20 Ideas on the Craft, Process, and Impact of Writing
In December 2017, we sent our annual survey to get a pulse on what our community seeks in learning and becoming. What tools are people using? Where are they finding inspiration? Who do they want to become?
Two popular responses were how to be a writer and how to start a business. Both skillsets are pillars in the creative life, but for this piece we’ll focus on writing.
Writing is about understanding and making meaning. Writing isn’t only about communicating what you know but also being self-aware of what you’re not seeing, the things you’re willfully ignoring. As the author David McCullough said, “Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s hard.” William Zinsser reminded us that, “Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident.” Joyce Carol Oates published 50 novels, 36 short stories, dozens of poems and and essays. She describes writing as, “Getting the first draft finished is like pushing a peanut with your nose across a very dirty floor.”
I believe great artists are also writers. You may be a painter, photographer, or dancer, but writing is finding your center, whether journaling or writing long-form essays. It’s not about having a popular blog that can become monetized; it’s about having a platform to think. It’s a conscious effort to find your center, to stretch a sore soul.
Writing intrinsically champions and improves creativity, critical thinking, and clarity. Here are 20 links on the craft, process, and beauty of writing.
Some of history’s best writing advice comes in forms of letters. There’s a kind of truth-giving posture when we write with our hand. We’re careful with our words, take our sweet time, to convey something important. Sometimes, that wisdom nowadays has the form of tweets in threads and this one by Roxane Gay is from the heart and real.
Anyone in writing—or getting into writing—will become obsessed with process. The habits, routines, and little quirks that we believe are the bedrock to producing great prose. While personal processes are idiosyncratic and writing on the same MacBook Pro as Stephen King won’t make you a better writer, it is helpful to study different processes and intertwine them into your own. Looking into the personal process of how Ira Glass works is such a privilege.
Paul Graham’s essays are concise and insightful. You can read an essay from three years ago and it’ll still feel as relevant today as it did in the past. In this essay, well, he talks about the lost art of writing essays, how he structures one, and why it’s good practice for critical thinking.
Anne Handley shares 13 rules for writing that you might read elsewhere, which just shows the truth behind the principle and why you have to honor it.
That brutally honest journal entry. The essay about everything you learned in your career thus far. The short poem you wrote to a colleague. How does all of this actually impact you? Greg Ciotti outlines the psychological benefits of writing, like overcoming adversity, exercising gratitude, and how it enhances learning.
Andrew Chen writes thoughtful essays on tech, marketing, and his newsletter offers the inside look into the world of Silicon Valley. He writes with empathy and optimism. His ability to also recognize emerging patterns and communicate context shows years of dedicated practice. This generous post on his lessons learned is hard-earned wisdom.
Even those who don’t read literature probably know of Virginia Wolfe. Her name alone is remarkable but her body of work is timeless. Her excellence has little to do with how she held a pencil and more to do with her sensitivity, keen ability to pierce culture and pull out truths, and to not mince her words.
This short video of author and writer Ta-Nehisi Coates talking about the process of writing is pure humility. If you’ve ever read his essays or books, you’ll be shocked to hear how he views the entire process of writing, dealing with failure, and translating those brilliant ideas in your head and seeing it fall flat on the screen.
Prolific writer and author Seth Godin talks about the fundamental principles to make it as a successful writer, like showing up daily, embracing uncertainty, and being okay with failure.
Maria Popova, founder of Brain Pickings, has an impressive body of work that distills and helps digest ideas and wisdom across culture and generations. This collected list of essays on some of the best writing advice is worth revisiting.
"You start with a tidy nugget of an idea, but as you try to string it into language, it feels more like you’re pulling out your own intestines.”
Steven Pressfield’s work and voice is a gift to creatives. His down-to-earth approach, his humility, and love for the craft is something to use as a steady resource for learning.
“If you ever have a preposterous statement to make … say it in five words or less, because we’re always used to five-word sentences as being the gospel truth.”
Writers have described the act of writing as egotistical, magical, mysterious, unpleasant, happy-when-done—the list goes on. The more you unfurl the origins of language, the written word, and how these little scribbles on a page or screen move us, it truly is breathtaking.
Some writers write everyday, some writers write every other day. The real writers—the pros, the committed ones—read everyday. Writing about what you read is another way to deeply learn and understand ideas.
Wait, don’t roll your eyes. It’s pretty fascinating that there’s a site dedicated to using plain language. This may be viewed and used through the lens of internal documentation, but the principles apply to all kinds of writing.
Oh will you feel it—feedback on your writing will sting and it’s the most critical part of your work. But like alcohol to an open wound, it’ll sting momentarily and it will pass. Always check your ego in at the door before seeing all the red slashes and marks on your draft.
“[I tell aspiring writers in my workshops] to read and read and read. I’m a believer in reading, to see the wide range of what’s been written. I’m also a believer in reading what you dislike at least once, just to know.“
Grammar Girl provides short, friendly tips to improve your writing. Covering the grammar rules and word choice guidelines that can confound even the best writers, Grammar Girl makes complex grammar questions simple with memory tricks to help you recall and apply those troublesome grammar rules.
Anne Lamott’s writing on writing is easy to love. Her outlook on life is beautiful, funny, and intoxicating. Her undertones of tough love and compassion are warming. When in doubt with writing (or life), heed her words.
GIF by HQ’s very own, Julie Schneider.