Your Success Mechanism can help you do any job, perform any task, solve any problem. Think of yourself as ‘feeding’ jobs and problems to your Success Mechanism as a scientist ‘feeds’ a problem to a computer. The ‘hopper’ to your Success Mechanism can handle only one job at a time.
Just as a computer cannot give the right answer if three different problems are mixed up and fed in at the same time, neither can your own Success Mechanism. Ease off on the pressure. Stop trying to cram into the machinery more than one job at a time. - Maxwell Maltz, Psycho-Cybernetics

3. Write at the same time every day. Whenever you’re most creative and least distracted.

W.H. Auden said that “Only the Hitlers of the world work at night.” Most people write best in the morning. Then again, apparently Franz Kafka and Vladimir Nabakov wrote at night. Write when you can, and try to keep it consistent to hammer home the habit and ensure you don’t stray.

4. Create a unique writing ritual that works for you and gets you in flow.

5. Don’t rely on inspiration to write. Create a unique writing habit that guarantees you write regularly.

To create a habit, create a habit loop of a reminder, routine, reward.

“The reminder is the trigger that initiates the desired (or undesired) behavior. The routine is the actual behavior you perform. And the reward is the reinforcement, or benefit, from doing the behavior.” - Kelly Stocker, “Hack Your Life”

6. Your writing habit should eliminate as many decisions as possible, so you can focus 100% on creating.

Automate your small decisions — where you’re writing, what program you’re using, what you’re writing about. Decide as much as you can beforehand.

“Decisions are the enemy of routine.” - Kelly Stocker, “Hack Your Life”

7. Listening to the same song on repeat, ideally with no lyrics or super-simple pop, helps invite flow.

Repetition draws us into music, and repetition draws music into us. - Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis, On Repeat

8. If something weird gets you writing, don’t ask why. Every writer has weird rituals.

Try weird things. Experiment. Keep what works.

[Thomas] Wolfe’s prose has been criticized for its overindulgence and adolescent character, so it’s interesting to note that the novelist practiced a writing ritual that was almost literally masturbatory.
One evening in 1930, as he was struggling to recapture the feverish spirit that had fueled his first book, Look Homeward, Angel, Wolfe decided to give up on an uninspired hour of work and get undressed for bed. But, standing naked at his hotel-room window, Wolfe found that his weariness had suddenly evaporated and that he was eager to write again. Returning to the table, he wrote until dawn with, he recalled, “amazing speed, ease, and sureness.”
Looking back, Wolfe tried to figure out what had prompted the sudden change—and realized that, at the window, he had been unconsciously fondling his genitals, a habit from childhood that, while not exactly sexual (his “penis remained limp and unaroused,” he noted in a letter to his editor), fostered such a “good male feeling” that it had stoked his creative energies.
From then on, Wolfe regularly used this method to inspire his writing sessions, dreamily exploring his “male configurations” until “the sensuous elements in every domain of life became more immediate, real, and beautiful. - Mason Currey, Daily Rituals

9. Writing time is writing time. That means no emails, no research, no social media, no balloon animals. Turn your phone on Airplane mode and block the internet (use Self-Control or Freedom).

“There must be times set aside that are only for writing, where you are unreachable.” - Neil Strauss

10. Don’t make distractions difficult; make them impossible. Block them all, as if you were a helpless child.

Not even the most disciplined oof us can be trusted to write during writing time. Child-lock your writing environment.

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11. Create artificial constraints to get yourself moving.

Go to a coffee shop and don’t bring your computer charger. Hit your word count before your battery runs out!

12. Write alone or in places where other people are writing or studying, like libraries or cafes.

13. Collaborate, but only after you’ve done solitary work.

Writers should work alone. They should see each other only after their work is done, and not too often then. Otherwise they become like writers in New York. All angleworms in a bottle, trying to derive knowledge and nourishment from their own contact and from the bottle.
Sometimes the bottle is shaped art, sometimes economics, sometimes economic-religion. But once they are in the bottle they stay there. They are lonesome outside of the bottle. They do not want to be lonesome. They are afraid to be alone in their beliefs. - Ernest Hemingway On Writing

On Getting Unstuck

1. Try practicing Julia Cameron's "Morning Pages" every day, for at least a month.

Write three stream-of-consciousness pages, ideally by hand, without judgement.

