Every successful writer was once an amateur.
Everyone started from zero.
It’s a hard thing to remember when you’ve lost your mojo; playing the distraction game, tidying your office, or browsing Facebook. Avoiding the expectant page because the words just won’t come.
But remember it, you should.
Every writer who you’ve read, re-read, and praised was once in the same position that you are now – until they published, and people bought, and celebrated, their work.
So if you’re trawling the inner recesses of your imagination for a spark of inspiration to get you through that last page of your manuscript (or even just that last page before dinner), you’re in luck.
Advice From Famous Authors
We’ve selected the best (and most interesting) advice from these 12 authors, living and dead, to give you writing inspiration.
They bring nuggets of wisdom, as well as strange success habits that will give you the motivation (or the amusement at least!) to keep going.
1. Neil Gaiman
Start telling the stories that only you can tell.
Celebrated English author Gaiman advises authors that the one thing that set’s you apart, is being you.
There’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that – but you are the only you.
Just be yourself.
2. Margaret Atwood
If invited to read at a festival, try not to get drunk, hit people, throw up onstage, smite the sound technician, etc. Such incidents make colourful gossip, and it’s a small world… What happens in Vegas no longer stays in Vegas. People have cameras.
Famed Canadian novelist and poet is all about the practical advice on how to write and survive in an ever-changing book world.
Everything is public and you should behave as if there is always a camera, and as if everything you write in an email or on social media is public. Sad but true.
3. John Grisham
You have to have a day job with a pay check (or a trust fund) before you can start writing on the side.
Grisham may be a prolific crime writer, but he too knows it isn’t easy. His writing career started while he worked as a lawyer, getting up at 5am to write before work. If he can do it, you can.
Be grateful if you have a job to fall back on, and maybe also one that inspires your writing, because this makes you one of the lucky ones.
4. Hunter S Thompson
Writing is the flip side of sex – it’s only good when it’s over.
While I do think there can be joy in the process, if you’re feeling pain right now, just remember it will be worth it. At some point you’ll have made it through to the other side and you’ll be staring down the barrel of a completed page and long hours ahead of doing nothing (well… except for getting it published and then selling).
You will finish, and it will feel wonderful.
5. Christopher Hitchens
Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.
Hitchens was never one to mince words and, sadly, this cutting statement is true for at least some of the books that get to see the light of day each year.
Your book will be different (why? because you’re here and you want to learn how to write better).
The easiest switch is to change the relationship with your writing from one that’s all about you, to one that’s all about your reader. Communicate with your reader, value his or her perspective, and write the best book you can for them.
You are one of the few who has a story in them worth telling – and also the means to do it!
6. Anne Lamott
The only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.
One of many pearls of wisdom from Lammot’s Bird by Bird, a ‘how to’ for writers of all genres.
Writer of fiction and non-fiction, as well as activist, speaker, and all round lady of wisdom, Lamott named her book Bird by Bird after a story from her childhood of her brother’s attempt to write a report on birds that he’d had three months to complete, but had left to the very last minute. Her father saw the boy close to tears, put his arm around his shoulders, and said, “Bird by bird buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
There are two lessons in this: write word by word, page by page. And don’t worry about the writing. You will never get to a final draft if you can’t finish the first. Shitty or not.
7. Victor Hugo
Although not a piece of advice to be delivered in a neat sentence, Les Miserables author, Victor Hugo did have one particular habit to get him through the hazards of procrastination.
Hugo would strip off his clothes, give them to his valet, and not tell his valet not to let him have them back until he was finished.
By being forced into solitary confinement, naked, he created conditions that suited his writing. A little extreme for some of us I am sure, but removing distraction is key to getting the writing done. (although, of course, Hugo didn’t have access to Facebook…)
8. Seth Godin
The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out.
Marketing is often left too late. While three years may seem a little extreme, this quote makes a good point: it’s never too early to start promoting your book.
And author, marketer, and ultimate entrepreneur of the information age, Godin knows that the single best piece of marketing for your book, is yourself.
Three years to build a reputation, build a permission asset, build a blog, build a following, build credibility and build the connections you’ll need later.
If you haven’t started marketing your book yet, today is as good a time as any to start.
9. David Shenk
Show pieces of your book to lots of people — different types of people. Ply them with wine and beg them for candor. Find out what’s missing, what’s being misinterpreted, what isn’t convincing, what’s falling flat.
You may begin to write for yourself, but in the end it is the audience who will judge you.
While we don’t advocate plying your readers with wine, we do want you to have your reader’s best interest at heart, and test your work with them as you go.
Whether you choose to blog about your writing, or put your work out piece by piece to selected readers, do make it public.
10. Kurt Vonnegut
Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, you will get pneumonia.
You can’t always please everyone, and you shouldn’t expect to.
Decide who you want to please, who you are writing to, and then do the best work you can. Having 100 solid readers is far better than being passed over by 10,000.
11. J.P. Donleavy
Writing is turning one’s worst moments into money.
This statement might ring more true for the likes of Donleavy, whose low points have earned him world fame as a novelist and playwright, than for you, the non-fiction author, writing from your expertise. You want to write about your highlights, surely?
Readers engage with our vulnerability, and writing about your low points will make a better book, and a stronger connection with the person you want to reach.
As much as your book is about your successes, these only came about because you had failures, and you overcame them.
Illuminate your worst moments, cherish them, they will lead to something good in the end.
12. John Steinbeck
Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
Write just for the page is advice we repeat again and again. A book is too big to hold for you in your head at one time.
Compartmentalise your work into small, doable sections. It will will help your organisation, and also your sanity.
One page at a time.
Do you have a favourite?
Do you have a favourite writing inspiration, or a quote from a famous (or even unknown) author that you’ve pinned to your wall to keep you going?
If not, pick one of these and let it help you get to completion.
We’d love to know which is your favourite. Why not share with us on social media?