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Celebrating 135 years of good writing

Timeless craft tips from our archives, featuring Margaret Atwood, Walter Mosley, Isabel Allende, Ursula K. Le Guin, and more.

A lightbulb is illuminated behind an illustrated typewriter, symbolizing a bright idea found while writing.
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On having faith in your readers

“Never underestimate the reader’s imagination. It is more powerful than all your fine writing.” 

—David Lavender, 1942

On research

“I think all writers have to do reporting. It is not something that takes great technique. It takes a relentless willingness to act like a vagrant and [hang] out. And be there when things actually occur. You simply cannot imagine life the way it happens without getting out.” 

—Tom Wolfe, 2011

On poetry

“We know only when we come to the end of the poem – after perhaps 30 revisions – what it is really about.” 

—May Sarton, 1962

“Read vertically and widely to discover what is possible in a poem. One must read across all kinds of intersections of identity and styles; meaning, do not just read the poets who sound like you and share your particular demographic or political beliefs, but read dangerously and adventurously.” 

—Major Jackson, 2016

“I think we should approach poetry more like music or art. Instead, it’s shrouded in mystery. Like anything new that you try, you start and fail and then improve. You have to keep practicing.” 

—Richard Blanco, 2020

On the writing life

“Whether or not this is a ‘hopeful time’ for the beginning writer – what does it matter? I began in the most un-hopeful time possible: the Depression, with magazines folding on every hand. If you want to enough, you will find the way to learn and grow, the way to become a good enough writer so that you are the one who will be wanted by whatever markets there are.” 

—Phyllis A. Whitney, 1977

“I always advise beginning writers to get jobs. Freelance writing is extremely precarious, and it is nice to eat three times a day and to sleep under a roof.” 

—Faith Baldwin, 1940

“The best advice I ever got about writing is: Don’t start until you can’t not start. There’s a difference between when something is kind of living in your head as a good idea and when something is gnawing at your gut.” 

—Sarah Treem, 2014

“Writers write not because they know things but because they want to find things out.” 

—Julia Alvarez, 2016

“Perhaps the most persistent and the worst superstition among young men and women of literary talent in the smaller towns and cities is that their chances of recognition would be better if they lived in New York. It is a fallacy which has resulted in the extinction of many literary talents.” 

—Burton Rascoe, 1939