I always read that good writers shouldn't use similitudes and metaphors. Also, a writer shouldn't use too many descriptions. Then, I read Raymond Chandler and my little stupid world of securities went down. He wrote with similitudes, he described places in a pedantic way etc. etc. So, what is a good writing "habit"?


5 Answers 5


I'm going to answer this from a different point of view.

What you ask for, and what many inexperienced artists crave, is a secret or formula they can follow to create outstanding art. They read how-to-write/draw/whatever books, ask in online forums, and live with the apprehension of never learning that secret formula.

The truth is, there is no secret formula behind artistic success. There is no how-to that will invariably lead to success. But there is a well-known truth that nevertheless is constantly being ignored by most:

If you want to learn how to write, all you have to do is write.

This seems banal and lacking to those on the quest for the secret formula, but in fact it is all but lacking or banal. The simple truth is that only when you write will you understand what you need to know. A story is such a complex thing that it is impossible to rationally understand how it works and to master its creation consciously. But every man and woman have a faculty that is extremely more powerful than conscious rational thinking, and it is this faculty that both appreciates art (in the consumer) and creates art (in the artist). It is your unconscious, intuition, or procedural knowledge, or whatever different schools of psychology may call it.

When a reader reads a story or watches a movie or looks at a painting, the vast majority of them are "touched", but don't understand how this works. Every writer is first and foremost a reader. Long before we began writing novels or making movies, have we been reading, watching, and appreciating art. During these years of consuming art, have we subconsciously learned what a story is, which stories we find pleasing, and how they work. We may not be able to verbalize this knowledge, or not completely, but we can learn to actively use it in our own storytelling and creating of art: by practice.

When we write stories or make art, what we do is try to re-create what we experiences when reading or appreciating art. At first, we usually fail. But when we keep trying, we slowly begin to understand, on a subconsious or intuitive level, what we need to do to generate better results.

In this, writing is like all the other procedural knowledge we have aquired. We don't know how we do it that we can walk, but we can, and if we look back, we may remember (or see in other children) how we learned it not through explanation and rational understanding, but through trying and embodied understanding: we "grasped" it, in the literal sense – we felt, how it worked.

While many writers claim that they know what they do, and some even give courses trying to teach you, their claim is wrong. The proof for this is that participants in those courses do not turn into good writers, and many fail permanently, never publishing a single work. What these writers tell you is maybe not completely useless, but it is not the secret formula to writing well. The secret formula to writing well, if you want to call it that, is:

Write. And don't think about it too much. Just do it. And with practice, you will get better.

So the only habit you have to learn is to sit down to write as often as you can. The recommendation – founded on psychological research into the habits of successful writers and into creativity and productivity – is writing every day for between half an hour to four hours (you need to write long enough to get into the flow and stop when you notice your quality is deteriorating).

Here is how Hemingway described his writing habits:

When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love.

Ernest Hemingway (1958). The Art of Fiction No. 21 (interviewed by George Plimpton), Paris Review, 18. Available online at http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4825/the-art-of-fiction-no-21-ernest-hemingway)

What he does is:

  • stop writing while you still know what comes next (this will keep the story working in your subconscious mind during the day and night)
  • begin early in the morning, before anything could distract you (thus you are full of ideas from the night and your mind is in your story)
  • re-read what you have written (this gets you to the point where you left off and tunes you to what to write next)
  • write no longer than until noon (before noon are the most mentally productive hours for most humans)
  • write until you feel fulfilled, and don't begin to force yourself

Good luck!