Once we get those muddy, maddening, confusing thoughts [nebulous worries, jitters, and preoccupations] on the page, we face our day with clearer eyes. - Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

2. Go on “Artist Dates” where you do things your inner child loves. Incubate ideas.

An artist date is a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. In its most primary form, the artist date is an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend against all interlopers.
You do not take anyone on this artist date but you and your inner artist, a.k.a. your creative child. That means no lovers, friends, spouses, children—no taggers-on of any stripe. - Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

3. When you’re stuck mentally, move your body.

“[Søren Kierkegaard]’s (1813-1855) day was dominated by two pursuits: writing and walking. Typically, he wrote in the morning, set off on a long walk through Copenhagen at noon, and then returned to his writing for the rest of the day and into the evening.
The walks were where he had his best ideas, and sometimes he would be in such a hurry to get them down that, returning home, he would write standing up before his desk, still wearing his hat and gripping his walking stick or umbrella.” - Mason Currey, Daily Rituals

4. If you’re still stuck, do something repetitive.

Why do I get my best ideas in the shower?” an exasperated Einstein is said to have remarked. Brain research now tells us that this is because showering is an artist-brain activity.
Showering, swimming, scrubbing, shaving, steering a car—so many s-like-yes words!—all of these are regular, repetitive activities that may tip us over from our logic brain into our more creative artist brain.
Solutions to sticky creative problems may bubble up through the dishwater, emerge on the freeway just as we are executing a tricky merge. - Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

5. When your productivity begins to dip, stop. For most people, this is at 2-4 hours per day.

Continuing will tire yourself out for little benefit.

6. Don't stress if you don't have 2-4 hours to write. 30-60 minutes of focused writing a day is enough to write a book and dozens of blog posts per year.

“All those I think who have lived as literary men,—working daily as literary labourers,—will agree with me that three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write.” - Anthony Trollope

7. Good writing is all about getting out of your head and into your heart and soul.

To tap into your deepest talent, you need to seek out a calm, restful state of mind where your head isn’t defending your delicate ego and your heart can bloom open a little.
Just apply your ass to the chair (as someone wise once said, a writer’s only requirement) and for fifteen or twenty minutes, practice getting your attention out of your head, down to some wider expanse in your chest or solar plexus—a place less self-conscious or skittery or scared.
The idea is to unclench your mind’s claws. So don’t judge how your thoughts might jet around at first. Eventually you’ll start identifying a little bit with that detached, watcher self and less with your prattling head. - Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir

8. When you’re stuck, make up rules and constraints. Try “irrational” things to get you moving.

For example, “I’m going to write a 100-word story from one of my favorite trips, then turn it into a blog post for my business.”

Or: “I’m going to skip my morning coffee today and write about it.” Or “double my coffee intake.” Write in pencil. Write in Gmail. It doesn’t matter. Play around and get moving.

9. When you’re stuck, free associate.

I say ‘Free-associate’, and then when they’ve produced unconnected material, I say ‘Connect’, or ‘Reincorporate’. A knowledge of this game is very useful to a writer. First of all it encourages you to write whatever you feel like; it also means that you look back when you get stuck, instead of searching forwards. You look for things you’ve shelved, and then reinclude them. - Keith Johnstone, Impro

10. Never censor yourself when you’re stuck. Don’t judge what your stream-of-consciousness produces. You can edit it later.

“I ask them for an idea and they say … oh … aahh … urn …’ as if they couldn’t think of one. The brain constructs the universe for us, so how is it possible to be ‘stuck’ for an idea? The student hesitates not because he doesn’t have an idea, but to conceal the inappropriate ones that arrive uninvited.” - Keith Johnstone, Impro

11. You are not your words. Don’t identify with something you wrote when you were a different you.

“You change every instant. Your published words don't. Don't attach to them. If you tie your identity to something you've written in the past, while in the meantime you've changed, you're insane.
That would be like holding yourself to things you thought in first grade. Your words in print are just a snapshot of what thoughts arose at one tiny moment of time in your lengthy life in an infinite universe.” - Matt Rudnitsky, You Are An Author
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12. Because you are not your words, you shouldn’t feel responsible for your words as you write them. Write naturally, edit thoughtfully, amend if necessary.

“Once you don’t feel responsible you become natural.” - Osho, Creativity

13. When you’re stuck, word vomit everything that’s on your mind. Rearrange it later.

Getting stuck is the commonest trouble of all. Usually, I say, your mind gets stuck when you're trying to do too many things at one. What you have to do is try not to force words to come. That just gets you more stuck.
What you have to do now is separate out the things and do them one at a time. You're trying to think of what to say and what to say first at the same time and that's too hard. So separate them out.
Just make a list of all the things you want to say in any old order. Then later we'll figure out the right order ... 'I'll never get all this into one letter,' he says. He sees me laugh and frowns. I say, 'Just pick out the best things.' - Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence

14. When you’re stuck or overwhelmed, make a mind map.

If you think of an idea that seems “off the wall,” put it in your mind map and keep going. Absurd and unusual associations often lead to creative breakthroughs. Remember that even the greatest genius of all time was concerned that his “new and speculative idea … may seem trivial and almost laughable.”
But he did not let that stop him, and neither should you.After you have generated an abundance, If not an infinity, of associations, take a break for incubation. Then come back to your mind map, and generate another wave of associations. - Michael Gelb, How to Think Like Leonardo  da Vinci

15. If you feel like your writing isn’t making an impact, focus on changing one person instead of the world. Write a letter, not a blog post.

