33 Unusual Tips to Being a Better Writer

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Back in college, Sanket and I would hang out in bars and try to talk to women but I was horrible at it. Nobody would talk to me for more than thirty seconds and every woman would laugh at all his jokes for what seemed like hours. Even decades later I think they are still laughing at his jokes. One time he turned to me, “the girls are getting bored when you talk. Your stories go on too long. From now on, you need to leave out every other sentence when you tell a story.”  We were both undergrads in Computer Science. I haven’t seen him since but that’s the most important writing (and communicating) advice I ever got.

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33 other tips to be a better writer.

–          Write whatever you want. Then take out the first paragraph and last paragraph. Here’s the funny thing about this rule. It’s sort of like knowing the future. You still can’t change it. In other words, even if you know this rule and write the article, the article will still be better if you take out the first paragraph and the last paragraph.

–          Take a huge bowel movement every day. And you won’t see that on any other list on how to be a better writer. If your body doesn’t flow then your brain won’t flow. Eat more fruit if you have to.

–          Bleed in the first line. We’re all human. A computer can win Jeopardy but still not write a novel. You want people to relate to you, then you have to be human. Penelope Trunk started a post a few weeks ago: “I smashed a lamp over my head. There was blood everywhere. And glass. And I took a picture.” That’s real bleeding. My wife recently put up a post where the first line was so painful she had to take it down. Too many people were crying.

–          Don’t ask for permission. In other words, never say “in my opinion” (or worse “IMHO”). We know it’s your opinion. You’re writing it.

–          Write a lot. I spent the entire 90s writing bad fiction. 5 bad novels. Dozens of bad stories. But I learned to handle massive rejection. And how to put two words together. In my head, I won the pulitzer prize. But in my hand, over 100 rejection letters.

–          Read a lot. You can’t write without first reading. A lot. When I was writing five bad novels in a row I would read all day long whenever I wasn’t writing (I had a job as a programmer, which I would do for about five minutes a day because my programs all worked and I just had to “maintain” them). I read everything I could get my hands on.

–          Read before you write. Before I write every day I spend 30-60 minutes reading high quality short stories poetry, or essays.  Books by Denis Johnson, Miranda July, David Foster Wallace, Ariel Leve, William Vollmann, Raymond Carver, etc. All of the writers are in the top 1/1000 of 1% of writers. It has to be at that level or else it won’t lift up your writing at all.

–          Coffee. I go through three cups at least before I even begin to write. No coffee, no creativity.

–          Break the laws of physics. There’s no time in text. Nothing has to go in order. Don’t make it nonsense. But don’t be beholden to the laws of physics. Advice I Want to Tell My Daughters is an example.

–          Be Honest. Tell people the stuff they all think but nobody ever says. Some people will be angry you let out the secret. But most people will be grateful. Else you aren’t delivering value. Be the little boy in the Emperor Wears No Clothes. If you can’t do this, don’t write.

–          Don’t Hurt Anyone. This goes against the above rule. But I never like to hurt people. And I don’t respect people who get pageviews by breaking this rule. Don’t be a bad guy.  Was Buddha a Bad Father? addresses this.

–          Don’t be afraid of what people think. For each single person you worry about, deduct 1% in quality from your writing. Everyone has deductions. I have to deduct about 10% right off the top. Maybe there’s 10 people I’m worried about. Some of them are evil people. Some of them are people I just don’t want to offend. So my writing is only about 90% of what it could be. But I think most people write at about 20% of what it could be. Believe it or not, clients, customers, friends, family, will love you more if you are honest with them.  So we all have our boundaries. But try this: for the next ten things you write, tell people something that nobody knows about you.

–          Be opinionated. Most people I know have strong opinions about at least one or two things. Write about those. Nobody cares about all the things you don’t have strong opinions on. Barry Ritholz told me the other day he doesn’t start writing until he’s angry about something. That’s one approach. Barry and I have had some great writing fights because sometimes we’ve been angry at each other.

–          Have a shocking title. I blew it the other day. I wanted to title this piece: “How I torture women” but I settled for “I’m guilty of torture”. I wimped out. But I have some other fun ones. Like “is it bad I wanted my first kid to be aborted” (which the famous Howard Lindzon cautioned me against). Don’t forget that you are competing against a trillion other pieces of content out there. So you need a title to draw people in. Else you lose.

–          Steal. I don’t quite mean it literally. But if you know a topic gets pageviews (and you aren’t hurting anyone) than steal it, no matter who’s written about it or how many times you’ve written about it before. “How I Screwed Yasser Arafat out of $2mm” was able to nicely piggyback off of how amazingly popular Yasser Arafat is.

 

–          Make people cry. If you’ve ever been in love, you know how to cry.  Bring readers to that moment when they were a child, and all of life was in front of them, except for that one bittersweet moment when everything began to change. If only that one moment could’ve lasted forever. Please let me go back in time right now to that moment. But now it’s gone.

–          Relate to people. The past decade has totally sucked. For everyone. The country has been in post-traumatic stress syndrome since 9/11 and 2008 only made it worse. I’ve gone broke a few times during the decade, had a divorce, lost friendships, and have only survived (barely) by being persistent and knowing I had two kids to take care of, and loneliness to fight. Nobody’s perfect. We’re all trying. Show people how you are trying and struggling. Nobody expects you to be a superhero.

–          Time heals all wounds. Everyone has experiences they don’t want to write about. But with enough time, its ok. My New Year’s Resolution of 1995 is pretty embarrassing. But whatever. Its 16 years ago.. The longer back you go, the less you have to worry about what people think.

–          Risk. Notice that almost all of these rules are about where the boundaries are. Most people play it too safe. When you are really risking something and the reader senses that (and they WILL sense it), then you know you are in good territory. If you aren’t risking something, then I’m moving on. I know I’m on the right track if after I post something someone tweets, “OMFG”.

–          Be funny. You can be all of the above and be funny at the same time. When I went to India I was brutalized by my first few yoga classes (actually every yoga class). And I was intimidated by everyone around me. They were like yoga superheroes and I felt like a fraud around them. So I cried, and hopefully people laughed.   It was also a case where I didn’t have to dig into my past but I had an experience that was happening to me right then. How do you be funny? First rule of funny: ugly people are funny. I’m naturally ugly so its easy. Make yourself as ugly as possible. Nobody wants to read that you are beautiful and doing great in life.

–          The last line needs to go BOOM! . Your article is meaningless unless the last line KILLS. Read the book of short stories “Jesus’ Son” by Denis Johnson. It’s the only way to learn how to do a last line. The last line should take you all the way back to the first line and then “BOOM!”

–          Use a lot of periods. Forget commas and semicolons. A period makes people pause. Your sentences should be strong enough that you want people to pause and think about it.  This will also make your sentences shorter. Short sentences are good.

–          Write every day. This is a must. Writing is spiritual practice. You are diving inside of yourself and cleaning out the toxins. If you don’t do it every day, you lose the ability. If you do it every day, then slowly you find out where all the toxins are. And the cleaning can begin.

–          Write with the same voice you talk in. You’ve spent your whole life learning how to communicate with that voice. Why change it when you communicate with text?

–          Deliver value with every sentence. Even on a tweet or Facebook status update. Deliver poetry and value with ever word. Else, be quiet. (And, of course, follow me on twitter for more examples)

–          Take what everyone thinks and explore the opposite. Don’t disagree just to disagree. But explore. Turn the world upside down. Guess what? There are people living in China. Plenty of times you’ll find value where nobody else did.

–          Have lots of ideas. I discuss this in “How to be the Luckiest Man Alive” in the Daily Practice section. Your idea muscle atrophies within days if you don’t exercise it. Then what do you do? You need to exercise it every day until it hurts. Else no ideas.

–          Sleep eight hours a day. Go to sleep before 9pm at least 4 days a week. And stretch while taking deep breaths before you write. We supposedly use only 5% of our brain. You need to use 6% at least to write better than everyone else. So make sure your brain is getting as much healthy oxygen as possible. Too many people waste valuable writing or resting time by chattering until all hours of the night.

–          Don’t write if you’re upset at someone. Then the person you are upset at becomes your audience. You want to love and flirt with your audience so they can love you back.

–          Use “said” instead of any other word. Don’t use “he suggested” or “he bellowed”. Just “he said.” We’ll figure it out if he suggested something.

–          Paint. Or draw. Keep exercising other creative muscles.

–          Let it sleep. Whatever you are working on, sleep on it. Then wake up, stretch, coffee, read, and look again. Rewrite. Take out every other sentence.

–         Then take out every other sentence again. Or something like that.

Sanket didn’t want to go to grad school after we graduated. He had another plan. Lets go to Thailand, he said. And become monks in a Buddhist monastery for a year. We can date Thai women whenever we aren’t begging for food, he said. It will be great and we’ll get life experience.

It sounded good to me.

But then he got accepted to the University of Wisconsin and got a PhD. Now he lives in India and works for Oracle. And as for me, I don’t know what the hell happened to me.

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  • Anonymous

    Winning!

  • Joe Clark

    Well I have 2 of 33 tips mastered (one if coffee, guess the other). It’s a pleasure to read your musings, when I see your alerts on twitter I know I’m in for a good read and reflection.

