Writing Advice from Beyond the Grave


In his last book Mortality the great and late Christopher Hitchens gave some pieces of writing advice, I couldn’t let go unnoticed.

“The most satisfying compliment a reader can pay is to tell me that he or she feels personally addressed. Think of your own favorite authors and see if that isn’t precisely one of the things that engages you, often at first without you noticing it.”

“I owe a vast debt to Simon Hoggart of the Guardian, who about thirty-five years ago informed me, that an article of mine was well argued but dull, and advised me briskly to write ‘more like the way you talk’.”

“To my writing classes I used later to open by saying that anyone who could talk could also write. Having cheered them up with this easy-to-grasp ladder, I then replaced it with a huge and loathsome snake: ‘How many people in this class, would you say, can talk? I mean really talk?’ This had its duly woeful effect. I told them to read every composition aloud, preferably to a trusted friend.”

“The rules are much the same: Avoid stock expressions (like the plague, as William Safire used to say) and repetitions. Don’t say that as a boy your grandmother used to read to you, unless at that stage of her life she really was a boy, in which case you have probably thrown away a better intro. If something is worth hearing or listening to, it’s very probably worth reading. So, this above all: Find your own voice.”



1 thought on “Writing Advice from Beyond the Grave”

  1. […] would like to work in the Danish magazine business, this may not be a smart move. I comfort my with Christopher Hitchens’ writing advice: I talk in Danish and I try to avoid stock expressions. Of course, I also write some journalistic […]

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