[The answer to getting out of a slump is] to change one person. If you can get one person to engage with your work, all we’re left with is a question of scale. If you can have one person see the world differently, then all we’re left with is a question of scale. And questions of scale are very different than questions of self-worth. - Seth Godin, “The Rich 20-Something”

16. If you can’t get attention for your writing, send it to people directly, for free. If it doesn’t spread, you need to write better.

“Finish your first book, and then email it in a nicely-laid-out PDF to 100 people. Just give it away. If it's good, it'll get to 10,000 people, and then you'll have no trouble selling your second book. If it's not good, it's a good thing you gave it away, because no one was going to publish it anyway.
Not one person has taken this advice. Not one. Because as long as you're carrying around your not-very-good novel and no agent will represent you, and no publisher will publish you, you're safe ... saying they're miserable makes them happy." - Seth Godin, The Moment Podcast

17. Watch the sunrise. Watch the sunset. Put your bare feet on Earth. Get out in nature.

Art is your translation of nature.

On Writer’s Block and Staring at the Blank Page


1. Start with energy, intention and ideas. Connect the scattered dots later.

Now this album ... I didn't have the concept. I just had energy and ideas and passion. And I just start spilling out beats, looping up things — sometimes I wouldn't even finish a whole beat and just spilling out words ... I just start spilling things out and then wait until they take form … until I see a common thread or something. - J. Cole, NPR

2. Creativity is the art of relaxing. The harder it feels to write, the more unaligned you are.

I learned to write by writing. I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure, and to stopo when it felt like work, which meant that life did not feel like work. - Neil Gaiman, “Make Good Art”

3. Once you relax, play with ideas on the page. Let your inner child run on the playground of the page.

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves. - Carl Jung

4. If it's hard, to relax, don't worry. Almost everyone struggles to relax and not give a f*ck about criticism.

5. If you’re having trouble relaxing, watch some standup or sketch comedy.

Humor can be an important engine of creativity. Studies have found that people who are “primed” with humor, by listening to a stand-up comedian for instance, perform better on creative-thinking exercises than a control group that didn’t listen to the comedian. - Eric Weiner, The Geography of Genius

6. Before you write, get in a good mood.

Do things that help you relax and make you smile.

I consider being in a good mood the most important part of my creative process.” B.J. typically spends the first few hours of his day “powering up” and getting in a good mood, until he gets an idea he’s excited about, or until he has so much self-loathing and caffeine that he has to do something about it.
It can take B.J. hours of walking, reading newspapers over coffee, listening to music, etc., before he hits his stride and feels he can write, his zone generally occurring between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Says B.J., “I find that being in a good mood for creative work is worth the hours it takes to get in a good mood. - Tim Ferriss, Tools of Titans

7. Separate ideation, outlining and writing. They’re three different modes of thinking, and you can’t do them all at once.

Although valuable as a tool for presenting ideas in a formal, orderly fashion, outlining is useful only after the real thinking has been done. If you try to generate your ideas by outlining, you will find that it slows you down and stifles your freedom of thought.
It is just plain illogical to try to organize your ideas before you’ve generated them. Moreover, outlining and other linear note-making systems exclude your brain’s capacity for color, dimension, synthesis, rhythm, and image.
By imposing one color and one form, outlining guarantees monotony. Outlining uses only half of your mind, and half a mind is a terrible thing to waste. - Michael Gelb, How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci

8. Writer’s Block is very real, but it’s not a permanent condition.

Writer’s block is just another name for anxiety.
People always have something else to say. It’s not like you ever run out of ideas. There’s just a filter in our brains where we decide what is “worthy” of being put down on paper, and when that filter gets too strong (due to high expectations or fear of being judged or whatever), few ideas will get through it.
This happens to me at times and I just have to remind myself to chill out (or “not give a fuck” as it were), get over myself (or my ego) and trust the process to take care of everything. - Mark Manson

9. Stop writing when you know what’s coming next. Then tomorrow, you’ll know where to start.

The hardest thing about writing is the friction of starting.

The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it. - Ernest Hemingway

On Perfectionism, Impostor Syndrome and Getting Started


1. There’s one qualification to being a writer: Write something down and share it in public.

Here’s the short honest truth: 20% of the people who ask me are hoping to hear this  Anyone can write a book. They want permission. The truth is you don’t need any. There is no license required. No test to take.
Writing, as opposed to publishing, requires almost no financial or physical resources. A pen, paper and effort are all that has been required for hundreds of years. If Voltaire and Marquis de Sade could write in prison, then you can do it in suburbia, at lunch, at work, or after your kids go to sleep. You will always find excuses if you want them and you probably do.” - Scott Berkun, How to Write a Book

2. You don’t need a degree or certificate. You need a public body of work.

But you do need to have the courage to call yourself a writer.

