She was walking in the dark street, dark enough that no one can watch clearly after some feet, moving forward very carefully, step by step, watching back and forth again and again. Far in her view, there glows a light, she saw some shadows and suddenly light disappear. She was holding her handbag very tightly. In her path, there was a big stone that she didn’t judge, suddenly, she collides, her heartbeat increases, fallen down, lost her glasses in the dark… After very little effort, she got them and started her journey again. If you claim that your writing is impeccable, but did not find a mistake in the para above, believe me, you either need to stop calling your writing impeccable, or begin making serious efforts to improve your writing skills right now.

I hope you have heard of Mark Twain, one of the most famous writers of the 20th century and author of notable works like “The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn”, “The Adventure of Tom Sawyer” and many other phenomenal novels.

He was often asked about what makes a great piece of writing; and to answer the questions once and for all, he offered some timeless tips that hold true even today and probably will for as long as English is written. So withouth further ado, let’s dig into them.

  1. 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

That’s Twain’s typical sarcastic take on things, but very is a lazy substitute for words that make writing beautiful otherwise. So avoid “very”, as you are certain to find a word for every emotion you are trying to depict. Examples are

Very afraid with Terrified

Very angry with Furious

Very clever with Brilliant

  1. The more you explain it, the less I understand it…

One of the key mistakes writers make is over explaining. Stop thinking of your readers as lame ducks. Keep your writing clear, brief and concise. That’s why every professional writer knows that it is much difficult but efficient to convey your idea in a couple of sentences rather than to fill up the whole page.

  1. Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream

Here’s Twain’s precious advice; do not tell your audience about the feeling and emotions of your characters, about the weather or climate. Make it happen for them, show them through actions. For example, you do not have to tell readers that it was extremely cold that day. A sentence like, “my teeth started to chatter in an uncontrolled symphony as soon as I steped outside,” will do just fine.

  1. Write without pay until somebody offers to pay

Success does not come instantaneously, it needs persistence, consistency and hard work. As Napoleon Hill said: “There is not a possible condition of something for nothing”. You must pay for success, if you love to write, then start writing. And start right now without expecting payment in the beginning.


  1. The episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale and shall help develop it

As Twain says himself: “The personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there”. You must not confuse your audience by introducing extra characters or ideas that have nothing to do with your work. Again, keep it simple and concise.

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

As most of us start writing with just a basic idea in our mind and do the necessary research as we proceed further. But Twain stressed on thorough research before putting the pen to the paper or fingers on the keyboard. Lack of research produces uncertainty and you can’t proceed with confidence.


  1. The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction

What beginners normally do begin writing as soon as they have an idea or a thought they want to write about, creating a story as they move further into the project. But Mark Twain had a different apporach. He suggested that once you know how you want the artcile or story to end, “you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say”. That’s about right.

So, if you really want to be a great writer, work efficiently and follow the advice of Mark Twain. So now, its time for some action. Let’s see what you learnt from Mark Twain’s tips. What do you think are the mistakes in the above story and how can it be improved?

Shehryar Ahmed Author bio pic 1

The views and opinions expressed in the article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views and policy of The Academia Magazine.

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