    • Rudiger

      You got “Be Funny” too!

    • Pkopco

      Too bad you missed the one about using periods instead of commas.

  • https://jarvisapp.com/ Jay Shirley

    I’m appreciating your book suggestions. I just finished reading Cat’s Cradle from your previous blog, and now have a longer list.

    Regarding “Let it sleep”, I’ve been trying this lately with great success. If I get tired I sleep. I stop trying to work. I wake up earlier and usually am more motivated and thoughtful (after coffee) and produce more. Giving up and going to sleep has helped my productivity. Thanks!

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Sometimes mid-article, I know I’m onto something good, but I need to back up a sec and let the subcounscious take over. I’ll read or play a game of chess or even nap. That helps also. But sleeping is great. Mmm, 10 hours of sleep. I’m about to do that right now and I’m looking forward to it. I love sleeping.

  • http://frida1234.blogspot.com Arthi

    Lovely :-)
    And your last line is a killer, I had a hard time not laughing at my desk :-)

    Some of the points where I strongly agree:
    Read before you write : I loved and memorized Keats and Tennyson. I do not consciously follow rules while writing poetry. But my poems have been said to have a rhythm. I attribute it to all the great poets I have read.
    Use a lot of periods: Agree. Agree. Agree.

    Disagree:
    Coffee: Am not sure if it works for everyone
    “There’s no time in text. Nothing has to go in order.” This is good advice if you want your writing to look different. But I doubt if it improves the quality of the article.
    Be Honest: True, but it needn’t be about the writer all the time.
    Don’t Hurt Anyone: I am not sure if your twelve year old has read the article where you mention you want her aborted, but I guess that it would hurt her when she reads the title.
    Don’t be afraid of what people think: Customers might not want to know about my mismatched socks. To an extent, being honest is good, people can relate to you when they know have your faults. But expose your faults too much and it might be a turn off.
    Never say “in my opinion”: I would write that “I think that…”, because what I think might not always be right. It might be right to me at the moment and wrong the next.
    Don’t write if you’re upset at someone: Doesn’t this conflict with “Be opinionated”, where you mention “Barry and I have had some great writing fights because sometimes we’ve been angry at each other.”?

    This is a great article, and I am forwarding it to my friend, an aspiring writer.

    • Rui Costa, Lisbon, Portugal

      Instead of worrying about being “right”, whatever that is or means, people would be happier if they cared more for just being themselves without hurting others.

    • Rui Costa, Lisbon, Portugal

      Instead of worrying about being “right”, whatever that is or means, people would be happier if they cared more for just being themselves without hurting others.

  • http://twitter.com/cselland Chris Selland

    Absolutely brilliant – thanks for sharing.

  • Sooz

    I pretty much fail at writing..:(
    Grammar/spelling are the worst pains in my azz!!
    BTW: two minutes before I read your post I sent a friend a tweet and ended it with ‘IMHO’
    So..I will live vicariously through all your writings,J.A.,and feel good about it..D@mn it all!!!

    • Sooz

      note/edit:
      (this should read)

      Grammar and spelling are the worst pains in my ass. Because of this
      I have chosen to live vicariously through all your writings.
      Damn It All.

      • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

        Sooz, then I am happy to oblige.

        • Sooz

          Why Thanks, my kind friend…:)

          • VM

            Tip 1: anyone can write, if you can talk you can write. Just write as you talk, don’t worry about grammar or spelling.

            Tip 2: get a speech recognition software, dictate your ideas/stories.
            See? You can do it.

  • http://www.dinosaurtrader.com dinosaurtrader

    With a family, how do you find the TIME to write? I’m forced to wake at 5, well before the freakout also known as “getting ready for school” begins.

    One more comment… I find drinking lots of coffee and taking large bowel movements complementary.

    Thanks for sharing.

    -DT

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Ha, DT, true about the coffee although at the risk of “too much information” sometimes I refused to move while I’m writing so I break the very important life rule: “use it or lose it”.

      In terms of time: I take about 3-5 hours per post. Maybe 45 mins on first draft and then the rest on rewriting, prepping it, etc. But if you have that inspiration, you can churn through a post in 45 mins. The key is being able to unwrap the inspiration right when you need it (e.g. every day at 5am). Which is where practicing by exercising the idea muscle comes in. Taking pads with you and writing down as many lists of ideas as possible.

      I’m sure you have no trouble with that. The issue is being able to generate that 45 minutes of “flow” on demand so you can maximize your free time for writing.

      • http://www.dinosaurtrader.com dinosaurtrader

        Good point, it is all about efficiency when time is an issue. I tend to be a bit scatterbrained too, and I procrastinate. One thing I find that helps me with those “problems” is, at the end of the day, making a list of things I need to do the next day, and putting it on my keyboard.

        Your point about exercising the “idea muscle” is dead on. For awhile I was spending a lot of time in my car. Since it’s dangerous to jot things down in the car, I purchased a $60 voice recorder. It was great, press a button, ideas recorded. I imagine many phones nowadays have this feature too.

        Anyway, appreciate the blog. The love you’re receiving is deserved. It takes a lot of time to do well and you’re doing it well.

        Thanks again,

        -DT

  • TheUltimateOutcast

    James,

    I am a new reader and fairly new blogger. I find your tips quite helpful and relateable.

    I have a hard-time reconciling risk/be opinionated/don’t care what other people think. But I put the term “offensive in my tagline” so that when people visit they know what they are in for. It also gave me permission to offend!

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      I agree one should be as honest and as opinionated as possible. But I’ve learned the hard way:
      A) sometimes you hurt someone close to you. thats bad.
      B) sometimes you get in trouble because what you say is misunderstood by the wrong people. THis, of course, is a very gray area. But thats where the risk is.

  • lee

    James, you’re a shark in sheeps clothing. In a fight, your words alone would inflict as much damage as a kick in the groin.

    btw, follow me at twitter/lee & connect w/me on LI (invite sent)

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Lee, thanks. I try never to inflict harm with words. Its true that the pen is mightier than the sword. I’ve seen people severely and unfairly damaged many times.

      Btw, I don’t use LI at all. Do you think its worth it if everyone is on facebook?

      • lee

        Totally agree, and that’s why I’m still somewhat ambivalent about your recent post regarding S. Jobs. He has accomplished an amazing amount during his time with Apple but like Gates and others, he is/was known for having an explosive temper and verbally abusive toward employees. That said, he has made a difference and contributed much to the creation of beautiful and innovative products.

        As for LI and FB, I hardly use either though i do like to maintain an online rolodex via LI. But no worries, there are multiple ways for us to connect, one of which is through your blog :-)

  • Guest

    Loving this

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Loving the love.

  • http://blog.mytradingnet.com Eradke

    I think the coffee goes with the BM stuff. Penelope Trunk is intense. What did the paragraphs that you left out say.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      The paragraphs I left out were about getting rejected a lot. But I mention it briefly and always good material for another post. Better to get to the heart of it, the way I structured stories were too long. Not even a girl in a bar could handle talking to me (although thats still not so unusual) .

  • Steven L Goff

    This was really great James! I learned much.

    “Take what everyone thinks and explore the opposite. Don’t disagree just to disagree. But explore. Turn the world upside down. Guess what? There are people living in China. Plenty of times you’ll find value where nobody else did.”

    I add this relevant quote to what you wrote, two things actually.

    “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking. Lets get a man thinking somewhere on the double!”~ Gen. George S. Patton

    “Adversity reveals genius, prosperity conceals it.”- Horace

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      That Horace quote has been so true for me in every which way. Up and down.

      And yeah, too often people are afraid to explore. There’s an “American Religion”: own a house, go to college, always vote, etc. If you go against the religion you get persecuted. But sometimes we have to think out of the box in order to actually MOVE outside of the box.

  • http://balalnaeem.wordpress.com/ Balal

    Awesome!! I have a started writing a blog and i try writing it daily but somehow i have failed up till now to do so but I do agree that if we want to become an amazing writer we should write daily. All the points are pretty awesome, some people night disagree. Its a great inspiration though. Thanks for sharing.

    Best

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Balal, if you have trouble writing daily just do what I do: write lists of ideas for yourself (not necessarily for your blog). The important thing is to stretch your idea muscle every day until it hurts.

      Lets say you cant touch your toes. If you try to touch your toes without bending your knees it will hurt. And maybe you still are about 5 inches from the toes. But if you do it every day, you’ll get about a millimeter closer every week. Eventually you touch the toes. Try it with writing. Make a list of blog post ideas. Make a list of things you can do in your city that you never tried before. Make a list of the people you hate but what 3 things you like about each of them. And so on. Stretch til it hurts.

      • http://balalnaeem.wordpress.com/ Balal

        Thank you for the wonderful suggestion!

  • Steven L Goff

    Coffee????….Hunter S. Thompson used wash down his Quaaludes with coffee! Right before getting on the typewriter. And than taking his notes and putting them in the “Mojo” machine (early fax machines) to send to Jan @ Rolling Stone Magazine in San Fran….. from wherever he was getting high and banging girls at the time from! >>>>>Hunter makes Charlie Sheen look like a Cub Scout!