Not once — seriously, not once ever — has anyone ever asked me where I got my writing degree. Or if I even have one. Nobody gives two ferrets fornicating in a filth-caked gym sock whether or not you have a degree, be it a writing degree or a degree in waste management. The only thing that matters is, “Can you write well?” - Chuck Wendiig, The Kick-Ass Writer

3. You also need the courage to publish your ideas before you're completely ready.

4. There’s no such thing as an aspiring writer. Just those who write and those who don’t. To join the club, just start writing.

Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours.”- Richard Bach, Illusions
I am always doing things I can’t do—that’s how I get to do them. - Pablo Picasso

5. If you can be a writer, you can be an author.

The only difference is that you have the courage to publish independently, or are able to convince a publisher to sign you.

6. Nobody will ask you to write for them until you’ve written for yourself. Create a portfolio TODAY.

7. Stop waiting for permission to publish! You have my permission to try your best.

“Lots of people want to be the noun without doing the verb.” - Austin Kleon, “The Noun and the Verb”

8. That said, you may have trouble believing you’re a writer until your writing is validated with praise and/or money. Get a win as soon as possible, to reinforce your belief.

In order to direct your servo-mechanism toward success instead of failure, all you need is one experience that made you feel good about yourself. Remembering and then using that modest accomplishment will be instrumental in improving your self-image.
You do not need a huge success experience to alter your self-image for the better. You do not need an experience that is a mirror of what you’re trying to create or accomplish.
All you need is an experience like tying your shoe or learning to write your name for the first time, wherein you can say, “Yes, I’m glad I learned that skill. Yes, I remember the first day I could do it. - Maxwell Maltz, Psycho-Cybernetics

9. That said, the first sign that you’re a writer is that you’re worried you’re not one.

“The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.” - Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

10. If you don’t start out with Impostor Syndrome, you’re a sociopath.

This book has not been written for the literati, the illiterati (critics), or the alliterati (graduates of MFA programs). It is for all the children who stayed up late, covers over their heads, flashlight on, reading when they were supposed to be sleeping. It is for every child who read a great line, and when the meaning of it penetrated them, felt the hairs rise on their arms.
It is for every child who has felt touched by the greatness of this craft and then, when they were, heard someplace deep inside a tiny voice speaking, saying something like, “I wish I could write like that; I wish I could write something that would make other people feel like I just felt. I want to do that too.” You can and what is more, you must. - Stephen Harrod Buhner, Ensouling Language

11. All good writers struggle with “the gap.”

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.
And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this.
And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.
It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through. - Ira Glass, "The Gap"

12. You aren’t lazy; you’re just blocked.

Blocked artists are not lazy. They are blocked. Being blocked and being lazy are two different things. The blocked artist typically expends a great deal of energy—just not visibly.
The blocked artist spends energy on self-hatred, on regret, on grief, and on jealousy. The blocked artist spends energy on self-doubt. - Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

13. You won’t get over your fears of writing and publishing until you spell them out and come up with a plan to overcome them.

Use Tim Ferriss’s “fear setting” exercise, where you literally define your fears and map out the worst-case scenarios.

14. Don’t fight your fears. Write them down and relax as you smile at them.

The less I fight my fear, the less it fights back. If I can relax, fear relaxes, too. - Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

15. Don’t judge yourself until you’ve put in the hours to get good.

Judging your early artistic efforts is artist abuse. - Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

16. The journey to a thousand books starts with a tweet. Publish small things en route to big things.

The blocked artist does not know how to begin with baby steps. Instead, the blocked artist thinks in terms of great big scary impossible tasks: a novel, a feature film, a one-person show, an opera.
When these large tasks are not accomplished, or even begun, the blocked artist calls that laziness. Do not call the inability to start laziness. - Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

17. Don’t quit your dayjob. Start on the side. Quit once you have proof it’ll work.

The most common misconception is that we would have to leave our current lives in order to pursue our dreams. It is easier for us to use our jobs, families, financial situations, time obligations, etc., as a way (or ways) to keep us “safe” from the anxiety caused by stepping out of our comfort zones into the creative process. - Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

18. Instead of searching for a rulebook when getting started, explore. Test your own rules. If they work, use them. If not, keep trying.

When you start out on a career in the arts you have no idea what you are doing. This is great. People who know what they are doing know the rules, and know what is possible and impossible. You do not. And you should not.
The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can. - Neili Gaiman, “Make Good Art”

19. You don’t need to be the world’s foremost expert to write about your passions. You just need to be honest and helpful.

