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12 Essential TED Talks for Writers

Posted on Tuesday August 17, 2010 by Staff Writers

Gene Fowler said it best: “Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” The life of a writer is often fraught with struggle to find the best way to transfer ideas to paper, which is one of the reasons so few people are able to do it with any real success. But if you’re an aspiring writer, whether you’re still a college student or you’ve been out of school for years, it’s never too late to take a chance on your passion. These speeches and presentations from TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) offer words of wisdom from authors and others that are invaluable to those looking to make their mark with the written word. Don’t be afraid of the blank page; embrace it.

  1. Amy Tan: Amy Tan has a number of bestsellers to her name, including The Joy Luck Club (adapted into a film), The Hundred Secret Senses, and The Bonesetter’s Daughter. Her entertaining 2008 TED address deals with all the ups and downs of the creative process. A great talk for writers who might need a little boost of confidence when it comes to believing in their own methods.
  2. Lakshmi Pratury: Lakshmi Pratury used her 2007 address to talk about the legacy people leave behind after they die, and specifically the letters and notes her father wrote at the end of his life in which he discussed his feelings for his daughter. A warm, fantastic speech about the vitality of physical writing.
  3. A.J. Jacobs: Esquire contributor A.J. Jacobs specializes in becoming what he calls a “human guinea pig.” His books explore the consequences of accepting gimmicky but interesting challenges like reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica or spending a year following every tenet of the Bible. He’s proof that a good idea and winning style will get you a long way.
  4. Elizabeth Gilbert: Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert shares her passion for creating art in this 2009 TED talk that touches on the capacity for brilliance in everyone.
  5. James Geary: Author James Geary has devoted his life to writing about aphorisms, and his 2009 TED presentation deals with the importance and presence of metaphor in our daily lives. Understanding the power of metaphorical thinking and speaking is integral for writers.
  6. Chimamanda Adichie: Nigerian native Chimamanda Adichie talks about the necessity of multiple authors from different parts of the world in order for readers (and writers) to have a broader, better understanding of human diversity.
  7. Chris Abani: Novelist and poet Chris Abani turned his imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Nigerian government into stories full of emotion and heartbreak. There’s a reason that “Write what you know” is a classic maxim for authors.
  8. Steven Pinker: Philosopher and author Steven Pinker has appeared at TED several times, and in this 2005 address, he uses his time to talk about the unintended and extra effects of the words we use to communicate.
  9. Doris Kearns Goodwin: Doris Kearns Goodwin’s presidential histories have earned her a Pulitzer Prize. In 2008, she gave a TED talk about how the ambitions of those presidents can be a model for people today. She’s a great model for writers with a love of history who might be a little overwhelmed at the prospect of bringing the dead to life in the pages of a book.
  10. Erin McKean: Lexicographer Erin McKean’s TED speech from 2007 is all about the history and power of language, which makes it an indispensable presentation for those looking to earn a living with words.
  11. Benjamin Wallace: Benjamin Wallace’s writing has appeared in numerous magazines, and his nonfiction book The Billionaire’s Vinegar is an insightful and deadpan look at the furor that arose over an ancient and possible fake bottle of wine. He’s an inspiration to journalists and those writers who wish to devote themselves to modern history, thanks to his educated but never preachy tone.
  12. C.K. Williams: Poet C.K. Williams uses his work to chronicle the lives of those around him, and his earlier works had a strong focus on civil rights and modern society. He’s an example to all writers when it comes to channeling the world into your art.