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Its funny, though. He was probably more dedicated to the craft (studying every writer, writing every day, building networks of writers) than just about everyone else. He was a writer’s writer until his real breakout. Btw, I always liked Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail in 72 better than the Las Vegas one. Best political book ever.

      • Gonzojh

        The hyperbole in Fear & loathing on the Campaign Trail withstanding, (the ibogaine story is CLASSIC) it is one of the best gonzo/literal diaries of the train wreck that is American politics. Any of the ’72 candidates can be swapped with candidates from ANY election.  – “Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty” 

        The great shark hunt is also an interesting companion read.

  • pjc

    I love the “accept the rejection” bit.

    A friend of mine in college was fearless in bars and clubs. I recall him once walking up to a gorgeous woman, who was close to 6 feet tall, and most of that legs. X asked her to dance. She looked him up and down and said “no, you’re too short”. (X is 5’8” on a tall day). X shrugged and smiled, said, “fair enough” and moved on down the line. He was dancing with a beautiful woman soon enough.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Reminds me of a friend of mine in grad school. He was nothing much but always dating. I asked him how he did it. He said, “all you have to do is ask them”.

  • http://Twitter.com/Ed Ed

    This is now permanently bookmarked in a new folder;
    ‘Top Posts 2011′

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Thats good news! I hope I can get a few more in there.

  • http://www.thetradingelite.com Jared Mast

    I definitely agree with your thinking about not caring what other people think when you write. For the longest time it is what limited me from writing, interviewing, and posting it online. I think when we take away the “scare” factor that our writing will be judged by so many is when real creativity starts to flow.

  • Patriciaanndanielson

    Thank You…
    after reading this article….I am encouraged…
    I meet 99.5% of all your requirements….
    and truth be told….I am a closet writer….(isnt everyone here in so-cal?)
    PS…My sense of humour may sustain me thru the rejection phase….:)

    • Anonymous

      How do you tell someone who used 29 periods in their five line response that 99.5% is probably less than accurate?

  • Milktrader

    Coffee Instructions: obtain a pint glass (brewer logo optional, small chips recommended) and fill 1/3 to 1/2 of the glass with 2% milk. Add 1 tsp raw sugar. Place in microwave for 77 seconds. Prepare hot water. Place a heaping tablespoon of espresso roast, turkish ground coffee in cone filter inside a portable drip. After milk has heated, carefully retrieve the pint glass and place portable filter on top. Begin the process of brewing coffee by slowing dripping small amounts of hot water into the filter. Observe the creaming process. As you drip the coffee into the pint glass, you’ll achieve a Black & Tan effect. Remove filter after pint glass is filled. The glass will be hot and difficult to manage, but you can grab the very top rim to move the coffee. Be careful not to cut yourself on small chips. Alternatively, you can apply a small towel or coozie. Before drinking, mix well. Before mixing well, admire. Enjoy. Repeat as necessary to achieve the desired mental acuity.

    • Prost

      You could use a mug (i.e. pint glass with a handle) and avoid the heat problems

  • http://twitter.com/r_shivakumar shiva kumar

    superb …thnks for the tips…if you would have went thailand your life would have changed…who knw …then i might not be reading and commenting on this post :P ;)

  • Got Abit

    i have a blog that i’d LOVE to populate with tales of my sexual coming of age at various ages. but i don’t do it bcz then the cyberworld will entrap me in porn links instead of reveling in the deeper understandings that were inherent to that process. you could say that i’m writing at 23 1/2%…

  • http://www.firstadopter.com firstadopter

    I also try to carry a notepad or any smartphone/PDA will do to write down ideas that pop into your head.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      The best is a waiters pad. Small, perfect for lists, and cheap. Small enough to fit in pocket.

      • http://www.firstadopter.com firstadopter

        Silly question, but where is the best place to buy a waiter’s pad for a consumer like me? Staples have them?

        • Allan

          Office Max has them, too.

  • http://twitter.com/JackDurg Jack Durgaryan

    Perfect timing to post this. I am currently struggling on my writing assignments at college. I am a big fan of your writing (I usually hate reading, especially the pointless readings assigned by professors) and i was going to ask you for some tips, but you already posted this .
    My favorite tip was “Read a lot”, because i noticed I barely read any of the readings that is needed to write the paper, thats why i end up getting a average to low score.

    Funny thing is i got more usefull writing tips by reading this then i ever got in my English courses

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      The key is to read what you love. (as opposed to what they assign you). Then, there are encyclopedias of literary criticism. For almost every book out there there’s some criticism. Fun to read those also. Do you think if I posted my “reading list” it would be useful?

      • Ben S.

        Hi James,
        I’ve been following your blog for a few months now and find it adds a nice perspective from the typical advice I receive as a young professional. I would be very interested in what is on your reading list.

        • http://twitter.com/JackDurg Jack Durgaryan

          Im also interested in your reading list.

  • rrp

    Sanket moved to become head of another company in India a year back (if my guess of which person you are speaking is right)

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      rrp, thanks! I didn’t know that. We were going to try and get together when i was last in india but we missed each other (my fault).

  • http://twitter.com/theninjareview The Ninja

    Hi James, I’m a middle-aged former ninja who now blogs about food from the perspective of a university student. Do you ever find it tough to “write with the voice you talk in” when you’re writing “as” someone else (as is the case with most fiction)?

    Also, props for a list of “how-to-write” tips which actually challenges us to change our habits. Although I prefer sencha to coffee.

  • http://www.facebook.com/vbierschwale Virgil Bierschwale

    Amen…

    The past decade has totally sucked. For everyone. The country has been in post-traumatic stress syndrome since 9/11 and 2008 only made it worse. I’ve gone broke a few times during the decade, had a divorce, lost friendships, and have only survived (barely) by being persistent and knowing I had two kids to take care of, and loneliness to fight. Nobody’s perfect. We’re all trying. Show people how you are trying and struggling. Nobody expects you to be a superhero.

  • Anonymous

    “Don’t ask for permission. In other words, never say “in my opinion” (or worse “IMHO”). We know it’s your opinion. You’re writing it.”

    Yes, but when you say that, you are taking an edge off of the perceived assertiveness from your statement which incidentally does not put the reader in the defensive mood.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      I agree. This rule is made to be broken. BUT, first try every conceivable way to describe something so its A) not overly assertive and B) you still don’t say “in my opinion”. There’s usually a way to do it.

  • Kjp712

    Everyone that aggravates me gets put on a Do not talk To List.The longer the List becomes the more time you have to spend with the good ones.I like good people only.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Thats a good technique.

    • subprime

      until your good list becomes full of cats….

  • Anonymous

    Great ideas here on how to not only improve but good points on creativity too!

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Thats a good point, CB. I haven’t thought about this list in other contexts but I will.

  • Brendapancratz

    I really enjoyed this, though I do not write. Thanks for sharing yourself.

  • Welner

    Lol loved your last line BOOM!

  • http://athenswalker.blogspot.com/ AthensWalker

    The “we only use 5% – 10% – x% of our brain” part is BS. A debunked urban legend.
    Other than that, this is a very useful article. Already saved in my “Writing” folder.

    • Captain Quirk

      I’m reminded of an episode of The Simpsons called “Brother’s Little Helper”. Bart is prescribed “Focusyn” to deal with his ADD, which (of course) changes his personality. While reading “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Pre-Teens”, he says to Lisa, “Did you know most people use 10% of their brains? I am now one of them.”

      • kidvideo

        Lisa was like, “Don’t call me a time burglar”…lol

  • http://athenswalker.blogspot.com/ AthensWalker

    You may translate the last line as “Thanks!” :)

  • Dawn Swann

    Favorited. Another brilliant post. I’m still feeling residual melodrama from the ides of march so i won’t go on and on about how awesome this post is. Unless you want me to. But I could read a whole book of your posts. And I want to. Writing IS spiritual. So to approach the act with ritual is perfect. Thank you for giving us the ritual.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      I agree with you, Dawn. Done right, writing is very much an “opening up”.

  • http://twitter.com/charlotteclark charlotteclark

    Your comment about scrapping the first and last paragraphs is very true. It’s like Orwell said “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.” Journalists should almost always delete their best lines, it stops them being pretentious and makes them report the facts, though I think writers should write to rules then tear the rule-book up. No writer ever got famous by being mediocre.

    Enjoying your blog very much James.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Charlotte, thanks. It reminds me of something Kurt vonnegut once said. Someone asked him about how he got to be so “experimental” and he said, (i’m paraphrasing) “by sticking to the rules of grammar for 20 years”.

  • http://olympiahoops.com olympiahoops

    This was exactly what I needed to read…break the freaking rules! Without hurting anyone of course. This is brilliant. Entertaining and actually useful. My first time reading your blog, but I’ll be back for sure. Thank you.

  • Cat

    Me neither… Monks? Really? They aren’t allowed to touch women and you would have attracted your fair share just by being “farangs”-Westerners. Even worse how do two young farang monks tell the actual Thai women from the “women” who are actually very convincing men? Its probably a good thing that your friend took the acedemic route. Perhaps now that you are older and wiser you should reconsider coming to Thailand… You can write from anywhere, your children could study at an international school with students from all over the world and you could become a guru for all of us expat housewives living in Bangkok trying to figure out what to do with ourselves…What do you say???

