The great majority of writing problems come from approximations in the mind.
Ayn Rand is unquestionably a controversial figure, and when I have referenced her previously people have suggested that both her views and the quality of her prose invalidates her advice on writing. I would like to respectfully disagree, and I’ll tell you why.
Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it
‘The Art of Nonfiction’ is the only book of hers that I have read (I have tried to get into ‘Atlas Shrugged’ but never seem to make it past the first few chapters). So perhaps she didn’t listen to her own advice in the rest of her works, but her advice to others on the process of nonfiction writing is sound and practical. This book is definitely worth a read.
It was one of the first books on writing I read, along with Strunk and White, and the brilliant nuggets on writing enticing, informative and good-quality nonfiction prose have stood me in extremely good stead.
Top 12 art of nonfiction tips
If you really cannot bring yourself to read it, then here are a few of my favourite of Rand’s tips:
- Do not choose a lesser aspect than the deepest one that interests you and that you can do
- If you find you have nothing new to say about your subject, do not write that article
- Nothing is self evident
- When writing to a type, write to the best of that type
- When you write you must trust your subconscious
- Make your outline abstract enough that you can hold the total in your mind
- Do not try to do your thinking and your writing at the same time – know your subject first
- You cannot work if you know an interruption is imminent – your subconscious needs that sense of an uninterrupted immediate future
- Nobody who thinks or writes can be above grammar
- (When editing) the penalty for subjectivism is the inability to distinguish between what is on paper and what is only in your mind
- Write economically
- The first concern of style is clarity
I am a firm believer in the equality of all forms of culture, where each piece should be judged on it’s own merits, not dismissed just because of the reason or origin of it’s creation. And the same goes for writing advice. Never close your mind to something that could help you, and don’t assume you know what someone is going to say before they say it. As Rand says, ‘never think you know enough’.