Your Moment of Friday Writing Zen: Simple Writing Advice to Keep You Going This Weekend

Your Moment of Friday Writing Zen: Simple Writing Advice to Keep You Going This Weekend

Every week, I spelunk into the Writer’s Digest archives to find the wisest, funniest, or downright strangest moments from our 92 years of publication.

Today, from August 1967, are highlights of a love letter to language by Arnold Gingrich, the co-founder of Esquire magazine. In 1967, he presented the keynote at the first annual Writer’s Digest Conference—and offered up this writing advice, which was later printed in the magazine.

It’s good solace for busy, stressed-out writers and editors on a Friday afternoon.

* * *

“Never leave well enough alone, because the word, which was there in the beginning, will be there long after you and I are gone, and finished with our attempts to arrange it into patterns of truth. It will survive all our efforts to improve it, and will defy all but a few of the efforts that will follow ours. But the words will always count, in the sum total of human experience, and our time with them is much too short to have any fear that our mastery of them may ever be complete.

“Meanwhile let us rejoice that we have the privilege of dealing with the things that matter most, for it was the word that first distinguished us from the animals in our long upward climb from the ooze and slime of our primordial beginning, and it is the word that will always distinguish us, no matter what new tricks we teach them, from the machines of this new age.

“It was the words that, on Shakespeare’s tongue, long turned to dust, made good his promise that they would outlive as indeed they have many’s ‘the gilded monument of princes.’

“In a creative business, such as ours, the quantitative factors are subject to infinite enhancement, through mechanical miracles now present and to come, but the qualitative elements, thank God, are still subject to improvement only through such old-fashioned means as elbow grease and midnight oil.”

* * *

Also! The winner of our free book drawing last week: Celia37. Celia, please shoot me an email at writersdigest [at] fwmedia [dot] com with “WD: For Zachary Petit” in the subject line, and I’ll send you a list of books to choose a title from. For everyone else out there, to get in on the action and make yourself eligible to win a book from our swag stacks, all you have to do is leave a comment on this post by the end of next week. (As always, thank you for helping us to control the teetering WD tower of ARCs.)

For more vintage quotes, writing advice and wisdoms from 90 years of Writer’s Digest, check out our 90-year retrospective here.


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6 thoughts on “Your Moment of Friday Writing Zen: Simple Writing Advice to Keep You Going This Weekend

  1. Jamie

    I particularly like the last paragraph. “Elbow grease and midnight oil” are valuable tools for those of us who toil with “the word.” And many of us write only in our “spare” time, which is not especially spare, but must be carved out of each day–usually when the rest of our little corner of the world is still dreaming on their pillows.

    I like Karleene’s comment, too. Tough words to live by for us perfectionists who hate seeing that word underlined in red.

  2. Karleene

    Write straight through. It’s tempting to stop or go back to fix a word or phrase, to look up a detail, or to clean up a whole chapter, rewrite it and ‘get it right.’ The best advice James Michener ever gave, and he ought to know, was to not break your momentum. Do not put the Muse on the back burner. Write as it flows no matter if it seems to be poor writing. It might even be poor writing – his was. Your best writing comes during rewriting. Get the idea, the story, the flow out there, then it will be time to turn the poor writing into the best quality novel you’re capable of.


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