10 Writing Tips From Joss Whedon

10 Writing Tips From Joss Whedon

Joseph Hill Whedon was born in New York City, New York, on June 23rd 1964 to Tom Whedon and Ann Lee Jeffries Stearns. His mother, a teacher at Riverdale Country School in New York, was originally from Kentucky. An aspiring writer and actress, she and Tom were members of Harvard Radcliffe Dramatic Club where they appeared on stage together. Tom was a screenwriter for “Alice” and “The Golden Girls”. Tom’s dad had previously worked on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Joss has two older brothers, Samuel and Matthew, and two younger brothers, Jed and Zack. Jed and Zack Whedon are also writers.

Joss attended high school where his mother taught. He developed a love of British t.v. as a child and attended Winchester College in England for three years. The environment at Winchester was one of bullying. He graduated Wesleyan University, where he studied under Richard Slotkin, in 1987.

His early work consisted of staff writing and being a script doctor on projects such as “Roseanne”, “Parenthood”, “The Getaway”, “X-Men”, and “Speed”. He co-wrote the beloved film “Toy Story” and “Titan A.E.”. During this period, he worked on his script for his film “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, from which would spin off television shows of the same name and “Angel”. He was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for his work on “Toy Story”.

In the early 21st Century, Whedon would produce some of his most popular work, including the cult classic show “Firefly” and movie “Serenity”. In 2008, he completed his 24th issue of “The Astonishing X-Men” comic series. He did some freelance directing for “Glee” and “The Office”. In 2008, his response to the Writer’s Guild strike was to create the web series “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”. In 2009 Whedon created the series “Dollhouse”. Some of Whedon’s most popular recent work includes “The Avengers”, “Agents of SHIELD”, and “Age of Ultron”. In May 2017, Whedon assumed working on the upcoming film “The Justice League”.

Whedon’s work often revolves around a hero who has a sense of community support, or a team of heroes. Common themes running throughout his work include feminism, misogyny, free will, power vs. powerlessness, sacrifice, the meaning of life, and anti-authoritarianism as well as anti-corporatism. He’s known for dramatically and meaningfully killing his darling characters. Whedon’s influences include Ray Bradbury, Stephen Sondheim, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Rod Serling and James Cameron.

Joss Whedon is married to Kai Cole, an architect, with whom he has two children. He is a Humanist and appears to support moderately liberal political views. He credits his mother with teaching his about feminism.

Here are his ten writing tips.


Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.


Structure means knowing where you’re going ; making sure you don’t meander about. Some great films have been made by meandering people, like Terrence Malick and Robert Altman, but it’s not as well done today and I don’t recommend it. I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes ? The thrills ? The romance ? Who knows what, and when ? You need these things to happen at the right times, and that’s what you build your structure around : the way you want your audience to feel. Charts, graphs, coloured pens, anything that means you don’t go in blind is useful.


This really should be number one. Even if you’re writing a Die Hard rip-off, have something to say about Die Hard rip-offs. The number of movies that are not about what they purport to be about is staggering. It’s rare, especially in genres, to find a movie with an idea and not just, ‘This’ll lead to many fine set-pieces’. The Island evolves into a car-chase movie, and the moments of joy are when they have clone moments and you say, ‘What does it feel like to be those guys ?’


Everybody has a perspective. Everybody in your scene, including the thug flanking your bad guy, has a reason. They have their own voice, their own identity, their own history. If anyone speaks in such a way that they’re just setting up the next person’s lines, then you don’t get dialogue : you get sound-bites. Not everybody has to be funny ; not everybody has to be cute ; not everybody has to be delightful, and not everybody has to speak, but if you don’t know who everybody is and why they’re there, why they’re feeling what they’re feeling and why they’re doing what they’re doing, then you’re in trouble.


Here’s one trick that I learned early on. If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favourite scene, or your very best idea or set-piece, and cut it. It’s brutal, but sometimes inevitable. That thing may find its way back in, but cutting it is usually an enormously freeing exercise.


When I’ve been hired as a script doctor, it’s usually because someone else can’t get it through to the next level. It’s true that writers are replaced when executives don’t know what else to do, and that’s terrible, but the fact of the matter is that for most of the screenplays I’ve worked on, I’ve been needed, whether or not I’ve been allowed to do anything good. Often someone’s just got locked, they’ve ossified, they’re so stuck in their heads that they can’t see the people around them. It’s very important to know when to stick to your guns, but it’s also very important to listen to absolutely everybody. The stupidest person in the room might have the best idea.


