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Friday, August 31, 2012

Timeless Advice from Mark Twain on the Art and Craft of Writing ~ Suzanne Woods Fisher

Suzanne Woods Fisher is a bestselling author of Amish fiction and non-fiction, the host of a weekly radio program called Amish Wisdom and a columnist for Christian Post. She has twenty-one books under contract with Revell–eight published, thirteen to come…she’s contracted all the way into 2016. The Waiting was a finalist for a 2011 Christy Award. The Choice was finalist for a 2011 Carol Award. Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World and Amish Proverbs: Words of Wisdom from the Simple Life were both finalists for the ECPA Book of the Year (2010, 2011).

Her interest in the Amish began with her grandfather, W.D. Benedict, who was raised Plain. She has many, many Plain relatives living in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, and travels back to Pennsylvania, as well as to Ohio, a couple of times each year for research.

Suzanne has a great admiration for the Plain people and believes they provide wonderful examples to the world. In both her fiction and non-fiction books, she has an underlying theme: You don’t have to “go Amish” to incorporate many of their principles–simplicity, living with less, appreciating nature, forgiving others more readily–into your life.

When Suzanne isn’t writing or bragging to her friends about her first grandbaby, she is raising puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Keep up on Suzanne’s latest news on FacebookTwitter and on her blog!

Timeless Advice from Mark Twain on the Art and Craft of Writing by Suzanne Woods Fisher

“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” Mark Twain

Can you call up a Mark Twain quote from memory? Bet you can, even if you might not realize he had coined it: “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter” or “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated” or “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”

See? You know more than you think you know.

Even in 2012, Mark Twain is just as relevant as in 1884, when The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (considered his masterpiece) was first published. Mark Twain has been credited for transforming American literature into something purely American by his original use of language, setting, and colorful characters.

But were you aware that Mark Twain was sought after for his advice on the art and craft of writing? Here are a few memorable suggestions he offered—some serious, some not—that are just as timeless today as they were in the 1800s. (Note: Whenever possible, I cited the quote’s source.)  

The Best Time to Start Writing: 

“There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded.” 

“The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say.” -Mark Twain's Notebook, 1902-1903 

Finding the Right Word: 

"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."  

“Use the right word, not its second cousin.”  

“To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself. . . . Anybody can have ideas--the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.” -Letter to Emeline Beach, February 1868 

On Verbosity:  

“The more you explain it, the more I don’t understand it.”  

“As to the Adjective: when in doubt, strike it out.” -Pudd'nhead Wilson, 1894 

“I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English--it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them--then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice." -Letter to D. W. Bowser, March 1880 

On Revising: 

“You need not expect to get your book right the first time. Go to work and revamp or rewrite it. God only exhibits his thunder and lightning at intervals, and so they always command attention. These are God's adjectives. You thunder and lightning too much; the reader ceases to get under the bed, by and by.” - Letter to Orion Clemens, 23 March 1878 

Mind your Grammar:

“There is no such thing as the Queen's English. The property has gone into the hands of a joint stock company and we own the bulk of the shares.” -Pudd'nhead Wilson, 1894

“Great books are weighed and measured by their style and matter, and not the trimmings and shadings of their grammar.” -Speech at the Annual Reunion of the Army and Navy Club of Connecticut, April 1887 

“I like the exact word, and clarity of statement, and here and there a touch of good grammar for picturesqueness.” -The Autobiography of Mark Twain, 1924 

“I am almost sure by witness of my ear, but cannot be positive, for I know grammar by ear only, not by note, not by the rules. A generation ago I knew the rules--knew them by heart, word for word, though not their meanings--and I still know one of them: the one which says--but never mind, it will come back to me presently.” -The Autobiography of Mark Twain, 1924  

The Importance of Reading Good Books: 

“Let us guess that whenever we read a sentence & like it, we unconsciously store it away in our model-chamber; & it goes, with the myriad of its fellows, to the building, brick by brick, of the eventual edifice which we call our style.” - Letter to George Bainton, 15 Oct 1888  

“The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.” 

The Writer’s Life:   
“Write without pay until somebody offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this circumstance with the most implicit confidence as the sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.” 


  1. These are great, Suzanne. Thanks for finding them for us.

  2. Oh, I LIKE him! Must go read A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court again.


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