  • http://www.ayallen.com Ay Allen

    Nice!

  • Rch8992

    I wish you hadn’t put in that picture of what you look like getting 8 hours of sleep. Very distracting.

  • marn22

    How long it has taken for me to find you.

    • Bert

      My exact thought after I read that. Thanks James, you rule.

  • Allwayselvis

    Sanket didn’t want to go to grad school after we graduated. Lets go to Thailand, he said. We can date Thai women whenever we aren’t begging for food, he said.

    It sounded good to me.

    Now he lives in India and works for Oracle. BOOM

  • Sarahblack5

    My new plan is to: quit the job and sell the truck. When the kid finishes high school in two months, we’re going to take the Greyhound around the country. Meet interesting people and I’m going to write stories about them. They don’t have to know I write gay romance.

    When I get to LA, we’re going to get on a plane to Fiji. My father will be able to track me down, since they have free wi-fi on the bus now, so if it’s okay with you, I’ll send him a link to your blog. We still sometimes speak with references and footnotes.

    The kid and I will be safely out of the country. Brother: the air is warm and sweet out on the lunatic fringe. Your friend, Sarah Black

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      sarah, thanks for this. Keep a photo blog of the people you meet on the Greyhound bus. Maybe ask each of them to make the saddest face they can think of, then the happiest face they can think of. Take pictures of both.

  • Pd1248

    I’ve been attempting to write the same dang “great american novel” for close to 15 years. Now I finally realize what I’ve been doing wrong. I’ve been writing in Raymond Chandlert’s voice, not my own. And when I get blocked, I re-read The Big Sleep for inspiration. Also, I don’t write every day. And I censor myself- afraid of what people might think of me. Even though no one but my significant other reads my writings. Time to make a change. Thank you, James!

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Pd, good luck. Raymond Chandler’s not a bad voice to emulate. But i wonder if there’s a more modern hard-boiled guy that you can balance him with. And, while its good to have an SO to read to, maybe take a break from that for awhile (see my post “I”m Guilty of Torture”):

      http://www.jamesaltucher.com/2011/01/im-guilty-of-torture/

  • http://www.facebook.com/deanna.lenard Deanna Lenard

    Great advice, especially for those of us who have been writing all our lives and still are nowhere closer to our expectations than when we first began. I’m going to have to chew on this one for awhile.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Deanna, what are your expectations. Maybe reverse them for a day and see what happens when you write.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-E-Herrmann/1306721207 Richard E. Herrmann

    Good stuff. But, your last sentence would have boomed! if you had left out “to me.”

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Maybe. But maybe not.

    • myother

      Naw.

  • http://goinswriter.com Jeff Goins

    Great tips!

  • http://twitter.com/tony_kwan Tony Kwan

    Nice! I agree with many of these tips. Especially with “relate to people”… one of the most important things a writer writing on his/her life can learn.

  • http://twitter.com/tony_kwan Tony Kwan

    Nice! I agree with many of these tips. Especially with “relate to people”… one of the most important things a writer writing on his/her life can learn.

  • http://twitter.com/tony_kwan Tony Kwan

    Very nice. I agree with many of these. Especially “relating to people” and “bleed in the first line”… probably two of the most important things a writer writing on his/her life can learn to do.
    Write about how you encountered a problem, suffered, and came out better. All the ingredients of inspiration.

    Thanks for this.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      The bleeding is key.

  • http://twitter.com/tony_kwan Tony Kwan

    Very nice. I agree with many of these. Especially “relating to people” and “bleed in the first line”… probably two of the most important things a writer writing on his/her life can learn to do.
    Write about how you encountered a problem, suffered, and came out better. All the ingredients of inspiration.

    Thanks for this.

  • David12345_smith

    love the advice, especially the sleeping eight hours a day, can it be next to her?

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      I’ll make some calls.

  • David12345_smith

    love the advice, especially the sleeping eight hours a day, can it be next to her?

  • Anonymous

    you are seriously funny in every sense of that word.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      soulflower, thanks so much. I keep thinking I actually want to try standup (i do a lot of public speaking but never with the express purpose of making people laugh) but I’m a bit nervous about it.

      • http://twitter.com/HGhouleh Hussein Ghouleh

        I was actually thinking to do that these days, its always been at the back of my head to try it out, make a fool of my self and see what i can get out of that experience after several tries. “im quite sure i will overcome alot of issues and gain alot of experience especially if i failed in my first 10 times”

  • Anonymous

    you are seriously funny in every sense of that word.

  • Nikki4612

    Thank you. After working for decades at a Fortune 500 where the language of the day is acronyms and new-speak, it is such a pleasure to use actual words. I feel like I have to re-learn English in order to write. I’m going to paste your article on my monitor and hopefully master all of your points some day.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Nikki, congratulations on breaking out of prison. Good luck in your writing.

  • Anonymous

    Shock and fluff. Too much brain juice wasted on metaphysic flimflam.

  • Anonymous

    Although I like the picture of the girl.

  • dylanmrkich

    I like and agree with the “no semicolon” rule it reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut.

    “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

    Kurt Vonnegut, A Man without a Country

  • Nynaeve

    Love it but we actually use all of our brain (urban legend that we only use part).

    But still – great tips!!!

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      I can assure you I only use 5% of my brain. But I’m trying to improve.

      • Tweet kay

        LMFAO!

    • Rod Schmidt

      We only use a certain percentage of our lung capacity. How do I know? If we work at breathing, capacity increases.

      A piano player only uses 4% of the piano’s keys at any one time. But what would it sound like if you hit ALL the keys?

  • http://markfrisk.com Mark Frisk

    Love these tips.

    And I had to laugh at the advice to use “said.” I was a literary agent for 10 years back in the day, and I must’ve given that tip hundreds of times over the years. Easily in my personal Top 10 suggestions for authors of fiction. It’s amazing what people would come up with: “he exclaimed … postulated … queried … ventured … differed … dithered … stammered … stumbled … exploded” … and, yes, “bellowed.” Definitely saw that one quite a bit.

    You’re right that readers will figure things out. And if you’re handling the dialogue deftly, you can drop many of the attributions altogether, and just drop in an occasional “she said” indicator to keep readers on track.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      I agree. Its amazing what you can leave out of dialogue and people still figure it out. No quotes. no “she said”, etc.Sometimes you don’t have to leave the paragraph. Its crazy how quickly we can throw out everything we’ve learned in school when it comes to real communication.

    • Rod Schmidt

      In Japanese, (sometimes) they merely use the name of the speaker followed immediately by the words spoken (in quotation marks). The reader figures out the “said” part.

  • Tomislav Lukinić

    Almost a perfect article.
    It would be perfect if you added one more tip at the end, to round everything up and make the article seem like it was written with consideration to the things that are written in it (and, obviously, adorn it with a nice and inspirational cognitive paradox on the side). That tip would be something like “Don’t use writing tips you find on the internet.”

    :)

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Ha. Well, I think my last line did say that. But without saying it directly.

  • http://www.teemaree.com Teemaree

    Love this. Thank you.

  • http://twitter.com/huynhtho Huynh Tho

    Why don’t you drink Coke instead of Coffee?

    • http://profiles.google.com/jayboeser Jerry Boeser

      Coke adds life, wherever there isn’t any. It’s a Clash thing ;)

    • http://profiles.google.com/jayboeser Jerry Boeser

      Coke adds life, wherever there isn’t any. It’s a Clash thing ;)

    • http://profiles.google.com/jayboeser Jerry Boeser

      Coke adds life, wherever there isn’t any. It’s a Clash thing ;)

    • http://profiles.google.com/jayboeser Jerry Boeser

      Coke adds life, wherever there isn’t any. It’s a Clash thing ;)

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      3 sugars versus 16 sugars.

    • Lezlee

      Coke is sooooooooo very bad for you!  Do you know it can clean a car engine?!  If it can do that what on earth is it doing to your insides….!! 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Barrie-Abalard/100001657751898 Barrie Abalard

    I’d add one more, James, as a writer who’s been there:

    Write what you want to write–not what you think will sell. Not only will your work suffer if you’re writing something only because you think you can sell it, the market can change faster than you can write. Write what you love. Tell your own stories and no one else’s.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Barrie, it was like a religious experience for me to make that transformation in late October / Early November. You are dead on.

  • the plumber

    james, mostly write jokes,,,,,your rules apply ,,,,now if i only knew how to read,,,sigh,,,,,,

  • Nassim

    She has taken your advice and you are cheating. You are writing in the other room and she is getting the 8 hours. Too many coffees?

    • http://www.facebook.com/james.altucher James Altucher

      I need to drink less coffee.

  • Kdbitprofesisonal004

    James you rock, I have a story waiting to get posted on amazon right now and I have many that I am going to set up as .99 quick advice tips. Thank you for your inspiration. You have helped me get out of my job seeking doldrums with inspiration and motivation.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Send me the link. Or better, post it here!!