You have one goal : to connect with your audience. Therefore, you must track what your audience is feeling at all times. One of the biggest problems I face when watching other people’s movies is I’ll say, ‘This part confuses me’, or whatever, and they’ll say, ‘What I’m intending to say is this’, and they’ll go on about their intentions. None of this has anything to do with my experience as an audience member. Think in terms of what audiences think. They go to the theatre, and they either notice that their butts are numb, or they don’t. If you’re doing your job right, they don’t. People think of studio test screenings as terrible, and that’s because a lot of studios are pretty stupid about it. They panic and re-shoot, or they go, ‘Gee, Brazil can’t have an unhappy ending,’ and that’s the horror story. But it can make a lot of sense.


Write the movie as much as you can. If something is lush and extensive, you can describe it glowingly ; if something isn’t that important, just get past it tersely. Let the read feel like the movie ; it does a lot of the work for you, for the director, and for the executives who go, ‘What will this be like when we put it on its feet ?’


Having given the advice about listening, I have to give the opposite advice, because ultimately the best work comes when somebody’s fucked the system ; done the unexpected and let their own personal voice into the machine that is moviemaking. Choose your battles. You wouldn’t get Paul Thomas Anderson, or Wes Anderson, or any of these guys if all moviemaking was completely cookie-cutter. But the process drives you in that direction ; it’s a homogenising process, and you have to fight that a bit. There was a point while we were making Firefly when I asked the network not to pick it up : they’d started talking about a different show.


The first penny I ever earned, I saved. Then I made sure that I never had to take a job just because I needed to. I still needed jobs of course, but I was able to take ones that I loved. When I say that includes Waterworld, people scratch their heads, but it’s a wonderful idea for a movie. Anything can be good. Even Last Action Hero could’ve been good. There’s an idea somewhere in almost any movie : if you can find something that you love, then you can do it. If you can’t, it doesn’t matter how skilful you are : that’s called whoring.”

These were found on Once Upon A Sketch.


J.K Rowling’s 5 Writing Tips

Photo: Daniel Ogren

J. K. Rowling’s Top 5 Writing Tips

Joanne Rowling was born July 31st, 1965, in Yate, Gloucestershire, England to Peter James Rowling, an aircraft engineer, and Anne Volant, a science technician. She was born with no legal middle name but adopted Kathleen as her middle name for her pen name’s initial. Her parents met while waiting for a train to depart from King’s Cross Station, which is featured prominently in the Harry Potter book series and is now a tourist attraction. She has a younger sister named Dianne. She described her teen years as unhappy due to her mother’s illness and disputes with her father, with whom she is not on speaking terms.

She came up with the idea for the Harry Potter series while on a four-hour delayed train trip from Manchester to London in 1990. It would be several years before the first book would be published. J.K. Rowling’s life is seen as a rags-to-riches story, of a determined author who’d lost her job, living on state welfare benefits while writing Harry Potter, to becoming a billionaire whose books are loved around the world.

J. K. Rowling is the author of the Harry Potter book series and also writes the Cormoran Strike series under the name Robert Galbraith.

Here are her 5 tips:

  1. Write in whatever time you have.
  2. Planning is essential.
  3. Rewriting is just as essential.
  4. Be aware of plot and pacing.
  5. Write your passion.

8 Good Writing Practices: Neil Gaiman

Photo by Kyle Cassidy

Neil Richard MacKinnon Gaiman, widely revered as the modern “Rock Star” of writing, was born in 1960 in Portchester, Hampshire, England. His parents ran a series of grocery stores. The family is of Eastern European Jewish origins; his great-grandfather came to the UK from Belgium around 1914. His family studied Dianetics at the Church of Scientology, but acknowledged their religion as also being Judaism. Gaiman’s own statements reflect a more agnostic personal view.

Having read as early as age 4, Gaiman adored reading. His early literary influences included C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, Tolkein, Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Shelley, Rudyard Kipling, Alan Moore, Harlan Ellison, G.K. Chesterton,and Ursula K. LeGuin. His favorite sci-fi writer was R. A. lafferty and the author whose work Gaiman credits as having a large influence is Roger Zelazny.

Early in his career, he worked in journalism, making connections in publishing and writing and publishing short stories for fantasy magazines. He left journalism in 1987 because British newspapers began publishing false news stories as if they were fact.

Since 1991, Gaiman has won over 50 awards for his work, including the Newberry Award, the Ray Bradbury Award, and numerous Eisner, Harvey, and Locus Awards. His best known works are perhaps “Coraline”, “The Sandman”, “American Gods”, “The Graveyard Book”, and “Stardust”. Gaiman has written numerous comics, many of which within the DC Universe, 12 novels, 14 children’s books, 6 non-fiction books, and over 100 short stories.

His first wife was Mary McGrath, with whom he has three children. He is currently married to Amanda Palmer, with whom he has a son. They reside near Menomonie, Wisconsin.

