10 Writing Tips from Writer and Editor


Reading on the beach, Cape Cod, MA

Walking along the cape, I hurried into The Brewster Book Store to escape the New England afternoon heat. I was glancing around the bookstore, when I found Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd. It was the perfect book. I leafed through the pages, and then handed the cashier money, excited to read a new book on the sandy beaches. Summer 2015 – Cape Cod,  MA

As a student studying to become a journalist, Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd’s book, Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction has immensely affected me. During my first semester of college, there were various moments in which I remembered advice from Kidder and Todd that helped me in class and as I wrote papers. Overall, their insights have changed and developed my views on writing, as well as inspire me to always strive to become a better writer.

In their collaborative book, Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction, Kidder and Todd address the three major nonfiction forms: narrative, essay and memoir. Kidder is a nonfiction writer and Pulitzer Prize winner for General Nonfiction, and Todd has served as editor of the magazine, The Atlantic. Good Prose delves into not only the key factors to consider when writing, but also the mistakes, offering advice from a renown writer and editor.

The following is a list of Kidder and Todd’s 10 Writing Tips:

  1. To write is to talk to strangers. You have to inspire confidence, to seem and to be trustworthy.
  2. It is always prudent to remember that one is not Tolstoy or Dickens.
  3. Don’t concentrate on technique, which can be the same as concentrating on yourself. Give yourself to your story.
  4. The reader wants to see you trying—not trying to impress, but trying to get somewhere.
  5. For a story to have a chance to live, it is essential only that there be something at stake. A car chase is not required.
  6. Try to attune yourself to the sound of your own writing. If you can’t imagine yourself saying something aloud, then you probably shouldn’t write it.
  7. The creation of a style often begins with a negative achievement. Only by rejecting what comes too easily can you clear a space for yourself.
  8. Use words wantonly and you disappear before your own eyes. Use them well and you create yourself.
  9. The best work is done when one’s eye is simply on the work, not on its consequence, or on oneself. It is something done for its own sake. It is, in Lewis Hyde’s term, a gift.
  10. Be willing to surprise yourself.