Good Prose Month: 10 Writing Tips from Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd

Editor's Note: In conjunction with his publication of his new book, "Good Prose," Pulitzer Prize winner and bestselling author Tracy Kidder and editor Richard Todd will host “Good Prose Month” on, with the goal of bringing together the strongest voices in nonfiction to share insight into the writing and editing process with the next generation of authors. Every day during the month of January, visit for a new Good Prose tip, lesson, or story from bestselling authors, award-winning journalists, acclaimed editors, and favorite storytellers. The conversation will continue on Twitter with a weekly #GoodProse chat about the craft of writing, hosted by selected authors from a range of nonfiction genres.

The following is a series of ten writing tips offered by author Tracy Kidder and editor Richard Todd. 

1. To write is to talk to strangers. You have to inspire confidence, to seem and to be trustworthy.

2. It is always prudent to remember that one is not Tolstoy or Dickens.

3. Don’t concentrate on technique, which can be the same as concentrating on yourself. Give yourself to your story.

4. The reader wants to see you trying—not trying to impress, but trying to get somewhere.

5. For a story to have a chance to live, it is essential only that there be something at stake. A car chase is not required.

6. Try to attune yourself to the sound of your own writing. If you can’t imagine yourself saying something aloud, then you probably shouldn’t write it.

7. The creation of a style often begins with a negative achievement. Only by rejecting what comes too easily can you clear a space for yourself.

8. Use words wantonly and you disappear before your own eyes. Use them well and you create yourself.

9. The best work is done when one’s eye is simply on the work, not on its consequence, or on oneself. It is something done for its own sake. It is, in Lewis Hyde’s term, a gift.

10. Be willing to surprise yourself.