  • http://twitter.com/RobVis Rob Visser robpro.nl

    Some tips are quite good and funny, like reading before writing (i shoul try that) and having coffee (i do). In the mean time i consider ‘in my opinion’ not a form of asking permission, but a way to distinguish facts from interpretation. “In my opinion” ;-) this is a brief (readable) and sound way to tell a reader that i can understand he of she has another opinion and by that stimulate that my reader is still willing to know what else i want to tell.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      I just always wonder if there’s a better way to express something so its clear its your opinion. But sometimes maybe not.

  • Shifafire

    Final rule: There are no rules.

    • http://www.facebook.com/james.altucher James Altucher

      Except thats a cliche. Need to eat a healthy meal first before you get to dip into the desserts.

    • http://www.facebook.com/james.altucher James Altucher

      Except thats a cliche. Need to eat a healthy meal first before you get to dip into the desserts.

      • http://twitter.com/HGhouleh Hussein Ghouleh

        nothing like good quality fresh fruits to do that, and the more you try to cook by your self with a bit of creativity from your surroundings. i believe is a cure to a lot of financial as well as creativity issues to help more in writing…”but that’s just me” ;-)

  • Shifafire

    Final rule: There are no rules.

  • Cyn

    Write every day to get out the toxins. Love it. Thanks for another decent read!

  • Hussein alghouleh

    I believe it is very important as well to read the comments of your articles for feedback’s… :-)

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      agreed

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gene-Byrne/1571270703 Gene Byrne

    Writers take heed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gene-Byrne/1571270703 Gene Byrne

    Not usually found in writers manuals. But funny and makes you think.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gene-Byrne/1571270703 Gene Byrne

    Not found in most writers manuals. But funny andpenetrating the mind.

  • Reba

    I LOVE YOUR BLOG!! I get several newsletters and blogs (I think I am addicted) and yours is one of the few I actually read everyday. It is very entertaining and sometimes informative and also makes the point that it is possible to make mistakes and still be very successful.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      I love making a new addict.

      And yes, part of my goal is to help get rid of the myth that success and perfection go hand in hand. Its often the opposite. Madoff had a perfect record until…he didn’t.

      Most people are afraid to be honest in both their personal and professional lives because they are afraid of the repercussions. My goal is to show that after the initial repercussions come and go, its often the easiest way to success afterwards.

      • B Ben

        Nice!

        * Do success and perfection go hand in hand?
        * Perfection is what we aim at when our actions are not anchored in our care story.
        * Perfection is what we do when we don’t know our care story.
        * The way we’ve mastered aiming at perfection is a setup for imperfection to occur.
        * When we know our care story and are acting on it, perfection holds little sway as taking care is paramount.
        * Our education system is continually measuring for perfection and eventually that measurement system becomes mistaken for our care story and this has many unhappy endings.

        Uncoupling success from perfection:
        Name 33 ways you aim at perfection?
        Name 33 things you really really care about?
        Name what is the unifying fundamental care to the 33 things you really really care about?
        Name 33 ways you can act on that fundamental care?
        Name 33 reasons why you could have conversations about your fundamental care?
        Name 33 people you should have a conversation with about your fundamental care?
        In the next 33 days have as many of those 33 conversations as you can and see what happens!

  • Reba

    I LOVE YOUR BLOG!! I get several newsletters and blogs (I think I am addicted) and yours is one of the few I actually read everyday. It is very entertaining and sometimes informative and also makes the point that it is possible to make mistakes and still be very successful.

  • Reba

    I LOVE YOUR BLOG!! I get several newsletters and blogs (I think I am addicted) and yours is one of the few I actually read everyday. It is very entertaining and sometimes informative and also makes the point that it is possible to make mistakes and still be very successful.

  • zacharygrove.wordpress.com

    FINALLY, SOMEBODY ELSE NOTICED THE KEY TO HUMAN CREATIVITY:

    Take a huge bowel movement every day. And you won’t see that on any other list on how to be a better writer. If your body doesn’t flow then your brain won’t flow. Eat more fruit if you have to.

    • http://twitter.com/RecoveryTapping JP Bailey

      Eat more fruit if you have to
      go.

      Then at least it rhymes.  The brain likes and remembers rhymes.
      Many, many times.

    • Rod Schmidt

      “The most overrated of human pleasures is sexual intercourse ; the most underrated, defecation.” -Mark Twain

  • OldEsq.

     An attorney for over 20 years, I routinely fall back on the “crutch” that is “legalese”. Your writing style is much more persuasive as it allows the reader to make his/her own logical conclusion as to the “right outcome”, rather than “this is the correct answer because I say so”. Don’t know if an old dog can learn new tricks but I found your story to be the type of treat that may just cause me to try. Thanks.

    P.S. Feel free to delete the first and last sentences if you see fit…..

  • Anonymous

    Great stuff, and as all ready noted. the photo supporting 8 hours of sleep was distracting. But in a good way. 

  • latexsolarbeef

    There is one tip, and one tip only, that writers should adopt from anyone offering tips on writing: don’t read them. Reason: if you feel you need “tips” on writing, then I’m very sorry to inform you that you are not a writer in the first place. Go back to school. 

    • http://www.raptitude.com David Cain

      Oh please.

      Link us to something of yours.

    • Anonymous

      Haha, I see what you did there.  You offered a tip.  Therefore, I take your advice by disregarding you.

      Anyways, as the title says, these are tips on being a BETTER writer. Stupid is thinking you know everything already, and there’s absolutely NOTHING more you could ever possibly learn.

    • Sjgcrouch

      Aren’t you just getting a series of expensive “tips” by attending school? At least Altshuler’s are free!! (minus the amortized cost of the laptop, Internet connection, the electricity used and the apportioned cost of the covered structure where one is reading his “tips” )

      • Rod Schmidt

        ya, don’t go back to school. get a notebook and pen, and find a nice shady tree.

  • Df

    To those quibbling with James’ thoughts on good writing, please keep in mind that this entire post is fairly obviously bracketed with YMMV tags.  Hell, he even (rightly) says that it’s useless to note “In my opinion” because it’s so obvious that one’s writing expresses one’s own opinion.  Many great writers flout many of these rules.  David Foster Wallace (name-checked (again, rightly) as a phenomenal literary genius in this very post) used elephantine sentence construction to great effect, flouting James’ suggestion that short, declarative sentences are best.  With this and all blog posts, the goal should be to read critically and take away what’s useful so that one is better for having read it, not to ferret out and pick at trivial points of disagreement.

    James’ post is animated to a great extent by the idea that we should write with generosity of spirit.  I think we should read with that same generosity of spirit as well.

  • Lezlee

    Interesting read and very timely for me  ~  I just saved another article on publishing though only very briefly scanned it so far.  It doesn’t put it quite like you do though and gives hints and tips on getting published, you know, the ‘old fashioned way.’  Self-publishing has come up before so maybe something I ought to look into….. 
    Love the bit on being honest.  I deliver honesty in my workshops and a friend who came to one didn’t think it was quite right for me to do so.  To me it’s important that your audience know/can see and understand that you are writing/talking from experience.  Nothing worse than feeling like you’re being dictated to by someone who has no (personal) idea what they are on about!
    Looking forward to reading your book and many thanks for making it a free download :o)

  • http://twitter.com/WhatSamSawToday Sam Collett

    Fab list – ensuring you write everyday is key for me.  

    Also, it’s good to write and not read it back straight away – give yourself a few days to recover and then go back, read it and see if it’s still any good!

    • Anonymous

      Why waist time. What are you afraid of?

  • Abdullah Tayyab

    Perfectly written. And the comments too! Loved it!

  • Abdullah Tayyab

    Perfectly written. And the comments too! Loved it!

  • SueMC

    Genius.  Every time I read another of your post’s I’m more impressed with you.  

    My husband and I work together giving harassment/discrimination training in corporations.  Our weak spot has always been our opening.  There must be a million funny things we could say about this topic, but we decided against making our trainees laugh about a subject company’s take so seriously.  Your post changed our minds and we’ve already come up with a great new opener.  Thank you!  Will let you know how it goes over.

  • SueMC

    Genius.  Every time I read another of your post’s I’m more impressed with you.  

    My husband and I work together giving harassment/discrimination training in corporations.  Our weak spot has always been our opening.  There must be a million funny things we could say about this topic, but we decided against making our trainees laugh about a subject company’s take so seriously.  Your post changed our minds and we’ve already come up with a great new opener.  Thank you!  Will let you know how it goes over.

  • Hello

    This can be used to write songs too!

  • Dss89

    My writing greatly improved by posting on facebook. They only let you use 420 characters, and they tell you how many you need to subtract when you go over the limit. My posts are always sharper and clearer when I doctor their length up.

  • Dss89

    My writing greatly improved by posting on facebook. They only let you use 420 characters, and they tell you how many you need to subtract when you go over the limit. My posts are always sharper and clearer when I doctor their length up.

  • Crashkdw

    Well, James, I’ve been following your daily practice. I’m coming up with lots of ideas and I’m trying to share them with everyone I thing they might help. So here are a few I have on writing.

    FYI, I was a writer and editor of a major national news website and magazine for 11 years, and currently write newsletters, books and reports in the health and wellness field, in case anyone is wondering “Who the *#*%^ is this guy?”

