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Three centuries of writing advice.

Three centuries of writing advice.

Mike Doane

Insights into the writing process from three centuries of American authors.

Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, and Toni Morrison share their best advice for getting words on the page and out into the world.

Start by getting the words down

Whether you're working on an article, the perfect tagline, or the great American novel — one thing is certain. Writing is a process.

Twentieth century author, John Steinbeck, says the most important part of writing is simply getting words on the page.

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.

— John Steinbeck

It's not the final product that's important. It's simply sitting down and getting started.

Write, write, write until you get it right

When Toni Morrison wasn't writing, she was teaching.

This twenty-first century writer told her students that the most important part of writing was rewriting. But she observed that many were reluctant to take this advice because they assumed it meant that they got it wrong the first time.

Morrison says that's not true.

It's not that you're changing it: you're doing it better, hitting a higher note or a deeper tone or a different color. The revision for me is the exciting part; it's the part that I can't wait for—getting the whole dumb thing done so that I can do the real work, which is making it better and better and better.

— Toni Morrison

Just like practicing a piece of music for concert, the writer must put the words to paper again and again until they get it just right.

Editing is writing too

Once you find the right words, you're still not done.

Nineteenth century writer Mark Twain, known for his wit and humor, implies that editing is the most important part of writing.

Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.

— Mark Twain

Like sculptors, the best writers take their raw sentences and chip away at them until their beautiful final forms reveal themselves from the stone.