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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 learning to write

“There’s no formula for how to write a book, and everyone works differently, so you have to figure out what works for you…Don’t let others dictate what you can and can’t do in a story. Some people will try to put you down, but that’s their problem. Do what you can to be the best writer.” 

—Alexandra Diaz, 2021

On pacing  

“Narrative is a drug, and you have to decide how much of it you want to pump into your reader’s blood. Do you want to have it drip out very stingily, like an IV? Or do you want to spray it in your reader’s face like a fire hose?” 

—Anthony Doerr, 2014

On the publishing industry

“A year and a half ago, I became acutely aware of the fact that every publishing party I would go to, every publisher I went to in New York, there were no people of color. I’m not saying no Black people, I’m saying no Dominicans, no Puerto Ricans, Southeast Asians, no Mexicans, no Native Americans. There were only white people in publishing…And, it was just so exclusive, I just couldn’t stand it. So I called up the president of City College, Yolanda Moses, and I said ‘Listen, you need to start a publishing institute. There are a lot of people of color. There are a lot of people in publishing who are interested. We could come up and teach. We could get internships. We could make a real difference in America.’ She agreed, and that institute now exists.” 

—Walter Mosley, 1999 

[Note: The publishing program Mosley founded at CCNY, the Publishing Certificate Program, still exists today and remains committed to “the issue of diversity in the book publishing industry and its impact on cultural production and our national and global markets.” ]

“The most important element in the whole complicated, exasperating, funny, enjoyable, and rewarding relationship between a writer and the person who looks out for his creative and business interests in the outside world is respect and faith and the knowledge that your agent is on your side.” 

—Shirley Fisher, 1957

“Learning to say no is a new, important lesson for me. Anything writers can do to help their own books get out into the world can be useful. With that said, though, it’s all too easy to burn out either by doing too many events and promotions or by spending too much time and energy fretting over how many events you do or don’t do. At a certain point, you have to accept that you can’t do everything and that you’re not going to have every opportunity and remember what really matters: the work you do.” 

—Celeste Ng, 2016

On writing for younger readers

“To write creatively for children one has, as best one can, to recall the emotions of childhood, see things through the eyes and mind of the child, and filter the essence of childhood through the maturity of adult perception.” 

—Eleanor Estes, 1953

“It is well to remember that by the time you write a book for the market and that manuscript has gone through the long process of selling itself to an editor and being published, the market may have gone somewhere else and left your book behind. But a beautifully written book, a well-crafted story, a work of honest human feeling and deep passion, like the stories of Conrad Aiken, E. B. White, and Maurice Sendak, will never go out of style.” 

—Katherine Paterson, 1993

“Being Gen Z in the circuit of YA publishing also feels like a matter of relatability. My target audience isn’t some foreign concept to me – I belong to it. So I market myself with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek attitude, as if I’m just your friend from school because that’s what I feel like sometimes, and it’s the way I like connecting with my audience the most.” 

—Chloe Gong, 2020