Great Authors Are People Too by Lynn Olson

Posted on March 1st, 2010 by

It’s often hard to remember when I’m reading a “classic” novel or essay that the story unfolding before me did not just magically appear on the page. After all, these were the great authors, right? The people who were sprinkled with some special fairy dust that made their ideas simply take shape into words without any work, right? Wrong – these great authors were people too, and not just some but ALL of them had to sit at a desk and stare at a blank page before beginning just like we Gusties do today. As Joseph Heller put it, “Every writer I know has trouble writing.” However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t something worthwhile to learn from their example. Presented here for your benefit is some advice from the masters themselves:

“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.” – Stephen King

Before a writer can write, they have to take the time to learn the art. And there is no better way to learn to write than to pick up a book. Taking time to read helps develop an understanding of what makes a “great” author truly great. Next time you’re in the library writing that 10-page essay the day before it’s due, take a study break and browse through the aisles; you might find more interesting titles than you think (not to mention another impressive addition for your “Favorite Books” list on facebook).

“Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time… The wait is simply too long.” – Leonard Bernstein

“The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.” – Agatha Christie

Next time you get a prompt from your professor, don’t just shove it to the bottom of your backpack and forget about it. Keep it handy; take it out when you have a few minutes, just to ponder over some thoughts. The only thing worse than not knowing how to write your paper when you sit down at your desk is not knowing what to even write about. The best prevention for this malady is to brainstorm as much as you can – who knows what great ideas are just waiting to be discovered during your next walk across campus or drive to Mankato?

“The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.” – Mark Twain

“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.” – Oscar Wilde

“I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.” – Truman Capote

Once you have a first draft of your assignment, don’t just print it out and call it done – you still have work to do! Tools like spell- and grammar-check are helpful, but they are no substitute for the best weapon in your arsenal: your own mind. Plus, rereading your own work might make you think of new ideas you didn’t have the first time through. Another helpful hint: Like Truman says, don’t be afraid to cut things out that don’t seem to fit your final draft. It’s not the quantity (i.e. word counts or page limits) but the quality of your work that ultimately matters to most professors.

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath

Beyond any other writing tool, the trick is to believe in your ability to write. If you didn’t have what it takes to do your assignment well, you wouldn’t be a Gustavus college student to begin with. And if you do need a helping hand, you have a whole army of Writing Center staff members eager to assist you, who you can visit any week. We are always happy to help you become the best writer you can, so come and see us!


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