  • oh my God...impressive. Thank you! I'll follow your advices, but i can't write in the morning cause I work
    – Vito
    Nov 18, 2016 at 12:41
  • 1
    I agree that you can learn everything from reading.No part of the craft is hidden. A painter may hide perspective lines under the paint, but a writer hides nothing. How you hold the brush matters to the painting and is invisible to the viewer. How you hold the pen makes no difference to the story. But that does not mean that there is no value in reading about, writing about, or teaching the craft. Not everyone can learn purely by osmosis. The craft cannot be reduced to simple bromides, but that does not mean it is spontaneous or unteachable. If it were, there would be no point to this site.
    – user16226
    Nov 18, 2016 at 14:11
  • @what: Very beautifully written....
    – user96551
    Nov 18, 2016 at 17:55
  • @what Surely you agree that concrete tips for writing well exist, do you not? In most domains of writing outside of the literary form, such as in editorials or business writing, I do strongly believe there are concrete techniques that can be applied to make writing more effective. E.g. Active vs passive voice. Simply declaring that writing is an art you can't teach is not helpful advice to anyone. Good writing is similar to good music in that you can break down its components down and analyze what makes it work, soon you may be capable of making a well engineered masterpiece of your own.
    – Kelseydh
    Nov 19, 2016 at 10:49
  • The question uses the tag creative-writing. My answer is meant to be understood in that context.
    – user5645
    Nov 19, 2016 at 19:48

There is a huge market for simple rules like this. There is a huge appetite for rules and formulas to make writing simple and easy. Whenever there is a huge market for anything, someone steps forward to supply that market, regardless of whether there is any merit to the product they are selling.

The general term for this is snake oil. Where there is illness, there is demand for a cure. Where there is a demand for a cure, someone will supply a cure, regardless of whether the cure is actually effective. Snake oil.

Writing is not simple or easy. All the simple prohibitions of the writing teachers are snake oil. They exist because people demanded simple answer even when there aren't any.

The truth is the just about any device or technique can work if done well. And all devices and techniques are hard to do well. Any of these writing bromides can be disproven by pointing to a great writer who uses the prohibited technique brilliantly.

There are no shortcuts. The snake oil does not work. Writing is hard. You need to read voluminously, widely, and with attention. And you need to write with deliberation, honesty, and diligence.

  • 1
    Great answer, in particular "The truth is just about any device or technique can work if done well." There's no rule about writing which applies to everyone across the board. Nov 17, 2016 at 13:22

The original answer is right that there is no one single right answer. But here are a few tips:

  • Avoid using the passive voice in favour of the active voice as much as you can. You will not believe how much this will improve your writing.

  • Brevity is the soul of wit. Short, terse sentences carry a lot more power than long sentences with many commas. Quality over quantity. In high school you often learn how to add more complexity to your writing, while in University you will learn how to undo that. Every word written should be necessary towards communicating something.

  • Be merciless with filler words. Remove them. It's a crutch.

  • Vocabulary is diverse, so use it. That girl was not pretty, she was stunning. A thesaurus is your friend, but don't go overboard. Pick the right word for the moment.

  • Think of writing as a form of poetry. A poem is writing converted into art. Poems have a cadence that's naturally pleasing. Mimic this in your writing, making liberal use of alliterations, repetition and other techniques to make your writing pop.


Good writing habits depend on the style of writing you're involved in. You'll find that the same author writing different materials could have different writing habits. Depending on the kind of training the writer has and the self discipline it would take to play the part of the ______ writer, the writer can use similitudes or not, use metaphors or not, etc, etc. I believe good writing habits come from two places, the training you got and the experience you acquire.

  • "I believe good writing habits come from two places, the training you got and the experience you acquire." Thank you :)
    – Vito
    Nov 19, 2016 at 10:57

From a reading point of view, I want as much description as necessary for me to understand. If your protagonist is a prisoner, is the environment dirty or cold or grey or harsh, or is it soft and bright? I want to see it so that I can paint in the rest of the details for myself.

As a writer, I do the same. If it is important that the prisoner is wearing orange, I'd tell the reader. I would not tell you anything that wasn't critical to the story, other than to let you know my character is tall and muscular because their role is as an enforcer in a gang; or they are petite and frightened and trying to remain unnoticed. If it is important to know their hair colour or race, put it into the story rather than describing the individual.

"Hey Red, move your fat ass." Rather than; The redhead moved because the huge, muscular, enforcer walked into the cafeteria.

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