20. To be considered an "expert," you just need to be one step ahead of your readers.

21. If you're not one step ahead, you or you need to admit you’re an amateur and learn out loud.

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22. Writers are made, not born.

Modern psychology has unearthed empirical evidence for Edison’s old saw about success being 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration. - Eric Weiner, The Geography of Genius

23. "When you're trying to create a career as a writer, a little delusional thinking goes a long way." - Michael Lewis

24. You should have (at least) three writing mentors in your life. Help someone below you. Collaborate with someone at your level. Ask a hero for advice or coaching.

You should always have three levels of mentorship in your life – someone you look up to, someone you’re even with and someone you’re helping. – Michael DeSanti

25. You’re not perfect, and people will hate you if you pretend to be.

26. If you’re insecure about something or have a gap in knowledge, don’t hide it. Admit it.

People will appreciate your honesty. Nobody expects you to be perfect.

Whatever people like about you in the world will manifest itself on the page. What drives them crazy will keep you humble. You’ll need both sides of yourself—the beautiful and the beastly—to hold a reader’s attention. - Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir

27. People want to see how the sausage is made — even if it’s ugly.

28. But they also want to eat your tasty sausage. Don’t share too much of your process, and don’t forget to focus on polishing your final product.

29. Experts have their place, but so do amateurs. Own your imperfection and use it to connect with others at or near your level.

It is tempting to see expertise as a prerequisite to being good at curating trends, but there is also a predictable drawback: blind spots. Quite simply, the more you know about a particular topic, the more difficult it becomes to think outside your expertise and broaden your view.
There is no single expertise required to curate trends, but those with a greater curiosity about the world beyond any industry will more easily avoid any danger of industry-based tunnel vision.”- Rohit Bhargava, Non-Obvious

30. If you stay silent because this might not work, you either missed an opportunity to connect, or to learn.

As soon as children become able to evaluate themselves, some of them become afraid of challenges. They become afraid of not being smart. I have studied thousands of people … and it’s breathtaking how many reject an opportunity to learn. - Carol Dweck, Mindset

31. You’ll never be done getting better. Might as well start now.

Remember that The Artist’s Way is a spiral path. You will circle through some of the issues over and over, each time at a different level. There is no such thing as being done with an artistic life.
Frustrations and rewards exist at all levels on the path. Our aim here is to find the trail, establish our footing, and begin the climb. The creative vistas that open will quickly excite you. - Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

On Marketing and Finding an Audience

1. It’s better to have 1,000 raving fans and 10,000 haters than 50,000 lukewarm readers.

A smart business friend once described the art of marketing to me as a matter of “finding your addicts. - Ryan Holiday, Perennial Seller
To be a successful creator you don’t need millions. You don’t need millions of dollars or millions of customers, millions of clients or millions of fans. To make a living as a craftsperson, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app maker, entrepreneur, or inventor you need only thousands of true fans.
A true fan is defined as a fan that will buy anything you produce. - Kevin Kelly, "1,000 True Fans"

2. If you want others to share your work, share their work. Find your community and participate in it.

If you want fans, you have to be a fan first. If you want to be accepted by a community, you have to first be a good citizen of that community. If you’re only pointing to your own stuff online, you’re doing it wrong. You have to be a connector. - Austin Kleon, Show Your Work

3. Writing and sharing gets easier when you know people are reading your work.

It helps to imagine specific people who have enjoyed your writing. Until this happens, it doesn't feel real.

The widow Berman agrees that Marilee was using me, but not in the way my father thought. “You were her audience,” she said. “Writers will kill for an audience.” “An audience of one?” I said. “That’s all she needed,” she said. “That’s all anybody needs. Just look at how her handwriting improved and her vocabulary grew. Look at all the things she found to talk about, as soon as she realized you were hanging on every word.
“That’s the secret of how to enjoy writing and how to make yourself meet high standards,” said Mrs. Berman. “You don’t write for the whole world, and you don’t write for ten people, or two. You write for just one person.” - Kurt Vonnegut, Bluebeard

4. Don’t trust friends who say they like your writing. Trust strangers who share it and/or pay for it.

Once I asked at class at USC how many of them preferred to go to plays more than movies. Lots of people raised their hands. "Bull!" I said to them. "You are all fooling yourselves, and I'm going to prove it." I then asked for a show of hands of those people who had seen a play in the last week or so. No hands.
I then asked to see the hands of people who had seen a movie in the last week or so. Many hands. Bond, this phenomenon is common. All of us, including thee and me, have a slightly shrewd idea of ourselves.
We often try to convince others and ourselves that we are something we are not, something we have an idea we "should" be. Therefore, truth, my good son, can be determined NOT by how people use their mouths, but rather, how they use their wallets. - Gary Halbert, The Boron Letters

5. The more you publish, the easier it is to publish. The ability to publish is a muscle.

When the muscle is weak, publishing is scary. Strengthen your muscle and ease your fears by publishing regularly.

