I believe that great content comes from a genuine love of creation. And that love usually blossoms while appreciating the great works of others. Great writers inspire other great writers, and creative thinking feeds more creative thinking.
My daily content creation is always enriched when I take the time to read and study other writers. Their work sparks new ideas and approaches that I can try on my own. Content comes alive when writers take risks and try new things, and following the lead of other creatives can empower content creators to do just that.
If your writing is becoming stagnant, if you feel starved for ideas and inspiration, allow me to introduce some of my favorite creative writers. They'll certainly be able to help.
Ernest Hemingway is a cornerstone of modern American literature because of his distinctive style. His vocabulary choices and rhythm are trademarks, but his ability to be incredibly concise is what makes his work special. He was supposedly able (though there is no substantive evidence) to tell a compelling story in six words: "For sale: baby shoes. Never worn."
His novels can be a bit bloated, but his short stories all showcase that ability to get the most out of the fewest words. (Read "In Our Time" if you're looking for a place to start.) And the emotional impact of that brevity hits hard. If you can evoke a feeling in one page rather than spreading it out over a hundred, it's going to be more powerful. This is the lesson that content creators should take away from Hemingway: Find ways to do the most with less.
William Faulkner wrote "The Sound and the Fury," the book I would choose if I were forced to pick my favorite. It's not an easy read, though, and it was even more difficult for Faulkner to write. He initially tried to tell the story of the Compson family through one character's point of view. But he thought this approach failed, so he tried again with another character's point of view. And yet another. And then he wrote it a final time with a third-person point of view.
The book that was ultimately printed is a combination of all of these attempts, which came together into a wild, groundbreaking, celebrated work of fiction. Any content creator can learn from Faulkner's persistence. Some of the best content comes from repeated attempts or the reworking of seemingly failed endeavors. Keep pushing, and great content will come.
Raymond Carver is a short story writer who has a lot in common with Hemingway. The aptly named Carver whittles away at the story until the bare essentials are all that remains. Description and dialogue are fluff-free. This style allows him to throw the reader into his characters' difficult (read: provocative) situations almost instantly. Just take a look at some of these first lines:
"A man without hands came to the door to sell me a photograph of my house." — from "Viewfinder"
"In the kitchen, he poured another drink and looked at the bedroom suite in his front yard." — from "Why Don't You Dance?"
Don't you want to find out just what in the world is going on? The reader has no choice but to keep going; Carver could write a great first line that immediately pulls you into the story. Follow his lead: Find the most gripping part of your story, cut away all the fat, and put it front and center so that readers have no choice but to take a look.
Sandra Cisneros is another master of the concise, but she uses her spare words in a unique way. In "The House on Mango Street," her impressionist, prose/poetry combinations show a vivid picture of a Hispanic girl's life and neighborhood through her own voice. The short novella is mostly description, but because of the energy in the images, there's no lull.
The imaginative language is never showy but always evocative. Metaphors can be found in the description of the eponymous house:
"It's small and red with tight steps in front and windows so small you'd think they were holding their breath."
And later, the narrator's name:
"At school they say my name funny as if the syllables were made out of tin and hurt the roof of your mouth."
Imaginative language can energize otherwise dull content. It has to be used correctly — metaphor overload is off-putting — but when it's done well, it's much more powerful than plain description.
Bill Bryson is one author who can make me laugh out loud. He approaches every subject he tackles with his dry wit and takes plenty of creativity and insight along for the ride. His writing is nonfiction, but because it's relatable, authentic, and funny, it's never boring.
Bryson might be the most helpful role model for content creators because of his ability to find a story in every topic. Bryson has written on, well, nearly everything. In fact, one of his most popular books is called "A Short History of Nearly Everything." A particular strength is his research. No matter what he's writing about, he's always well informed. But more importantly, his research always helps to serve his story. To me, he serves as a perfect guide for content creators. In his hands, any topic is transformed into an informative and captivating journey.
The best writers are great readers. These five authors have produced fantastic works to learn from, but anytime you open a book, there's a chance to grow as a writer. Study style, see what catches your eye, notice what keeps you reading, and try to follow the masters in your own content.
I'm a senior content strategist at Intero Digital's Content & PR Division. I enjoy crafting content to be the best it can be. I also enjoy spending time with my family, songwriting, recording, and hiking.