    1. Read a lot  – I know, James said this, but don’t do it just to read. Get a sense of how other people use language when they write. Juxtapose how you hear your own words in your own head with how you hear someone else’s. The contrast will give you a better sense of your own voice.

    2. Find a poet who writes with a cadence you identify with – My favorite is Richard Wilbur, especially his poem “The Beautiful Changes” which I think is the most beautiful thing ever written in the English language. But that’s me. Now you choose…

    3. Make it half as long – In the movie “A River Runs Through It,” Tom Skerrit’s character teaches his future-reporter son Brad Pitt to write with brevity and focus. He gives him an assignment, corrects it, and sends little Brad back upstairs to repeatedly make what he wrote “half as long.” Until a whole page became one sentence. Good practice. Helps you learn to self-edit.

    4. Be specific – Vague stinks. Use the boring down technique. It’s not a gun, it’s a revolver. It’s not a revolver, it’s a Smith and Wesson revolver. It’s a pearl handled S&W revolver, It’s a loaded, pearl handled S&W revolver. Etc.

    5. Let them eat the cake – Don’t force the reader to eat gruel. They want yummy. I read a quote once: “When I eat chocolate cake, 20 minutes later I’m under
    my desk wanting to die. When I eat broccoli, in 20 minutes I feel good. But
    given the choice I always eat the cake.”

    6. If you have to write “in other words” to explain something you just wrote, delete what you just wrote, and the “in other words,” and leave what’s left.

    7. Show, don’t tell – Say strong things, but let the reader draw the conclusion, and feel the emotion. Be outraged, but don’t write “I’m outraged.”

    8. Be responsible. You can’t say something like “Most people are depressed.” It’s not true, and people will think you’re accusing them of being something they’re not. Say something like, “A
    surprising number of people walk around each day unhappy and stressed,
    completely unaware of the potentially serious damage that is being done to
    their bodies.”

    9. Avoid the words “just” and “actually.” Oh, and also, “believe it or not.”

    10. Be simple – Find your writing’s readability index. More than 7.5 and no one is going to get what you are writing.
    http://www.standards-schmandards.com/exhibits/rix/index.php

    11. Numbers and facts are not intriguing – They’re confusing and people gloss over them.

    12. Start in the middle of the action – I know, stories are supposed to have beginnings, middles and ends. Blah blah blah. Throw the reader in the fire with you right from the beginning.

    13. Don’t even use “said” at all – Use your descriptive powers and the conversation or action to tell the reader who is talking, if you even need to. 

    I can come up with more if everybody wants… but I like 13. If you’re going to use a number, use a weird one and not a round one. Odd numbers are intriguing. Happy writing!

    • Nigel j Watson

      I have a unique ( others say, idiosyncratic), auto-didactic literary style. Not that I want to use James’ Comments section as a hook-up station, but I have no other way of doing this: would you be interested in vetting a sample of my style? Of the 3 samples I pasted into standard-schmandard (love the name!), they required grade levels of 9, 15 & 17(LOL – I’m a 10th grade drop-out). The ease of reading ranked all 3 below 40.
       
      I deal with complex subjects, but I’d love to make my thoughts more accessible to a less literate audience. My blog is: http://orbizenmemo.blogspot.com/

      Thanks

      James, you and I share similar POVs. You’re on the right track. Nice site.

      • Crashkdw

        I’m assuming you mean see if I can suggest ways to get the reading ease score up and the grade level down? Sure, no problem. Do you have a link where I could find the writing?

        • Nigel j Watson

          Thanks, I should have been clearer.

          My blog URL is In my second paragraph. If it doesn’t show I can send you an e-mail. My blog URL is in my signature.

    • Sunflowers

      Great tips. It was worth reading James’ article to get them. 

    • danny greer

      Thanks for sharing!  Both of these lists contain fantastic “rules to write by.”

    • Nate

      This is the best comment I have ever read on the internet.

  • Brad

    On the topic of don’ts, a close runner-up to “IMHO” is closing a blog comment with “Hope this helps.”
    (no, you really hope they think you’re a genius). 

    Delete the first and last sentence, except if your last sentence is “Hope this helps.”, then delete the last two sentences.

    • Nigel Watson

      I just received a comment from you, but it may have been misdirected. I have no idea why I received this from you, though I did leave a message for someone in this thread earlier on.
      Just letting you know in case it didn’t get to the intended party.

  • Tir Na Nog

    I found most of the advice very useful. Only the bowel movement one I didn’t agree with. I rather daydream about a story. Turns a “shitty” experience into something enjoyable … Thank you though. I have been struggling for some time with getting whats in my head out. Hopefully now I can better share my insanity.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_U2G6L6LFHAZOSWWTIDOX2DCOP4 Russell Taylor

    You may or may not want to learn NLP James… Im wondering if you will go further than this comment and research it, or not.

  • http://isomorphismes.tumblr.com isomorphisms

    James, you’re a good writer, but this is not unusual advice. I learn more from reading your other articles than this one.

  • http://www.chrisfharvey.com Chris F. Harvey

    Love love LOVE “Bleed in the first line.”  Gold.

  • Anonymous

    Love it! I’m still learning to write in my own voice. Funnily enough – Twitter is helping me get there! 

  • Anonymous

    Hi James,
    I really like the  part about “Being Funny” and “write in the same voice..”, actually I liked a couple more of them too but it was too long to put in here.

    I inadvertently started on my blogger journey because I needed to put some discipline into my trading life. All of a sudden I now have a blog to tend and feed. And I am starting to have ideas for another one. 

    What I really get from this article is that it really is OK to be yourself online.This is going to be one of those articles where I will be printing out as part of my “Cliff Notes” for blogging.

    Thanks for these really awesome words!!

    Meng

  • Princess Pissant

    Thank you for all the sound advice.  My creativity surely would derive a boost if I could get coffee like THAT at the Office.  Princess P.

    http://princesspissant-anotherdayattheoffice.blogspot.com/

  • http://www.zahndrew.com Andrew Zahn

    I like to write. I like to read. I like this article. Good advice.

    I. Thank. You.

  • http://www.newcreativeyou.com Pedja

    Ha, ha, ha…Honest, witty, different and, above
    all, extremely useful! I really enjoyed reading it.

    I already use some of your tips but I am
    looking forward to trying them all.

    Thank you for the post,

    Pedja

    http://www.newcreativeyou.com

  • Dickur

    You are a loser

  • http://benjaminlang.com Ben Lang

    Awesome tips.

  • Paracelsus

    A lot of these seem like ‘post-Twitter’ ideas… are you talking about really being a better writer, or writing better Google +1 Blog Articles? I mean, ‘Last line needs to BOOM’, ‘Use a lot of periods’? My highly uneducated literary senses cringe at some of this advice. 

    Crashkdw’s advice, however, is excellent.

  • http://twitter.com/VenusLuvs Venus Luvs

    I loved what you wrote here. The tips are great and useful. Thank you!

  • Karyl

    Hey!  I enjoyed this.  Very unique tips.  Thanks!

  • http://thefaeryinn.wordpress.com/ Tiff

    This is me, taking your post to heart. Thank you.

  • http://vanillamom.wordpress.com/ nilla

    This post …yeah…and perhaps even…hell yeah! I do several of these things (talk with my own voice…sleep on posts…short sentences, end with a BOOM…)

    I’ll think more on this, because it sounds like good advice. (if it sounds too good to be true, is it? LOL!)

    i write an adult blog. yes, of course i’m an adult, i mean one of “those” blogs. It’s primarily fiction so some of your thoughts are irrelevant as pertains to my stuff…but…there is food for thought here, and i’m hungry to hone my craft.

    so…thanks.

    nilla

    vanillamom.wordpress.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/daugauh.smumurr Daugauh Smumurr

    Now I’ll use that pattern, start with firs paragraph opened, and the last paragraph.. BOOM!
    Thanks James!

  • Mr Pilot

    try to use your advice on writing :) thank for the advice. Currently i’m writing about travel. Would like to know your feedback. thank you

    my blog http://senangtravel.blogspot.com

  • David Liao

    What

  • http://twitter.com/AikenWS Lindsay Aiken

    Awesome advice!

  • Ksheriffdeen

    Very Interesting article. I m glad I read this though I m not a writer but planning on writing a ebook. Thank you James. Oh by the way, Can I copy and paste it on my blog with due credit of course. its http://www.deensblog.com

  • http://huffygirl.wordpress.com Huffygirl

    I read this and went back and reworked a lackluster post I was working on. Much better, I hope, after reading your suggestions. See for yourself if you like – it will appear on my blog on 11-16-11. http://huffygirl.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/huffy-goes-digital/

  • Joanna Aislinn

    Loved these! Think I’ll add this to a collection of must-read blogs to share! Thanks

  • Reeg11

    Do you edit your articles? I’ve read a few now and have a tip. Know how to use these properly:

    Then vs. Than. You’re, your. There, Their, They’re. It’s, its, its’. And at least a few more I saw.

    • Reeg11

      Affect vs Effect and the like also.

  • Sudam Panigrahi

    Good.

  • Maren

    I attended a Blue Pencil Cafe yesterday to ask advice on a piece I’m writing. The guy (who is published which is my goal) said to cut the first two paragraphs! Thanks for these tips. I’m going to read now.

