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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