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Mark Twain's Top Ten Writing Tips

"Don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in"

By

Mark Twain

Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens), 1835-1910

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Widely regarded as the greatest American writer of his time, Mark Twain was often asked for advice on the art and craft of writing. Sometimes the famous humorist would respond seriously, and sometimes not. Here, in remarks drawn from his letters, essays, novels, and speeches, are ten of Twain's most memorable observations on the writer's craft.

  1. Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.

  2. Use the right word, not its second cousin.

  3. As to the Adjective: when in doubt, strike it out.

  4. You need not expect to get your book right the first time. Go to work and revamp or rewrite it. God only exhibits his thunder and lightning at intervals, and so they always command attention. These are God's adjectives. You thunder and lightning too much; the reader ceases to get under the bed, by and by.

  5. Substitute damn every time you're inclined to write very; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.

  6. Use good grammar.

  7. Damnation (if you will allow the expression), get up & take a turn around the block & let the sentiment blow off you. Sentiment is for girls. . . . There is one thing I can't stand and won't stand, from many people. That is, sham sentimentality.

  8. Use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English--it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in.

  9. 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 that you really want to say.

  10. Write without pay until somebody offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this circumstance with the most implicit confidence as the sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.

Sources:
1. Quoted by Rudyard Kipling in From Sea to Sea (1899) 2. "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offences" (1895) 3. Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894) 4. Letter to Orion Clemens (March 1878) 5. frequently attributed to Twain, but the source is unknown 6. "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offences" (1895) 7. Letter to Will Bowen (1876) 8. Letter to D. W. Bowser (March 1880) 9. Mark Twain's Notebook: 1902-1903 10. "Mark Twain's General Reply"

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