I’ve learned many lessons from studying successful writers. And whether you like it or not, you’re a writer. Think about it. What does a writer do?
A writer is someone who structures their thoughts and puts them into words. That’s something we all do every single day. When you’re in a meeting, having a fight with your spouse, negotiating a discount at the car dealership, or trying to raise your kids—you’re constantly putting your thoughts into words.
Sure, you’re not writing down your thoughts. But that makes no difference. Writing is thinking. So if you want to be a better thinker and speaker, become better at writing.
And who else should we learn from than some of the best writers in history? In this article, I’m sharing 8 lessons I’ve learned from some of the greats. These lessons go beyond writing—they are about life. Here we go.
Stephen King: Don’t be pretentious
“Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.”
Do you know what type of person spends time with a pretentious person? You guessed it: A pretentious person.
No one likes folks who always want to impress others with how sophisticated they are. Yeah, you’re smart! Yeah, your grammar is perfect. We get it. And we don’t care.
Be genuine. And be a human being. Not only in writing, but also in your thoughts.
James Baldwin: Be a reader
“I read everything. I read my way out of the two libraries in Harlem by the time I was thirteen. One does learn a great deal about writing this way. First of all, you learn how little you know. It is true that the more one learns the less one knows. I’m still learning how to write. I don’t know what technique is. All I know is that you have to make the reader see it. This I learned from Dostoyevsky, from Balzac.”
I’m such a fan of reading that I can’t help but rave about it all the time. To me, it never gets old. In fact, the more I read, the more I love it.
The moments I’m sitting on the couch with a book are my favorite. I’ve learned so much from books that it goes beyond just skills.
Reading = life.
Ernest Hemingway: Be a starter
“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
Starting to write is the hardest part. We do everything to avoid starting. “I’m tired.” “It’s not the right time.” “I need to do more research.”
It’s what Steven Pressfield calls Resistance. It’s the force that holds you back from writing that one true sentence. Because Resistance knows, once you write one true sentence, the floodgates are open. And so it is with every other thing in life. Start—then keep going.
J.K. Rowling: Be disciplined
“You’ve got to work. It’s about structure. It’s about discipline. It’s all these deadly things that your school teacher told you you needed… You need it.”
Discipline is what separates the professionals from the amateurs. Discipline is the sign of someone who takes their craft seriously.
How important is writing to you? Let me reframe that: How important is ANYTHING to you?
When you do it every day, your actions speak louder than your words.
Ray Bradbury: Be stubborn
“When I started writing seriously, I made the major discovery of my life—that I am right and everybody else is wrong if they disagree with me. What a great thing to learn: Don’t listen to anyone else, and always go your own way.”
To do something bold in life, you need to be stubborn. Everyone will tell you that you’re doing it all wrong.
Maybe they are right. But what if they are wrong? Are you willing to risk good work for that?
I don’t think so. Do what you feel is the right thing. You can’t go wrong.
Maya Angelou: Be courageous
“One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”
It takes courage to be a good human being. It takes courage to create a good life. It takes courage to improve yourself. It takes courage to… You get the point.
Playing it safe and trying to be liked by everyone is easy. But saying what’s truly on your mind is hard. So be courageous and do it anyway.
Charles Bukowski: Be patient
“Well, I’m 34 now. If I don’t make it by the time I’m 60, I’m just going to give myself 10 more years.”
It takes years to uncover your own character and style. On top of that, we often don’t know who we are, what our values are, and what we want in life. We have to uncover those things, which takes time.
Everyone has a style. And the more you write, the more you uncover your true style. So when you recognize that, you’ll automatically be more patient with yourself.
Ernest Hemingway: Love your craft
“Writing is the only thing worth a damn. Unless you’re a painter. Then it’s painting.”
Pick something that you enjoy doing. Then, love it like it’s the only worthwhile activity on this earth.
You need that blind conviction to push through the difficult times. Because I will guarantee you that there will be days you want to give up. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing—building a business, writing a screenplay, trading stocks—you will feel the urge to quit at some point.
It’s during these low points that our conviction gives us the strength we need to move forward.
Writing is a good metaphor for life. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s hard. But it’s always worth it to keep going.
So no matter what you decide to do in your life, accept your fate, and accept it with love. It’s the only damn thing that’s worth it after all.