• Michael Kennedy

What If Trees Could Talk?

Updated: Nov 25

6 Pillars of Writing Mastery


"Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins…"

~ Annette Simmons


Celtic spirituality has a great regard for the senses, especially the sense of vision, and the importance of bridging the visible with the invisible. As you will soon see, this is a core philosophy of all great writers. If you're anywhere between wannabe writer and published writer, you're in for a treat.


Pillar 1: Don’t describe an emotion – create it.


Could Ernest Hemingway have delivered his classic The Old Man and the Sea with such impact if he hadn't been a deep sea fisherman himself? He focused on the point where action and feeling became indistinguishable and we, as readers, felt exactly what he wanted us to feel. Here, Hemingway explains to a friend interested in writing, how to train to be a better writer while the two were actually out deep sea fishing.

"Watch what happens today. If we get into a fish see exactly what it is that everyone does. If you get a kick out of it while he's jumping remember back until you see exactly what the action was that gave you the emotion. Whether it was the rising of the line from the water and the way it tightened like a fiddle string until drops started from it, or the way he smashed and threw water when he jumped. Remember what the noises were and what was said. Find what gave you the emotion; what the action was that gave you the excitement. Then write it down making it clear so the reader will see it too and have the same feeling you had."

Hemingway's writing came from observation, which he said was "critical to good writing." But it was more than just observation for Hemingway. It was also about feeling... noticing "any emotion stirred in you by the events and then trace back and identify precisely what it was that caused the emotion and present it accurately and fully rounded in your story, [so that] your readers should feel the same emotion."




Pillar 2: Satisfy your aching urge to convey something important.


"Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style." ~ Kurt Vonnegut


In 1963, immediately after receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature "for his realistic and imaginative writings...," John Steinbeck issued this statement on all such advice:


"If there is a magic in story writing, and I'm convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that makes a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story."


Pillar 3: Don't think... feel.


Ray Bradbury teaches a valuable tip on storytelling, consistent with Hemingway and Steinbeck: not to think too hard, but to feel, and to put that feeling into writing.


"The intellect is a great danger to creativity . . . because you begin to rationalize and make up reasons for things, instead of staying with your own basic truth—who you are, what you are, what you want to be. I’ve had a sign over my typewriter for over 25 years now, which reads 'Don’t think!' You must never think at the typewriter—you must feel. Your intellect is always buried in that feeling anyway."


"We want people to feel with us

more than to act for us."

~ George Eliot



Pillar 4: Practice reader empathy.


Kurt Vonnegut encouraged his students to use reader empathy to guide their writing. "Make the reader’s job easy," he said.


“We must acknowledge that the reader is doing something quite difficult for him, and the reason you don’t change point of view too often is so he won’t get lost; and the reason you paragraph often is so that his eyes won’t get tired, is so you get him without him knowing it by making his job easy for him. He has to restage your show in his head — costume and light it. His job is not easy.”


As you write, remember what causes you to lose interest when you’re the one reading. The book that lost your attention yesterday…what caused you to put it down? What could you have done differently to keep your reader engaged? How can you use that insight to improve your own writing?


Vonnegut encouraged his students to consider why they should examine their writing style with the idea of constant improvement. "Do so as a mark of respect for your readers, whatever you're writing."


Before publishing any of your work, read it through the lens of a weary reader. How can you motivate your reader to read the next paragraph? Sentence? Do you need to simplify a few complex terms? Do you need to add humor? Vonnegut cuts to the chase: "Be merciless on yourself. If a sentence doesn't illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out."




Pillar 5: Good writing comes from good reading.


“A man who doesn't read good books has no advantage

over the man who can’t read them.” ~ Mark Twain


Why should we want to read? Why try enjoying books at all? Here are three excellent reasons:

  1. Reading reveals unlimited possibilities.

  2. Reading improves the quality of your life.

  3. Reading helps you understand your world, and yourself.

Some of my best friends come from the pages of books I've read. I've flown side-by-side with Jonathan Livingston Seagull, listening carefully to his wisdom on higher consciousness. I've run through the jungle with Max, in Where the Wild Things Are, and I learned to explore my imagination like never before. With Hafid, in The Greatest Salesman in the World, I discovered a philosophy of salesmanship, generosity and success. And I have hundreds of other friends in my working library keeping me company, coaching, pushing, and encouraging me day and night.


“We should read to give our souls a chance to luxuriate.” ~ Henry Miller


In his book, Henry Miller on Writing, Miller shares the subjects which inspired him to learn more about authors he loved, authors who influenced and shaped his writing style, his character, and approach to life. Among those included:


"The love of of life itself, the pursuit of truth, wisdom and understanding, mystery, the power of language, the purpose of existence, the oneness of everything, self-liberation... for there is only the marvelous and nothing but the marvelous."



Pillar 6: Make your words perform for you.


If you're trying to get a raise, a promotion, a date, or a new client, you want your words to perform for you, right? If you want your reader to finish your story or your book, your words can't fall flat. They need to resonate. They need to connect. Your words are useless if they don't deliver.


The magic of words is getting them to perform for you. To do so, you need to study how words perform for the masters. Learn as the poet does, the economy and refinement of expression.


Great writers become great because of their mastery of words and their ability to use them to communicate exactly what they want to communicate; not just words as words, but the concepts, the sensations, and the feelings for which words stand.


If our ambition is to produce powerful, skillful writing, then we need to expand our libraries, read and study good writing.


To summarize, here are the six pillars to our Parthenon model for writing mastery:


Pillar 1: Don’t describe an emotion – create it.

Pillar 2: Satisfy your aching urge to convey something important.

Pillar 3: Don't think... feel.

Pillar 4: Practice reader empathy.

Pillar 5: Good writing comes from good reading.

Pillar 6: Make your words perform for you.


Aristophanes said, "By words, the mind is excited and the spirit elated." It's just as true today as it was when he said it in Athens - twenty-four hundred years ago.


The real question we should be asking ourselves, the one that involves us on a very personal level, is this: Why wouldn't we want to read more, write more, and get better at both? Just imagine what superior writing can mean to you in any walk of life.


Here’s an excellent writing prompt. Pick a tree, any tree, and ask yourself this question: If it could talk, what would your tree want to say?




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