Writing advice from iconic authors

Bask in the timeless wisdom of Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Elmore Leonard and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

If your job involves writing in any way—or even if you just pen an occasional love note—it always pays to improve your skills.

There’s plenty of writing advice out there, but why not learn from some of the best who ever put pen to paper?

Let’s review a handful of timeless tips shared by four literary giants:

Ernest Hemingway

“Papa” was a master craftsman with words. His concise style is a testament to brevity, which all writers should emulate.

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Here are a few pieces of enduring Hemingway wisdom, as listed by Open Culture:

  • “To get started, write one true sentence.”
  • “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next.”
  • “Never think about your writing when you’re not writing.”
  • “Don’t describe an emotion—make it.”
  • “Be brief.”

Mark Twain

The Missouri native was the father of American literature, according to William Faulkner.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens turned to words after his gold mining ambition didn’t quite pan out. More than 100 years after his death, Twain’s writing advice lives on:

  • “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ‘Tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
  • “When you catch an adjective, kill it. Kill most of them; then the rest will be valuable.”
  • “Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.”
  • “The more you explain it, the more I don’t understand it.”
  • “The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction.”

Elmore Leonard

Leonard wrote almost 50 novels throughout his career. He specialized in crime fiction and thrillers, many adapted into motion pictures. Leonard wrote an article for The New York Times explaining his fundamental writing rules. Here are five highlights:

  • “Avoid prologues.”
  • “Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.”
  • “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”
  • “Keep your exclamation points under control.”
  • “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

We’ll leave the last word for Fitzgerald, who lived just 44 years but left behind a wealth of writing wisdom:

  • “Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”
  • “All good writing is swimming underwater and holding your breath.”
  • “You can stroke people with words.”
  • “What people are ashamed of usually makes a good story.”
  • “Find the key emotion; this may be all you need to know to find your short story.”

A version of this post first appeared on pr.co.

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