6. A writing habit is nothing without a publishing habit.

Create some sort of rules around publishing — whether it’s one short post a day, one long post a month, or one book a year.

7. The best way to stick to a schedule is to commit to it in public.

Tell your friends and family how often you'll be publishing. Start a newsletter and publish slightly less often than you think you can.

Better to succeed at twice a month than fail at once a month.

8. The more you follow through, the more likely you are to keep it up. Get past the friction of starting ASAP.

9. “You don’t have to get it right, you just have to get it moving.” - Gary Halbert, The Boron Letters

10. You should know who your writing is for before you write it. As Seth Godin would ask, “What’s your minimum viable audience?”

11. You don’t need to feel trapped by your minimum viable audience. All it means is: Who is this for first? Who are the early adopters who will spread word to the others?

The ultimate goal of building a personal brand is to have a “Personal Monopoly.” You want to be known as the best thinker in a skill or a topic. A Personal Monopoly is the unique intersection of your knowledge, personality, and skills that nobody else can compete with. Personal Monopolies aren’t found. They’re created. - David Perell, “The Ultimate Guide to Writing Online”

12. If you can’t be first in an existing category, create your own category and be first in it.

For a new brand to succeed, it ought to be first in a new category. Or the new brand ought to be positioned as an alternative to the leader. Companies that wait until a new market has developed often find these two leadership positions already preempted. - Al Ries and Jack Trout, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing

13. If you think you don’t have an audience, send your writing directly to friends, family, colleagues and social media followers.

The blog post I point people to the most is called ‘First, Ten,’ and it is a simple theory of marketing that says: tell ten people, show ten people, share it with ten people; ten people who already trust you and already like you. If they don’t tell anybody else, it’s not that good and you should start over. If they do tell other people, you’re on your way. - Seth Godin

14. When you’re just starting out, learn in public.

The best way to get started on the path to sharing your work is to think about what you want to learn, and make a commitment to learning it in front of others. - Austin Kleon, Show Your Work

15. The best marketing is writing that’s so good and useful people can’t help but share it.

16. That said, people only share things that jive with their public identity.

17. That said, you need to go door-to-door to hit a critical mass, before your writing will spread on its own.

18. The more people read your writing, the more people will share it. People like to proliferate trends, but they don’t like to start them.

The first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader. And here comes a second follower. Now it's not a lone nut, it's not two nuts -- three is a crowd, and a crowd is news. So a movement must be public. - Derek Sivers, "How to Start a Movement"

19. The first step to getting noticed is getting attention from strangers. To get attention, you must stand out from the crowd by breaking patterns.

The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern. Humans adapt incredibly quickly to consistent patterns.
Consistent sensory stimulation makes us tune out: Think of the hum of an air conditioner, or traffic noise, or the smell of a candle, or the sight of a bookshelf. We may become consciously aware of these things only when something changes: The air conditioner shuts off. Your spouse rearranges the books. - Chip and Dan Heath, Made to Stick

20. Brains are novelty-seeking machines. So give your readers some novelty.

21. Attention is usually gained with a novel promise. If you break that promise, you’ll lose trust. The only way to retain attention is to earn trust and keep it.

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22. You can surprise people into clicking, but they’ll only stay if you connect emotionally.

23. Your marketing is useless if you can’t retain readers. The best way to do this is capturing emails and engaging with readers on a newsletter.

Your audience isn’t the number of people who consume a particular creation, but rather the number of people you can count on to consume your NEXT creation.
… “Five hundred people who loved you but didn’t connect with you is nothing more than 500 missed opportunities. - Josh Spector, “The Ultimate Guide to Growing Your Audience”

24. For long-term success, you need to build and own an asset. For most writers, this is an email list.

The ability to access and draw on our assets—whether they are social media or an email list or a phone call to a loyal ally or simply a popular body of work—is what makes an artist successful over the long term. - Ryan Holiday, Perennial Seller
After the comedian Kevin Hart experienced several disappointing failures in a row, his career was at a crossroads. The movies he’d expected to make him a star hadn’t hit; his television deal hadn’t panned out. So he did what comedians do best—he hit the road.
But unlike many successful comedians, he didn’t just go to the cities where he could sell the most seats. Instead, he went everywhere—often deliberately performing in small clubs in cities where he did not have a large fan base.
At every show, an assistant would put a business card on each seat at every table that said, “Kevin Hart needs to know who you are,” and asked for their email address.
After the show, his team would collect the cards and enter the names into a spreadsheet organized by location. For four years he toured the country this way, building an enormous database of loyal fans and drawing more and more people to every subsequent show.” - Ryan Holiday, Perennial Seller

