Writer’s Toolbox

Tips From the Masters

You will find pearls of writing wisdom in these pithy lists by masters of their craft.

Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd: 10 Writing Insights

Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd: 10 Writing Insights

Tracy Kidder is a renowned nonfiction writer, known as a literary journalist for the way he combines story and voice with exhaustive research. He is the author of Among Schoolchildren and The Soul of a New Machine, which won a Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. Richard Todd served as executive editor of the esteemed magazine The Atlantic and as the editor of his own book imprint at Houghton Mifflin. Kidder and Todd collaborated on the book Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction.

  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 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.

From the Biographile website.