10 tips on writing from the Chronicle of Higher Ed

Tapping a Pencil
Image by Rennett Stowe via Flickr

One of my professors from graduate school posted on her Facebook a link to an article, “10 Tips on How to Write Less Badly,” in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  It’s a strange title, partly because the URL truncates the title to read “10-Tips-on-How-to-Write-Less,” which is precisely the opposite of this article’s purpose:  The tips in this piece are designed to make us not just better writers but better-functioning writers, which is to say, writers who write more.

So I thought I’d share those tips here, but revamped a bit.  The article frames these as tips for academic writers, we scholars who sometimes–okay, frequently–find it difficult to translate our passion for research and learning into a productive writing career.  And as such, the tips provide some excellent advice, but I had thought to recast those tips as a means of producing better creative writers.  (I’ve already done something similar by recasting Thich Nhat Hanh‘s Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings into my 14 Principles for Creative Writers.)

But one of the amazing things about this article is that it doesn’t need recasting–or, not much, anyway.  Go read the tips for yourself, and if you’re a creative writer, just mentally replace any references to academic writing with “creative writing,” or references to intellectual concepts with “story concepts,” or whatever else makes sense for you.  Writing is, after all, writing; for all the nuances of style and genre and form, the process is pretty much the same for everyone.

The one tip some people might need a little help converting is #6, “Pick a puzzle,” in which author Michael C. Munger suggests framing an academic article as a puzzle you need to solve.  His idea is to make your argument interesting–to yourself and to readers–by making it a conundrum, something to needle at and work over mentally.  It is also, Munger says, a great way to get started on an article.  But unless you’re a mystery writer, this one doesn’t immediately seem very easy to translate into a creative writing tip.  The key is in the last sentence of the tip:  “Don’t stick too closely to those formulas, but they are helpful in presenting your work to an audience…”  For we fiction writers, Munger is describing plot formulas.  For the poets, he’s talking about poetic forms.  Either way, his advice is sound:  Use whatever tools it takes to get the writing going and keep you–and your readers–interested, but also be willing to break free of the formula when you need to.

Now go read the article.  But don’t linger there too long (it’s tempting, over at the Chronicle, to just sit around and read everything), because soon enough, you’re going to need to get back to the writing!


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