  • http://twitter.com/sarah_ariff_58 Sarah Ariff

    These are very valuable tips for a beginner like me. Thanks!

  • http://www.cafe23.me/ Soojung 23

    Love this post, especially the stuff about honesty. Also being able to make fun of yourself, which relates to making yourself as ugly as possible. People relate to that and appreciate the honesty and humour that go along with it :)

  • Elizabeth Govindaraj

    That’s fanastic advise, thank you for that. Most of the advise I have read, hasn’t been as honest. I have just started a blog on google, which I’m using for writing practise. Not much there yet, but by the grace of god,it  will grow. Any advise you would like to throw my way, would be fabulous. Libby

  • http://www.facebook.com/nellibell49 Lynne Sanders-Braithwaite

    Thanks Altucher. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Granny-Good-Food/100001230502119 Granny Good-Food

    You had me at “bowel movement.” Best way to make sure you don’t have a crappy day.

  • Heather

    Okay, this is my second article of yours and I am really digging it. Cannot wait to read through this article later. I have been writing since I was a kid and have really struggled with it since I had a kid (11 years ago). I still write, mostly poetry, anonymously, and I could use some practical advice like this to get back to my passion. I really want to come out of my secret world to link my face with the words of my heart. Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Mark.L.Carson Mark Carson

    I noticed that proof reading and spell checking are not in the list of tips. Guess they don’t matter much.

    • Eric

      They aren’t unusual tips I suppose.

    • http://danmar.posterous.com/ jmdanmar

      If they did we’d likely have 90% fewer blogs.

  • Anonymous

    Awesome advice, thanks.   

    Literacy is almost a lost art in this country.     The mom and pop coffee shop down the street has a big sign up that says “January special:  Peppermint latte’s at half price.”      

    I know the guy has a business to run and that grammar is probably not his strong suit.    But I figure that if he can’t be bothered to figure out how to use an apostrophe properly, he probably can’t be trusted to mix milk, coffee, and some syrupy peppermint goop together to make a hot beverage that actually tastes good.  

    Yeah, I’m a grammar bigot.   Sue me.   :)

  • http://www.owenmarcus.com Owen Marcus

    I like it. Growing up with dyslexia I could never do it the ‘right way’. I’m still not, but that’s another story.

    The only reason I graduated Senior English and high school was the young teacher had compassion. It was blogging that’s teaching me to write. I’m on my second book – something I never would have imagined.

    I didn’t believe practicing writing could get me any place, but it did.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jaipi-Sixbear/1681271793 Jaipi Sixbear

    great ideas!

  • http://profiles.google.com/stonerosedesign Randy Zeitman

    Very useful.

  • http://jacxu.com/ Jac Xu

    Particular agree with the coffee tips!!!

  • Fiona Stolze

    You’ve really got me fired up and inspired to get my first book written. Dammit, it’s time! :-)

  • http://twitter.com/AtticusUncensor Atticus Uncensored

    Fantastic tips (and funny too!).  I will certainly take these to heart, esp. “use a lot of periods”. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/danruss802 Dan Russell

    I love the irony of #2.

  • James

    “Write whatever you want. Then take out the first paragraph and last paragraph”
    “Bleed in the first line”
    “The last line needs to go BOOM!”

    Important to apply these in the correct order!

  • Nikki

    You are my new favorite.

  • Pradomsky

    I do a lot of historical reading…first person accounts and stuff. The Mrs. and I went to Antietam and were blown away by the writings of the common soldier. The vividness and the descriptive nature of the writing. I think our sense have become so dulled by the sensory overload television, radio, and computers have given us we have lost the art of quality writing. I know this sounds crazy but sometimes listening to the baseball game on the radio helps me visualize the game better and translates into more vivid writing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Walt-Morton/551132779 Walt Morton

    Like it. Especially the bowel movement.

  • http://myselfandpotter.blogspot.com/ VideoKilledSeverusSnape

    Oh thanks a lot for this! I think this might actually work! :)

  • almostsaneat50

    Hey James, I’m new to this but I really like your 33 comments about writing.  Fantastic!

  • Jake Ellison

    James, your writing and your voice have been incredibly inspirational for me. I’ve enjoyed so many of your posts I can’t list them all here. I enjoy the way you think and how you express that through your writing. Thank you for being an honest voice, I need that. I look forward to reading more and more of you and continuing to be inspired.

  • Mineaux

    thank you for your advice,it was very helpful.:)

  • http://www.makemoneyinlife.com James W

    What happened to you?
    Well you’re famous now, great writing James.
    All best from Europe :)

  • http://www.billkasal.com/ Bill Kasal

    Thank.  You.  James.

  • http://kenid.myopenid.com/ ken

    This is interesting again.  I like this.

  • http://danmar.posterous.com/ jmdanmar

    “And as for me, I don’t know what the hell happened to me.”

    Didn’t you become a rich guy?  :-)

  • http://danmar.posterous.com/ jmdanmar

     I just did a Google search for “waiter’s pad” and your blog “How a waiter’s pad saved my life” came up third. Now that’s impressive.:-)

  • http://danmar.posterous.com/ jmdanmar

    “Risk” – I’m thinking it’s probably easier for you than it is for many of us to do that. You have no one to answer to except yourself (and possibly your mother!). Even though many here appear to be self-employed many others (most?) probably have bosses they don’t want to piss-off or even want their radar activated. Most people don’t want to hear the truth. They often can’t deal with it. I said what I thought all my life and ended up being systematically punished for it. I could have had a much more rewarding career had I done a better job of toeing the line and kissing ass. Or maybe learning how to piss-off people while making them like it!  I would be in a better position to help the economy today.  :-)

    BTW, if this were true: “Nobody wants to read that you are beautiful and doing great in life.” women wouldn’t have so many magazines to read and TV shows to watch.

  • http://twitter.com/littlemissdhee Dhee’ Andhika Krones

    thanks God i found your article about it. I’m having a writer’s block lately and everytime  i want to write a book, my mind goes blank…

    i’ll try your tips, I think you’re really rite about it :D

  • Ona

    Bookmarked.

  • My superman

    hi james i want to start my story by writing here..i hope you have to time to read my story…it was never happen to me but i want that to happen…

  • vb2010

    Thank you James, It’s very interesting again.
    book editor

  • gconn190

    My iq just doubled. You have opened my brain up! tks.

  • Mary Ryan

    Thanks for the hot tips. I’m trying to write shorter sentences.
    I love honest writing.
    http://thebeautywithinit.blogspot.com.au/

  • http://www.mjsielerjr.com/ Michael J. Sieler Jr.

    Good. Tips. Thanks.

  • eileener

    100 rejection letters isn’t that many. I weighed mine–2.5 pounds, not including the ones via email. For these efforts, I’ve had five short stories published and got an agent for my novel.

  • vidasioson

    And so I finally find writing tips that I might actually do! Terrific insights sir.

  • PatrickLoh

    fantastic tips. thanks for sharing….

  • a girl

    Thanks :) so informative.

  • Kevin Redick

    Thanks for the writing tips.

  • Badri

    James, You can add “Take a shower when you are stuck”. Nothing invigorates better than a contact with the nature’s elements (Dont take a fire bath, though!)

    • Rod Schmidt

      Many people have their best ideas in the shower.

      So Woody Allen took several showers a day.

  • Sandra

    thnx

  • lizzieanne1978

    This just blew my mind!

    I want to make this into a poster now.

  • http://twitter.com/BarbaraBurke189 Barbara Burke

    I love the article! Thanks for sharing. I’ve discovered some great tips I wasn’t even aware of, like to write if you’re upset (or any other feelings, really), and the one about bleeding in the first line. great tip, I should use it in my next article. I’d like to add one tip: use tools for writer. It will ease your writing routine.

  • http://www.greig.cc/ James Greig

    Immediate thought: I’d love to see how one of your articles takes shape from inception to publication. Let’s say you created a public Google document with a bunch of headlines on it, and we could go back through the document history to see how you then fleshed it out, edited, re-edited…

  • AB

    Thank you for “take out every other sentence!”

  • David Zugnoni

    Short sentences ARE good! And high school English teachers regularly teach kids otherwise. They reward long-winded writing. It’s nuts. I wrote about it in this blog post: http://bit.ly/105L9X3. Sorry for the shamelessness. Keep up the good work!

  • A master student of life

    thank you. inspiring and valuable.

  • Genevieve Hawkins

    Good advice though I’m not sure if I agree with reading something every day or reading something right before you write. I find the voice of the writer bleeds into whatever I’m writing so usually I need a few days away from other people’s voices for it to truely be my own recycled end product. Never would have tied the bowels to proper writing very Eastern thought!
    I’m in Thailand, btw. Trying to make a visa for my Thai husband and baby to come to America with me…it seems that is not anyone’s area of expertise so I guess I’ll make it my own. I thought the monks here were supposed to be celibate then again maybe they wouldn’t care if you’re farang (westerner).
    I’m thinking of starting my own blog but have never written in the medium before…not even sure where to begin. Any advice out there for that?

  • Jeff Kahuthu

    i love your shit! #O2

  • Virginia from Australia

    Inspiring. Thank you James. Love your work.