25. You work doesn’t speak for itself. You need to explain the story behind it.

Art forgery is a strange phenomenon. “You might think that the pleasure you get from a painting depends on its color and its shape and its pattern,” says psychology professor Paul Bloom. “And if that’s right, it shouldn’t matter whether it’s an original or a forgery.” But our brains don’t work that way. “When shown an object, or given a food, or shown a face, people’s assessment of it—how much they like it, how valuable it is—is deeply affected by what you tell them about it. - Austin Kleon, Show Your Work

26. You need to dress up your work and tell people why they should care,  imply how it will change their lives, and make them feel.

Every idea, every innovation, every product and service has two elements: the cookie and the fortune. The cookie is the commodity, the utility, the tangible product. The cookie is the thing you put in the shop window and it has a fixed value. Then there’s the fortune, the magical, intangible part of the product or service, which is where the real value lies in the hearts and minds of the customer.
The fortune is the story, the thing that makes people feel something. The real reason they buy the product in the first place. It’s your purpose, your vision and values manifested. It’s also the customers’ story and worldview reflected back to them. The fortune gives the product an acquired value or a different perceived value.
Marketers spend most of their time selling the cookie, when what they should be doing is finding a way to create a better fortune. Of course your job is to bake a good cookie, the very best that you can, but you must also spend time figuring out how to tell a great story.” - Bernadette Jiwa, Fortune Cookie Principle

27. If you want your ideas to stick, wrap them up in a sticky package. Create new words and codify phenomena.

So, a good process for making your ideas stickier is: (1) Identify the central message you need to communicate—find the core; (2) Figure out what is counterintuitive about the message—i.e., What are the unexpected implications of your core message? Why isn’t it already happening naturally? (3) Communicate your message in a way that breaks your audience’s guessing machines along the critical, counterintuitive dimension.
Then, once their guessing machines have failed, help them refine their machines. Common sense is the enemy of sticky messages. When messages sound like common sense, they float gently in one ear and out the other. - Chip and Dan Heath, Made to Stick

28. Name your ideas.

In the world of ideas, to name something is to own it. If you can name an issue, you can own the issue. - Thomas L. Friedman

29. Create fictional characters, even in nonfiction.

If you’re trying to describe a certain type of person in an article, create an avatar for them instead of talking about them in the abstract.
Creating people and avatars helps by personalizing what you’re trying to describe. You want to make the type of person you’re describing memorable, so creating a clear person or avatar to represent them will be more effective than making abstract generalizations about a demographic. - Nat Eliason, "21 Tactics to Help You Become a Better Writer"

30. Reading is like a meal, and people aren’t always starving. Make snacks, appetiizers, fast-casual lunches, fancy dinners and everything in between.

People make time for big, fancy meals, but not every day.

To solve this attention crisis, one technique innovative marketers have increasingly turned to is the idea of creating “snackable content.” Content marketing expert Jay Baer describes this quest to create useful bite-sized content in terms of “giving away information snacks in order to sell knowledge meals." Rohit Bhargava, Non-Obvious

31. Create both stock and flow.

“Stock and flow” is an economic concept that writer Robin Sloan has adapted into a metaphor for media: “Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people you exist.
Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.”
Sloan says the magic formula is to maintain your flow while working on your stock in the background. - Austin Kleon, Show Your Work

32. For writers, the best flow comes via Tweets and short email newsletters. Turn the best into blog posts.

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33. Turn the best of your flow into stock like evergreen posts, books and online courses.

34. Treat your writing like a business. But don’t forget that you’re an artist.

35. Don’t write what the data tells you to write. Write what your intuition tells you, then use data and “marketing” to maximize its reach and effect.

My philosophy with writing is: write for yourself, edit/revise for others. So I never choose to write something because I think it’ll get me a ton of attention. I try to write something because it feels important and profound to me.
But once it’s written, then I put my marketing cap on and say, “OK, is there a way to play with the language here so that more people respond to it?” And that’s where the data analysis stuff comes in. - Mark Manson, Writing Routines

36. Better to publish too much and have some of it be ignored, than to publish too little.

37. Balance sharing and creating. Both are essential.

I like to work while the world is sleeping, and share while the world is at work. Of course, don’t let sharing your work take precedence over actually doing your work. If you’re having a hard time balancing the two, just set a timer for 30 minutes. Once the timer goes off, kick yourself off the Internet and get back to work. - Austin Kleon, Show Your Work

38. Your personal brand isn’t what you say it is. It’s what others say about you.

What you say isn’t nearly as important as what others say about you. - Seth Godin, This is Marketiing

