21 bits of advice for new writers
Some great thoughts here. Lots of favorites, but number 9 really rings true to me. Every writer has to be a researcher of life, stories, and writing first. One of the quickest ways to do that is by reading lots.
- The first draft of everything is shit. -Ernest Hemingway
- Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass. -David Ogilvy
- If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy. – Dorothy Parker
Notice how many of the Olympic athletes effusively thanked their mothers for their success? “She drove me to my practice at four in the morning,” etc. Writing is not figure skating or skiing. Your mother will not make you a writer. My advice to any young person who wants to write is: leave home. -Paul Theroux
- I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide. — Harper Lee
- You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. ― Jack London
- Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. — George Orwell
- There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. ― W. Somerset Maugham
- If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that. – Stephen King
- 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. – Neil Gaiman
- Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die. – Anne Enright
- If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do. – William Zinsser
- Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college. – Kurt Vonnegut
- Prose is architecture, not interior decoration. – Ernest Hemingway
- Write drunk, edit sober. – Ernest Hemingway
- Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. Literally, when I wrote the last page of my first draft of Lincoln’s Melancholy I thought, Oh, shit, now I get the shape of this. But I had wasted years, literally years, writing and re-writing the first third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly. – Joshua Wolf Shenk
- Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. – Mark Twain
- Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that — but you are the only you. ― Neil Gaiman
- Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. – Oscar Wilde
- You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. ― Ray Bradbury
- Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously. – Lev Grossman
I'm down with number 21. When I wrote my first novel, I submitted the first chapter to a critique group. They. Tore. It. Apart! I was so angry. I remember reading through the critiques then ripping into my husband. How dare they? After I was finished with my husband taking my anger out on my husband, I went to take a shower so I could cry my eyes out. By the time I was done with my shower, I had a new determination. I wrote a wonderful NEW first chapter and threw that back in critique group's faces, which they promptly ripped to shreds.
I did this one more time, before I realized something. No one would ever be satisfied. It comes down to the saying, you can please some of the people all of the time; <---semi-colon you can please all of the people some of the time; <---another one, don't tell Kurt Vonnegut; but you can't please all the people all of the time.
I stopped writing for my critique group, but I still submitted my chapters for critiques. Instead of listening to how they didn't like this character or didn't like the direction of my story, I started paying attention to things like grammatical or spelling errors, or ways to improve my prose. When they said something was confusing, I took a second look.
Like Neil Gaiman said in tip number 10, people don't know how to fix your stuff. I showed my brother in-law one of my books and he asked with a pinched face, "why did you name it that?" Then he started telling me what I could do instead (hadn't even read the book and he had advice for me). I told him, "If you want to read that type of book, write it yourself. My book is exactly what I want it to be."
My words of advice is be true to yourself. Write the story you want to read. Edit it for pose, grammar, spelling, consistency, and clarity. If you do all that, there will be readers who'll enjoy the same types of stories you do. You just have to know where they are and how to reach them.
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