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Advice on Writing from Famous Writers

Discussion in 'The Authors' Café' started by Firebrand, Jan 8, 2013.

  1. Firebrand

    Firebrand Indomitable

    Figured I'd share this here, in case anyone thought it could be of any use. These are writing tips given by a few famous writers at points throughout their careers (be it in interviews, letters, texts on writing, etc.). Enjoy.

    First up are Kurt Vonnegut's 8 Tips on How To Write a Great Story:

    1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
    2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
    3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
    4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
    5. Start as close to the end as possible.
    6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
    7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
    8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
    Then there is Henry Miller's 11 Commandments:

    1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
    2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to ‘Black Spring.’
    3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in 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 every day, 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 next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
    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 come afterwards.
    (Note, 'Black Spring' was the novel he was working on at the time he made these, so substitute that with the name of your work)

    Erza Pound gives a list of the six types of writers:

    1. Inventors. Men who found a new process, or whose extant work gives us the first known example of a process.
    2. The masters. Men who combined a number of such processes, and who used them as well as or better than the inventors.
    3. The diluters. Men who came after the first two kinds of writer, and couldn’t do the job quite as well.
    4. Good writers without salient qualities. Men who are fortunate enough to be born when the literature of a given country is in good working order, or when some particular branch of writing is ‘healthy’. For example, men who wrote sonnets in Dante’s time, men who wrote short lyrics in Shakespeare’s time or for several decades thereafter, or who wrote French novels and stories after Flaubert had shown them how.
    5. Writers of belles-lettres. That is, men who didn’t really invent anything, but who specialized in some particular part of writing, who couldn’t be considered as ‘great men’ or as authors who were trying to give a complete presentation of life, or of their epoch.
    6. The starters of crazes.
    "Until the reader knows the first two categories he will never be able ‘to see the wood for the trees’. He may know what he ‘likes’. He may be a ‘compleat book-lover’, with a large library of beautifully printed books, bound in the most luxurious bindings, but he will never be able to sort out what he knows to estimate the value of one book in relation to others, and he will be more confused and even less able to make up his mind about a book where a new author is ‘breaking with convention’ than to form an opinion about a book eighty or a hundred years old.

    He will never understand why a specialist is annoyed with him for trotting out a second- or third-hand opinion about the merits of his favourite bad writer."

    He goes on to say:

    "Until you have made your own survey and your own closer inspection you might at least beware and avoid accepting opinions from men who have not themselves taken the risk of printing the results of their own personal inspection and survey, even if they are seriously making one."

    John Steinbeck also offers six tips in a 1975 issue of the Paris Review:

    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 are 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 usually found to be an excuse for not going 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 one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person 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.

    Six years earlier, he said the following, which serves as a bit of a disclaimer to the above points:
    If there is a magic in story writing, and I am 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.”

    Of all of these points, I find Steinbeck's the most potent and thought provoking. However you think about them, I hope something in here got you thinking, or at least gave you a new way of looking at the craft. So, opinions? Agree or disagree? Or have any other lists to add?

  2. EmphaticPikachu

    EmphaticPikachu A tired little girl~

    I find Steinback's to be the most helpful over all. It makes me want to type my story up again. I certainly agree with the last point. Defiantly read it to yourself to see if it sounds like it makes sense or flows right.

    And To hell with suspense? I lol'd despite it being good advice. Maybe I'll change the ending point of something then...

    I did find these helpful, so thank you. :3
  3. Everdream

    Everdream New Member

    Interesting, thanks for posting.
  4. Firebrand

    Firebrand Indomitable

    While Steinbeck's are by far the best advice to give to a struggling writer, I do also like Vonnegut's brutal honesty. Especially when considering that the above posts are completely in keeping with his blunt writing style.
  5. Quilava42

    Quilava42 Blazing Flowers

    Maybe I should listen to this guide, because many people told me to show not tell on why they did this and yet I understand why. It's a story, not a TV show. Readers need to understand why this happens.

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