Here are Neil Gaiman’s writing tips:

  1. Write.
  2. Put one word after another. Find the right word. Put it down.
  3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
  4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
  5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
  6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
  7. Laugh at your own jokes.
  8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

(From an article in The Guardian.)


Stephen King’s Tips for Writing

Photo: February 24th, 2007, New York Comicon, Stephen King, by Pinguino.


Stephen King’s Tips for Writing

Stephen Edwin King was born in Portland, Maine, on September 21st, 1947 to Donald Edwin Pollock King and Nellie Ruth (Pillsbury) King. His older brother is David King. When they were small, his father went out to the store one day and never returned, leaving Nellie to raise the boys alone. King was raised a Methodist and is still religious. As a small child, King may have witnessed his friend killed by a train. He left to play and returned alone, in a state of quiet shock. It was only later that day his family learned the boy he’d left with had been killed. King does not recall this event.

King sold his first story in 1967. King’s first novel, “Carrie”, was accepted by Doubleday in 1973. In 1974, his mother died of uterine cancer and he moved to Boulder, Colorado where he wrote “The Shining”. In 1975 they returned to Maine and King wrote “The Stand”. King is considered the modern King of Horror, having won well over a dozen awards and having won the Bram Stoker Award fifteen times and the British Fantasy Award six times. He has published fifty four novels and nearly two hundred short stories.

King is married to Tabitha (Spruce) King. They have three adult children: Naomi Ruth, Joe, and Owen King.

1. First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience. “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”

2. Don’t use passive voice. “Timid writers like passive verbs for the same reason that timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe.”

3. Avoid adverbs. “The adverb is not your friend.”

4. Avoid adverbs, especially after “he said” and “she said.”

5. But don’t obsess over perfect grammar. “The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story.”

6. The magic is in you. “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.”

7. Read, read, read. ”If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”

8. Don’t worry about making other people happy. “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”

9. Turn off the TV. “TV—while working out or anywhere else—really is about the last thing an aspiring writer needs.”

10. You have three months. “The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”

11. There are two secrets to success. “I stayed physical healthy, and I stayed married.”

12. Write one word at a time. “Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ the work is always accomplished one word at a time.”

13. Eliminate distraction. “There’s should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with.”

14. Stick to your own style. “One cannot imitate a writer’s approach to a particular genre, no matter how simple what that writer is doing may seem.”

15. Dig. “Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.”

16. Take a break. “You’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience.”

17. Leave out the boring parts and kill your darlings. “(kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.)”

18. The research shouldn’t overshadow the story. “Remember that word back. That’s where the research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it.”

19. You become a writer simply by reading and writing. “You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”

20. Writing is about getting happy. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”


“Read and write four to six hours a day. If you cannot find the time for that, you can’t expect to become a good writer.”

“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.”



George Orwell’s Writing Advice

Photo: Branch of the National Union of Journalists  Source for Photo

Eric Arthur Blair was born in 1903 in Motihari, British India. He is better known by his pen name “George Orwell”. Eric was the middle child, between his sisters Avril and Marjorie. His grandparents were wealthy absent plantation owners of Jamaican plantations; his grandmother being the daughter of the Earl of Westmoreland. His grandfather was a member of the clergy. Their wealth did not last and they descended into the lower middle class. His father Richard Blair worked in the Indian Civil Service. His mother Ida (Limouzin) Blair was of French birth, the daughter of a French businessman.

The family, sans father, relocated in 1904 to Oxfordshire, England, where Eric met Jacintha Laura May Buddicomm and developed a love of writing. A student at St. Cyprian School, Eric was later tutored in French by Aldous Huxley. He attended Eton as a King’s Scholar. His schooling ended when he was unable to get high enough test scores to obtain further scholarships.

Blair became an imperial policeman in Burma, later returning to London. In 1929 in Paris, he fell so ill he went to Hopital Cochin, where the trainees worked. It inspired him to write “How the Poor Die”. He took up a teaching career in England and spent time investigating the terrible conditions of the poor. A staunch opponent of Fascism, Orwell fought in the Spanish Civil War, narrowly escaping with his life and wife.

His wife Eileen would later work at the Ministry of Information in the Department of Censorship during World War 2. Blair was deemed unfit for military service, but joined the Home Guard. In 1944, they adopted a son they named Richard Horatio Blair. Although he had many essays published before, Orwell did not realize fame until 1945 with the publication of “Animal Farm”. It was in this same year his wife died from a reaction to anesthesia. His best known work, “1984”, was published in 1949. In that same year, he married Sonia Brownell. He died in 1950.

