On the first day of my last semester, my college professor offered a sentiment that will stick with me forever: “If you have the ability to put words together in a way that truly moves people, consider yourself nothing short of gifted.”
This statement rings true always. Writing is hard. Though writing is something we learn as children—a common and vital medium of communication that almost everyone can understand and create—it’s not something that is easily mastered nor effortlessly, if ever, perfected. Not everyone, or even many, can write in a way that inspires, captivates, and resonates. Yet, in order for the written word to be effective, it must do those three things, always and absolutely. And in order for you to inspire, captivate, and resonate with your audience—especially in the world of advertising—you best follow the pen strokes of a few of the gifted ones.
Here are 10 ways, courtesy of some literary greats, to become a better a writer:
1. “The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” – Samuel Johnson
Read. If you don’t spend countless hours with your nose in a book, reading someone else’s work, yours will suffer.
2. “Write while the heat is in you. …The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with.” – Henry David Thoreau
Record. Fleeting thoughts, passing moments, and undeveloped ideas are the most elusive and often the best sparks for amazing writing. Even if it doesn’t make sense, write everything down—right then and there.
3. “Not a wasted word. This has been a main point to my literary thinking all my life.” – Hunter S. Thompson
Write with purpose. While you might not know exactly where your words are taking you just yet, give meaning to everything you put on paper. Whatever comes out should always have an ultimate destination.
4. “As a writer you ask yourself to dream while awake.” – Aimee Bender
Infuse creativity. Don’t be afraid to take risks, go off the deep end, or get weird. Words are meant to come to life and while no two minds will imagine the exact same thing, what matters is that they’re imaging at all.
5. “We live not only in a world of thoughts, but also in a world of things. Words without experience are meaningless.” – Vladimir Nabokov
Live. The more you experience, the more you know—and the better you can write about it. Yet, we can’t experience everything, nor do we want to. Put yourself in the shoes of others and experience by imagining, researching, and empathizing.
6. “Geniuses can be scintillating and geniuses can be somber, but it’s that inescapable sorrowful depth that shines through—originality.” – Jack Kerouac
Embrace originality. The most interesting reads are the unique ones. Willa Cather would assert that there are only two or three human stories, but the power of originality lies in your ability to write these human stories “as fiercely as if they had never happened before.”
7. “Do you realize that all great literature is all about what a bummer it is to be a human being? Isn’t it such a relief to have somebody say that?” – Kurt Vonnegut
Relate. Oh Kurt, you would say that. However, the ever satirical Mr. Vonnegut has a point. If you relate to your audience, their trials, and their lives, they’ll relate to your work. Pull at the heartstrings. Keep people up at night by invoking feelings or memories. No one will put down what you write if you strike an emotional chord.
8. “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” – Mark Twain
Choose words wisely. The devil really is in the details. One word can make or break your writing. Spend the time, wear out your thesaurus, and obsess over diction and writing style.
9. “The first draft of anything is s**t.” – Ernest Hemingway
Revise. The first thoughts and words that come to mind are not always the right ones. You must write new drafts and revisit your writing—leave it alone for some time and come back to it with a fresh mind.
10. “The role of a writer is not to say what we all can, but what we are unable to say.” – Anaïs Nin
Hone your craft. Write, write, write. If you’re going to say what others are unable to, if you’re going to inspire, captivate, and resonate, you’ve got to write—a lot.
While you may not be working on a novel, perhaps you are creating a white paper, a blog post, an ad, or even a mere five-word headline, these tips transcend all forms of writing. I’ll leave you with one last piece of advice from another great writer: “Start putting words together in a way that truly moves people.”