  • http://www.myglitteranddoom.blogspot.com/ nova

    I love this! Excellent advice, for real. More periods. Check.

  • Brian

    Holy Shit! 1995 was 18 years ago?

  • BMX Freestyle Bikes

    Most writers regard the truth as their most valuable possession, and therefore are most economical in its use.
    BMX Freestyle Bikes

  • Anthoney

    Great post, roll on
    the series.Mathews
    bows

  • Alice Kouzmenko

    This was an amazing list, it was so original and there are so many great tips I never would have thought of. Thank you:)

    http://www.alicekouzmenkowriting.blogspot.com

  • Cardinal Charles Ng

    The best advice is write every day.

  • http://perrypuzzles.com/ photograph puzzles

    Quite impressive …

  • Breanna

    Finally… someone writes an article giving advice to writers that was actually word reading! I have a page that I have managed to save since elementary school titled “Synonyms for Said,” so I have been brainwashed over the years of it popping up. Now that I think about it, said sounds better; improves the flow. Leaving out punctuation on things people say bothers me though; its as though they are murmuring.

  • Breanna

    ehem… *worth reading

  • http://www.topbritishessays.com/ british best essays

    Those are really unusual and any people are surely ignoring those kind of techniques that they didn’t even know. It’s good that you reveal all of those and I hope that it’s surely working.

  • Dubem Menakaya

    This was hilarious and informative – pure Altucherism (or should it be Altucheristic style hmm you can have both ;) ) Definitely going to be using these tips to edit my articles!

  • Christopher Zenner

    Better believe this one got clipped to Evernote. You probably ought to charge for this advice, James. Hello from a new fan!

  • http://aboutlifting.com/ Ironthumb

    ” Now he lives in India and works for Oracle”
    -well at least he serves an “Oracle” – close enough to being a monk.
    I really love this article by the way.

  • Alex

    You’ve pinpointed the lot here. Writing is all about setting and breaking boundaries, especially when it is creative pieces.
    In the past I’ve been guilty of writing stories to shock the audience. Having enjoyed writers like Allen Ginsberg and William S Burroughs I’ve attempted to mirror their obscenities. This has worked for me as a way of tuning my style, but I fell into the trap of trying to be someone else.
    I’ve also always liked the atmosphere creative by horror fiction, but more as comedy than an infliction of my brain (I hope).

    As for more straightforward tips I definitely give a thumbs up for your advice on titles, punctuation and endings. Both the very first and very last words the reader sees should draw them in. A weak title gives little chance for interest, and a weak ending hinders future audience.

    I also believe there should be a good balance when it comes to being in any way offensive. Promoting personal belief and religion shouldn’t become your main goal for writing, but at the same time one shouldn’t be frightened to poke gently at the subject. It’s more about tone and choice of phrasing, and it’s important not to seclude yourself from a certain type of reader.

    Another way to look at it is that writing is like meeting a group of strangers – The first thing you say should sound interesting, you should try not to offend EVERYONE, keep your input snappy and to the point, try to remain interesting throughout and make sure the last thing you say makes you worth meeting again!

    Final thought – no coffee for me as it makes me twitchy and clumsy. Make mine a cup of tea with a biscuit – stat!

  • http://MatthewNeer.com MatthewNeer

    Super cool post yo! really dugg your style! :)

  • http://www.eknowwaytions.com/ Sascha

    I hate you!

    That’s probably the firts “x amount of tips…” post that kept me reading until the end. Now I have to come back here more often and can’t apply the “how to posts suck” rule anymore.

    Damn you !

  • Dave Brett

    Thank you, sound advice!

  • http://www.about.me/nninoss Ninos Youkhana

    I love this…So good and funny!

  • Michelle Brown

    Word.

  • The Truth

    Wanker. Fucking monkfish. Will fail at all possible *orginal* thoughts. Plastic. mr Phoney, narcisstic wanker.

  • Vice-Queen Maria

    Great advice but I will beg to differ on the short sentences. Here’s why:

    I posted this on another thread on why you should use more than just short sentences … but worth repeating here:

    Unfortunately, the internet has allowed us to communicate with millions of other across the globe, but we’ve lost all sense of prosody — the art of making writing “musical” through punctuation and pauses. If you write something using all short sentences it would be like listening to a snare drum go “pa pa pa” with the same constant rhythm and this *does* impact the way a reader responds intuitively as he/she reads it in her mind. It would be mind-numbing if you read all short sentences out loud, wouldn’t it? Whereas commas and semicolons allow us to “compose” writing that is more fluid. A combination of everything is ideal. Anyway, one thing I recommend to folks is to read your stuff out loud. Writing that flows with short and long sentences has greater impact rhetorically, unless, of course, you want to purposefully use short sentences exclusively for a particular effect.

    The other problem with blogging these days is that we’ve resorted to lists instead of paragraphs. Lists are great for some purposes but they’re also a very lazy way to get a point across without actually constructing a paragraph. Lists do not constitute a properly written piece but they’re fine for sharing links etc;

  • http://www.TheWriterMoIbrahim.com/ Mo Ibrahim

    8 hours of sleep?! That’s way too much. Why do you need coffee? Otherwise, it was insightful. Thanks for the post.

    • Andy

      For me 8 hours is a must.

  • Katina Vaselopulos

    Amazing! Have worked with many of your ideas. I need to work on a few more! Thank you, James!

  • Dolly Selanik

    This is excellent advice. given in a succinct form. You would have to get this from reading an entire book by some other “experts”

  • http://www.essayholic.com/ essay service

    Those are really important to be followed. All of the tips and guidelines were actually true and must be applied if you really wanted to become a good writer. You will only need to exert more effort in improving your self discipline.

  • zzzzz

    NEVER use “said” it is dull and boring and carries no real content to it. in my writing i have often omitted said entirely and just put the words in quote marks with some careful positioning relative to the rest of the sentence.

  • zzzzz

    otherwise good article

  • TrixRabbit

    James,

    After reading “Choose Yourself”, I felt inspired to do something that I have pondered for the past 10 years or so.

    There is a trilogy of books written by Spanish author, Gonzalo Torrente Ballester. They, as yet, have been translated to English. I want to do this as my Spanish skills are quite good and it is a compelling story to tell.

    These books were published between 1957 to 1961. The question is that if this is feasible to publish on Amazon, should I to first acquire permission from the author’s estate or agent?

    Thanks.

  • Jon

    YOU, my friend, are absolutely brilliant.
    And I just thought you should know that.
    Been reading countless articles on your blog for hours now.

    I’m absolutely hooked. And inspired. Thank you for this. Seriously.

  • Brian O’ Driscoll

    This is a really good article. I’ve learnt a lot. I write poetry, something I never believed I could like, and I don’t like all of it. This was refreshing and exciting. As I sell a lot of personalised poetry over here in Ireland, these kind of articles prove all the more important with time. Seems you’re learning all the time. Gonna use you as a springboard here James. Cheers for writing, will be back and added you on twitter :)
    http://www.poetart.ie

  • WEHPE

    This is the funniest and best writing advice i’ve ever read. Thanks.-

  • http://topreview4you.com/ paper writing services scams

    These tips is really wonderful to use especially that it can give a good output to the one who will follow it. Also, there are many things that they need to consider in order to fully use the skills that they need in writing.

  • http://claytonelliott.com/ Clayton Elliott

    James, this is one of the most helpful posts in relation to my creative writing process. I’m working on completing my first book and I’ve experienced every self-sabotaging setback in the book. I’m in the home stretch now and all the points you’ve listed here are going to help me get to the finish line that much faster (and with more piece of mind).

    Thank you :)

  • http://www.antaraman.com/ Antara Man

    Very good stuff. I always change the first sentence and/or paragraph. They are like opening and closing titles. You seems to use provocative titles that get a lot of eyeballs like “I want my daughters to be lesbians” or “I want my daughters to be drug addicts” but then you don’t go the direction, we expect to. I understand why you do it but still you send messages out there. Now I am using this trick to gauge interest in my free report. I thought title like “50 Life Hacks for Living a Better Life” but came up with “50 Shades of a Healthier Life”. pretty much draws to 50 shades of Gray, hugh?

  • http://www.FriscoLifeCoach.com Christine Boudreau

    Thanks, James, you provide great advice as always. I’d like to add #34: Throw the first draft in the trash. Start over. Write 3 more versions. Then dig the first one out of the trash. It was always the best one.

  • Hans Cox

    Ha ha ha! What a wonderful last line! Your post makes me wonder what the original last paragraph was. :-D I’ve discovered your blog in the last week, and you just make me put my shoes on.

  • http://www.yutaaoki.com/ Yuta Aoki

    Your advice is so valuable that I keep coming back here. I especially follow ‘deliver value with every sentence’. If a sentence doesn’t add new information or ‘poetry,’ I delete it.

    Actually, I would rephrase it as ‘deliver value with every WORD.’ Even in this comment, I deleted a couple of dozen words.

  • Kendra@ HeyKendra.com

    Fantastic read. I loved so many of these, but my favorite was “for the next ten things you write, tell people something that nobody knows about you.”

    Thanks for delivering an incredible read!

  • aGuyWhoTypes

    Thank you, love this.