Being a writer is no easy feat. Writing requires honesty and gumption. It requires you to be resilient, immune to criticism, and to spend hours locked away in seclusion. What makes a writer successful? Is it only about natural talent? Or is it more about discipline and learning resilience?
Whenever I need some writing inspiration, I often turn to the wisdom of successful writers of the past. Below are five lessons from the all-time greats.
1) Jack London
Jack London made a name for himself writing fiction for famous magazines such as The Outing and The Atlantic Monthly. He was also a journalist, an advocate for social issues and a revered novelist – known for his literary masterpieces such as White Fang and Call of The Wild, which have both been translated into over eighty languages.
London spoke a lot about his writing life in his autobiographical novel, John Barleycorn. He once stated in regards to his writing journey:
“I wrote everything — ponderous essays, scientific and sociological, short stories, humorous verse, verse of all sorts from triolets and sonnets to blank verse tragedy and elephantine epics in Spenserian stanzas. On occasion I composed steadily, day after day, for fifteen hours a day. At times I forgot to eat, or refused to tear myself away from the passionate outpouring in order to eat.”
Jack London leads by example. His advice essentially advises writers to become obsessed with writing. To toil at one’s craft, day in and day out — getting better and better.
Give everything a go. Write short stories, poems, articles and novelettes. Try your hand at copywriting, content writing, screenwriting and playwriting. The more you write, the more you will improve. And the closer you will get to becoming a successful scribe.
2) Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson is credited as being the founder of Gonzo journalism. His 1967 book Hell’s Angels catapulted his rise to fame. His unconventional lifestyle often attracted as much attention as his work. He was unapologetic right up until the end.
Thompson committed suicide in his late sixties and his tragic death garnered him an even bigger cult following around the globe. His books have been turned into movies. His life has been turned into a never-ending media circus. And many newborns are named after him.
Thompson once said about writing:
“Writing is the flip-side of sex – it’s good only when it’s over.”
Writers often make the assumption that the act of writing should always be enjoyable. But that’s not always the case. As Hunter points out, writing can be hard, painful and tedious. Our role as writers is to show up and get the job done in whatever state we are in.
Very rarely is there ever an opportune time to write. Life is always throwing us curveballs. Be sure to do the work on the page.
3) Stephen King
Stephen King is a living legend – most famous for writing in the horror genre. But he is also the author of fiction, suspense, supernatural and fantasy novels. His books have sold nearly 400 million copies worldwide and have been adapted into series, comics and feature films — including the unforgettable Shawshank Redemption.
Stephen once quipped:
“By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and kept on writing.”
Apart from King’s undeniable writing talent, it was his work ethic and refusal to give up that made him a legendary writer. Imagine if he’d thrown in the towel after receiving his first rejection slip or even his second? He would be just another ‘nobody’
King’s massive success teaches writers to use rejection and criticism as fuel and to never give up after the first hurdle. Acknowledge it, accept it and then keep moving forward.
4) Hanif Kureishi
Like many famous writers, British author Hanif Kureishi started out writing pornography before evolving to plays, films and novels.
In the Guardian, Hanif Kureishi’s was quoted as saying:
“Creative writing courses are a waste of time. A lot of my students just can’t tell a story. It’s a difficult thing to do and it’s a great skill to have. Can you teach that? I don’t think you can.”.
Many writers focus on getting that tick of approval from society. A diploma in writing and editing or a degree in creative writing. But the qualification doesn’t necessarily equate to talent.
Perhaps what Kureishi is trying to say is that an aspiring writer is better off to learn the art of writing from their favorite authors then spend two years stuck in an expensive writing course.
5) Henry Miller
Henry Miller was as famous for his novels about women and sex as he was for his tumultuous love affair with French erotic author Anais Nin. Several of his books were once banned in the US, including the infamous Tropic of Cancer.
Miller famously said:
“Work on one thing at a time until finished. Start no more new books, add no more new material. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.”
As writers, we often feel overwhelmed because we have numerous writing projects going at the same time. Yet how can we really apply ourselves to the work when our focus and concentration is split?
Miller is basically saying that to do great writing work, you’re better to focus on a single task before moving on to the next one.
If you’re struggling to get your words out or you just want some more inspiration, the tips from these five famous writers should help. These writers are legends for a reason; while we may not always be able to match their writing style, we can emulate their habits.
Brendan Brown is a writer, editor and founder of Global English Editing and The Expert Editor