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How The Best Authors Write - and How You Can, Too

Jewel Enrile
Jewel Enrile
July 11, 2021
How The Best Authors Write - and How You Can, Too
Illustrations by Yuxuan Wu

At first, writing can seem so easy.

That assumption quickly breaks down when we're facing a blinking cursor or a blank paper, grasping for the right words. 

Writers somehow found a way to write multiple best-selling pieces in their lifetime. And honestly, reading about their methods made me have reactions that ranged from huh, makes sense, to how on earth does that help?

Fun Facts: Maya Angelou rents out a whole hotel room. Murakami sticks to early rising and a 10-kilometer run -- he compares writing to survival training. Joyce Carol Oates writes in cursive for several hours. Jodi Picoult just writes - she doesn't believe in writer's block. Stephen King writes ten pages per day; Terry Pratchett writes at least 400 words.

After years of research (read: intensive Googling), eager for something to emulate, I like to think I learned something.

I've copied some methods. Over the years, I spawned Tumblr writing blogs, FanFiction accounts, Wattpad reading lists, a shameful number of notebooks, and several literary pieces.

You know, writers' methods actually have a lot in common. Here are some:

1. You have to set aside time

It doesn't have to be several hours. It just has to be enough for writing to become consistent. When it becomes part of your routine, writing becomes a reflex. 

Write a sentence. Or a paragraph. Write down anything. Soon, there are enough fragments to form a cohesive page or two.

Tip: Look into freewriting. Set a timer for ten minutes - or more - and write whatever comes to mind. It's an exercise to lift off some of the pressure and get you back into the motion of creative writing.

2. Actively avoid distraction - or use it to your advantage

In between studying, scrolling through social media - until it's been hours, whoops - and a parade of never-ending chores, how do you find time to write?

Nathan Englander puts earplugs in even when their home is deadly silent. E.B White suggests writers learn their craft even when surrounded by noise - it isn't a good idea to wait for "ideal conditions."

I'm more of an E.B White girl.

Things like app blockers (Opal is one of them) and turning WiFi off have never worked on me. I blast music, and it helps me focus. It all boils down to your personal preferences. 

Having a preferred medium can help. Handwriting can cramp my hands, but it's sometimes best to be free of the temptation of going to Twitter. Don't get me started on writing on phones. My friends send me TikTok videos in the middle of the day, and most of these videos just happen to be an irresistibly cute cat that I'd have to watch. I get sucked into a vortex and yeet myself into a world of more cats. 

3. Do not be afraid to show your work

Put it on social media, or show it to friends, and ask anyone you know what they think. Some themes may be too subtle or heavy-handed, and you need several fresh eyes to discern that.

I had the worst anxiety when I started showing people my work and entering writing workshops. But I'm glad I went. I feel like how I write now has evolved and learned from that. Feedback is necessary to keep growing, not stay stagnant in one place. 

4. Explore and experiment

I always hear the saying that you should write what you know. It can work. Have you noticed that a lot of Stephen King's books are set in Maine? No, seriously. Look it up. He transformed his hometown into his own fictional landscape. 

But even then, King starts his writing with what-if scenarios. And if you're familiar with his genre, his horror doesn't mirror everything in real life (...or so we think.) 

So, keep imagining. Keep exploring. 

5. Never stop reading

Never stop loving stories. You explore more worlds in books than in real life. Get a sense of what you like. 

Plus, you get to build vocabulary. You know how one short sentence can be so striking? That’s all thanks to the authors picking out the best words and putting them in the best possible order. 

I'm fluent in English, but it's far from being my native tongue. I was an avid reader as a child. Whenever I came upon unfamiliar or fascinating words, I consulted dictionaries and had a favorite thesaurus. If I didn't have a dictionary, it was all up to my brain to figure out context clues. 

I still love language-learning, and I have to say: today, it's a lot easier. You can go to Google, different websites, or you can install apps like Lockard on your phone. 

I was often chastised for mixing languages when I was younger. If I didn't know the right word in English, I'd say it in Tagalog. I'd spend some seconds looking for the right thing to say, blame the word for being at the tip of my tongue, and give up. Flashcards were too taxing for me to make, so I ended up becoming fluent by basically reading and writing too much.

Tip for you: Lockard takes a lot of that stress away by automatically making a flashcard every time you search a word up. You don't have to worry about coming back for practice, either -- they remind you with interactive notifications on your phone. It’s quite efficient for bookworms and writers alike.

Writing is all about having the best words in the best order. Samuel Taylor Coleridge said this about poetry, but it applies to all kinds of writing. With Lockard, you don't have to space out or become frustrated looking for the right one. You don’t have to flip through dog-eared dictionaries or copy the words out. 

With enough practice, passion, and the right technology, writing can be much easier. 

Charlotte Chen, Designer @Duolingo

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