Here are his tips:

“A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:

  1. What am I trying to say?
  2. What words will express it?
  3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:

  1. Could I put it more shortly?
  2. Have I said anything unavoidably ugly?”

Elmore Leonard: 10 Good Rules for Writing

Image by: Peabody Awards

Elmore John Leonard Jr. was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1925 to Flora Amelia Rive Leonard and Elmore John Leonard Sr. The family moved around a lot due to his father’s job as a site locator for GM. In 1943, he graduated from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School. He tried to join the Marines but his eyesight was too weak and his application was rejected. He served in the Navy with the Seabees in the South Pacific for three years and was involved in WW2. He acquired a Bachelor’s Degree in English and Philosophy from the University of Detroit. His first job afterwards was as a copy writer with the Campbell-Ewald Advertising Agency. He married Beverly Clare Cline with whom he had 5 children. He suffered from a stroke in 2013 and passed away shortly after.

Over his life, he produced 49 novels, 8 screenplays and 3 stories. Some of his more famous works include “Get Shorty”, “Three-Ten to Yuma”, “The Bounty Hunters” “La Brava” (for which he won an Edgar Award) and “Naked Came the Manatee”.

His 10 Good Rules for Writing are:

  1. Never open a book with weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Excerpted from the New York Times article, “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle.”

The Eleven Commandments of Henry Miller

Henry Valentine Miller (1891-1980) was born in Manhattan, New York to Heinrich Miller, a tailor, and Louise Neiting. He briefly attended City College and was a member of the Socialist Party of America. He wrote his first novel, “Clipped Wings”, while working for Western Union. He never published it because he felt it was too long and too bad. He used pieces of it in other works, however.

While still married to his first wife Beatrice, he met and fell in love with a dancer named June Mansfield. Roland Freeman, a wealthy man, admired Mansfield. Mansfield regularly took pages of Miller’s work to Freeman, claiming she had written them. Freeman financed a trip to Paris for Mansfield, with Miller in tow.

Later, Miller returned to Paris alone. Finding benefactors, he continued writing. Later he would travel to Korfu, Greece, and California. His works were uncensored, including detailed accounts of his sexual experiences, some being initially banned in the United States. Some of his most famous works include “Tropic of Cancer”, “Black Spring”, “Quiet Days in Clichy”, and “Sexus”.

His 11 Commandments:

  1. Work on one thing at a time until you are done.
  2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring” (his project at the time).
  3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is at hand.
  4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time.
  5. When you can’t create, you can work.
  6. Cement a little everyday, rather than add new fertilizers.
  7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
  9. Discard the Program when you feel like it-but go back to it the next day. Concentrate. Narrow down.
  10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
  11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these things come afterwards.

Zadie Smith’s 10 Good Writing Habits

Photo credit: Jack Nickerson

Zadie Smith, born Sadie Smith on October 25th, 1975, in Brent, London, England, is considered one of the most influential writers in England and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She is of Jamaican and English descent. Her two younger brothers are the comedian Doc Brown and rapper Luc Skyz. In Zadie’s youth she tried tap dancing, theater, and performing as a jazz singer. Her Alma Mater is King’s College, Cambridge. Smith first wrote a collection of short stories known as The Mays Anthology, leading to a publisher’s interest in her writing and her first published novel, White Teeth. Her work was praised internationally, adapted to a television show, and won awards. To date, she has published four more novels: The Autograph Man, On Beauty, NW, and Swing Time. She is married to Nick Laird and has two children. She resides between New York City and London.

Here are her 10 good writing habits as presented in The Guardian:

  1. When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.
  2. When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.
  3. Don’t romanticise your “vocation.” You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no “writer’s lifestyle.” All that matters is what you leave on the page.
  4. Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing. Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt.
  5. Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.
  6. Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.
  7. Work on a computer that is disconnected from the Internet.
  8. Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.
  9. Don’t confuse honours with achievement.
  10. Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand, but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied.

John Steinbeck’s Writing Tips

John Ernst Steinbeck Jr. was born in Salinas, California in 1902. His father worked a series of different jobs while his mother was a teacher. They were a family of modest means. John had a happy childhood. He had three sisters and was regarded as shy but smart. He dropped out of Stanford University and became a manual laborer and part time writer until he met with success in his writing ventures. Most of his works involve social and economic issues. He moved to New York City and married Carol Henning. His first book, “Cup of Gold” was released in 1929. His next two works met with unenthusiastic reviews. His next four books- “Tortilla Flats”, “In Dubious Battle”, “Of Mice and Men”, and “The Long Valley”- brought him success. John Steinbeck won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1939 novel “The Grapes of Wrath”. He went on to write many other novels and work as a war correspondent. He passed away at home in 1968 of heart disease.

Here are some of his writing tips:

  1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you’re always surprised.
  2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is often an excuse not to go on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
  3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out that one person- a real person you know or an imagined one and write to that one.
  4. If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it-bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.
  5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
  6. If you are using dialogue-say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.