Some advice I've given students in a writing course:
Write your first draft for yourself, and then your second draft for your reader.
It has often been said: Write what interests you the most. Otherwise:
St. Thomas' "Prayer for Work":
Schedule: Know your body or mind clock.
Read while you write.
Remember that, as I read somewhere, the poorest draft is much better than the clearest outline.
No such thing as inspiration. While it be an art, writing is still a craft.
On that note: Exercise.
Advice from Nietzsche (Human, All too Human):
- There are only two things you need to do in order to be a good writer: You have to read, and you have to write.
- Write in white heat, edit in cold blood.
- When you write your first draft, don't think; thinking comes later. Let your fingers do the thinking as there are times they're smarter than ourselves. Write first out of the fire of passion, the rush of ideas.
- Then after your work has cooled down, put on your editor's cap and if need be be ruthless in editing what you wrote.
- Being wary of whether or not what you are writing will be agreeable to other people can paralyze you. In contrast, when you write without considering others, what you write is agreeable, and even beautiful, to you precisely because that's what you put down and not another thing.
- When it comes to the second draft, put on your reader's hat and try to take his perspective: Am I clear? Do I need to put a transition here? Could I be boring the reader in this part?
- You will not enjoy.
- You will not own your writing.
- And there's just no sense in it: It's like finding a heavy rock to carry up a mountain when you could have found a more manageable, because enjoyable, boulder to carry.
- Ingressum instrias--Look after the preparations
- Progressum custodias--Survey the progress
- Egressum impleas--Harvest the fruits
George Friedrich Kersting, "Man Reading
by Lamplight." 1814.
- It could be early in the morning, at night, or whatever time of the day. Observe when your thoughts are most fluid, when you have the most energy. These are what I call waves: know your high and low tides.
- No sense to write when you're sleepy, or tired--and when you are, just rest to gather strength so you can give it another go soon, fresh. Or do something less tiring: organize your notes, photocopy books, format your paper.
- The golden rule is: Do not mix work and rest. Rest when you rest, work when you work.
- While it is natural to think that you need to read first so you have something to write about, the danger is that there is really no end to reading, as the things you think you need to read will be infinite. That will only be excuse for procrastination: "I haven't read enough," "Just this last book."
- Because reading is easier than writing, we tend to prolong the first part and wait until the last moment to commence the second (usually because of deadlines).
- Reading while you write is more advantageous in that you narrow down your reading based on what you really need as you write. Most of what you read, you discover, you will not use anyway in your writing (though of course they might come in handy in the future, or more importantly, you nevertheless learned something--which is the point of research).
- You need to labor, exercise your skills, invest most of your waking hours to it, and simply soldier on.
- The best writers and artists, though inspired, are the ones who saw work as work, rain or shine, melancholy or gay, hung over or spirited. Treat it as an 8-5 job.
- Write as often as you can, daily as possible, so that you can train your mind and hands regularly. When it comes to the really serious writing, it will come naturally already.
- It's not about me but I think writing has become easier for me the past few years because of the time I've spent writing here. Whether it be in a journal, a blog, a diary, or notes, write as often as possible.
- Also, write about anything. You will be surprised with what you will discover in the course of writing. I use a lot of examples for my classes that I gathered from things I wrote on different topics.
- And who knows? those assorted, incomplete notes and pieces may someday find themselves collected in a book. Pascal and Nietzsche gifted us with such short notes. Speaking of Nietzsche . . .
- Be Humble
- "The talent of some men appears slighter than it is because they have always set themselves tasks that are too great."
- Less is more:
- "A little knowledge is more successful than complete knowledge: it conceives things that are simpler than they are, thus resulting in opinions that are more comprehensible and persuasive."
- Be simple:
- "Young people love what is interesting and odd, no matter how true or false it is. More mature minds love what is interesting and odd about truth. Fully mature intellects , finally, love truth, even when it appears plain and simple, boring to the ordinary person; for they have noticed that truth tends to reveal its highest wisdom in the guise of simplicity."
- Avoid being superfluous:
- "Writers who do not know how to express their thoughts clearly in general, will in particular prefer to select the strongest, most exaggerated terms and superlatives: this produces an effect as torchlights along confusing forest paths."