The Best Writing Advice Pico Iyer Ever Received


One can work with language all day, I have found—write, teach, blog and tweet incessantly—and still succumb to all the worst habits of lazy writers: indulging strings of clichés and abstractions, making it impossible for a reader to, as they say, “locate herself” in time and space. Travel writer and essayist Pico Iyer found this out on the job. Though he had written his way through graduate school and the pages of Time magazine, he still needed to hear the advice of his editor at Knopf, Charles Elliott. “The reader wants to travel beside you,” said Elliott, “looking over your shoulder.”

Such a simple notion. Essential even. But Elliott’s advice is not limited to the dogma of “show, don’t tell” (maybe a limited way to think of writing). More pointedly he stresses the connection of abstract ideas to concrete, specific descriptions that anchor events to a reality outside the author’s head, one the reader wants see, hear, touch, etc. The “best writing advice” Iyer ever received is a useful precept especially, I think, for people who write all of the time, and who need to be reminded, like Iyer, to keep it fresh. Read his full description at The American Scholar.

Related Content:

Jack Kerouac Lists 9 Essentials for Writing Spontaneous Prose

Cormac McCarthy’s Three Punctuation Rules, and How They All Go Back to James Joyce

Toni Morrison Dispenses Writing Wisdom in 1993 Paris Review Interview

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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