39. If you want to be relevant years from now, write about things that will be relevant years from now.

“What’s new?” is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow.
I would like, instead, to be concerned with the question “What is best?,” a question which cuts deeply rather than broadly, a question whose answers tend to move the silt downstream. - Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence

40. Your writing doesn’t have inherent value, but it can be made valuable.

Your writing has whatever value you give it. - Chuck Wendig, The Kick-Ass Writer

41. It’s hard to make money directly by writing. But writing can easily be turned into high-ticket sales indirectly.

Guerilla Marketing only paid me about $35,000 in royalties, but the speaking engagements, spinoff books, newsletters, columns, bootcamps, consulting and wide open doors resulted in … $9,965,000. - Jay Conrad Levinson

42. Money shouldn’t compromise art. Money gives you do-overs.

Money, a certain amount anyway, is indispensable to creativity. Starving people rarely produce great works of art or discover new scientific truths. Also, wealth gives you the chance to fail. Wealth gives you do-overs.
That was certainly the case in Renaissance Florence. Failure—sometimes of the spectacular variety—occurred regularly. This did not dissuade people from taking risks; if anything, it encouraged more, as a new artist, or a new generation, aimed to get it just right. - Eric Weiner, The Geography of Genius

43. Don't expect to be found if you're not easily findable.

If you want to be discovered, set up house near your future community of readers. Where are they looking for people like you?

"You don’t really find an audience for your work; they find you. But it’s not enough to be good. In order to be found, you have to be findable.” - Austin Kleon, Show Your Work

44. Published ideas are magnetic. Get your ideas out there and you'll attract your natural readers.

When you publish ideas, you create your own “Serendipity Vehicle” – a magnet for ideas and people and opportunities from potentially every corner of the globe. If your ideas resonate with people, people will discover you and bring you unexpected opportunities. They’ll open doors you never knew existed. - David Perell, "The Ultimate Guide to Writing Online"

45. You don’t need an expensive website or book cover to be taken seriously. You just need to look like you take yourself seriously.

You just need to look somewhat professional; to not stand out with unprofessionalism.

The first step to creating a Serendipity Vehicle is to create your own online home (a professional looking website). - David Perell, "The Ultimate Guide to Writing Online"

On Breaking the Rules


1. Use rules to help get you started. Break them to get unstuck and evolve.

2. There's no such thing as Writing Rules, just Writing Tools. Use tools to create your own rules. Then break them.

None of these are rules; they’re tools so you can make your own rules.
“Remember, these are tools, not rules. They work outside the territory of right and wrong, and inside the land of cause and effect. Don’t be surprised when you find many examples of good writing in the world that seem to violate the general advice described here.” – Roy Peter Clark, Writing Tools

3. Use tools and rules to create experiences. Experience isn’t the best teacher, it’s the only teacher.

Tools are just a compass to help you generate the right experiences.

Beware of tips. Tips are intellectual and often mechanical. They don’t transform you. An experience transforms you. There’s a stretch of road I’ve driven down many times where I used to ignore the speed limit sign. One afternoon, I got a speeding ticket and I never ignored the speed limit again. The sign was a tip. The ticket was the experience. - Alan Alda, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?

4. “Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own.” - Bruce Lee

5. I know: You don’t think you’re ready to write that thing you’ve always wanted to write. Newsflash: Every moment you wait is a moment you missed to improve.

The sure sign of an amateur is he has a million plans and they all start tomorrow. - Steven Pressfield, Turning Pro

6. Yes, most of your ideas won’t work. But if you don’t share them, you’ll miss out on the few that do. Don’t be a hoarder. Be a sharer.

And your mediocre ideas might inspire someone's future greatness.

My bet is that your current problem is that you don’t buzz enough. Most people don’t. We hold back. We want to be sure. Yes, there’s the minority that buzzes too often. If it’s you, you probably realize it.
The solution seems simple to me. Buzz more. See what happens. Buzz even more. Repeat. As you increase your willingness to buzz in, you’ll intersect with the market, with bosses and co-workers and people willing to buy from you. What happens?
Sure, ideas that spread, win, but ideas that don’t get spoken always fail. - Seth Godin, Poke the Box

7. Don’t be an amateur. Remember: All you have to do to turn pro is to start writing and then publish it.

8. If you’re afraid of the reaction to a particular piece, start working on your next project immediately.

Don’t pay attention to the reaction; focus on your next piece.

9. If it’s a big project (say, a book), take a vacation, shut off your phone and celebrate. Regardless of the reaction or sales.

Did I miss anything?

Let me know your favorite writing tip on Twitter or by email, and I’ll add it ASAP.

BONUS: Want my Essential Reading List for Writers? Get it here.

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