The Secret to Great Writing


I’m fascinated when other writers talk about the writing process. I used to think that if I talked with enough writers, I’d discover the “secret” that would make my writing explode off the page without effort. And then Jeffrey Eugenides (author of The Virgin Suicides, Middlesex and The Marriage Plot) told me that his secret was to write 800 words a day. Every day.

Wait. 800 words a day? That’s it?

It was a revelation. The secret to great writing is that there is no secret. All it takes is the discipline to write, day in, day out. Oh yeah, and talent, but talent alone won’t write a novel… or even a case study.

Makes you think.

I’m not a novelist (yet), but it doesn’t matter if you’re writing the next great American novel or a customer success story — the process is the same. Write something. Get it down and then edit the hell out of it until you can live with it. And then edit some more until it’s ready for the world.

I came across this video today, in which Neil Gaiman talks about his writing process. It reminded me of the same clear-headed advice that Jeffrey gave me 20 years ago in Madrid.

Neil says, “If you’re only going to write when you’re inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet, but you will never be a novelist — because you’re going to have to make your word count today, and those words aren’t going to wait for you, whether you’re inspired or not. So you have to write when you’re not “inspired.” … And the weird thing is that six months later, or a year later, you’re going to look back and you’re not going to remember which scenes you wrote when you were inspired and which scenes you wrote because they had to be written.”

I couldn’t agree more. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got 800 words to get down. Those suckers aren’t going to write themselves.





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