Advice From Successful Writers

Saturn After Equinox, Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, ISS, JPL, ESA, NASA

One of my greatest distractions from writing is reading what other writers have written about the craft. This is no minor area of publication, for if you happen to visit any decent-sized bookstore, you will see quite a few book titles that deal with this subject matter. Some may be writers with great name recognition such as Ray Bradbury, Stephen King or Orson Scott Card, while others may be known mostly to other writers, such as Mary Pipher or Dorothea Brande.

Anyway it is always fun to read comments by other writers, especially when I have a deadline due the next day.

Another item that has been making the rounds of literary journals lately, are lists of writing rules, which seem to conveniently come in quantities of ten. Actually, this is a great concept for readers like myself , who can now browse through a simple short  list instead of tackling  a whole book, just to receive literary advice. I might even get my assignments in  on time.

Recently, February 20, 2010 to be  exact, “The Guardian”, a highly respected British newspaper, has jumped into the game and published several lists of ten from a selected short list of contemporary writers. In an article titled, “Ten Rules For Writing Fiction”, the newspaper has published an online article that features lists from Elmore Leonard, Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Helen Dunmore, Geoff Dyer, Anne Enright, Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen, Esther Freud, Neil Gaiman, David Hare, PD James and AL Kennedy. Though not familiar with every name, the lists provided a fun read with some good laughs and sound advice. Here are my personal favorites. Hope you enjoy.

1. The first 12 years are the worst. (Anne Enright)

2.  Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down. (Neil Gaiman)

3.  The two most depressing words in the English language are “literary fiction”. (David Hare)

4. Do not place a photograph of your ­favorite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide. (Roddy Doyle)

5. A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk. (Helen Dunmore)

6. Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire. (Geoff Dyer)

7. Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer’s a good idea. (Richard Ford)

8. The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page. (Anne Enright)

9. Do back exercises. Pain is distracting. (Margaret Atwood)

10. Remember writing doesn’t love you. It doesn’t care. Nevertheless, it can behave with remarkable generosity. Speak well of it, encourage others, pass it on. (Al Kennedy)

extra rule (Elmore Leornard): My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

So there you go. Advice from the experts that is guaranteed to steer you in the right direction. This little tidbit came from an Australian literary agent’s blog, entitled “Call My Agent”, which is an excellent resource for writers, who have completed their first (or second or third) novel and are seeking representation. Check it out.

When Writers Write About Writing

When Writers Write About Writing
When Writers Write About Writing

OK, this post is about writing. More specifically it is about the books writers put out concerning the craft. It seems that sooner or later every writer puts out a little book about writing. This dates at least as far back as 1935 when the excellent writer, E.B. White teamed up with his old college English professor, William Strunk, to produce the elements of style. This book has become a standard on the mechanics on how to write. Every writer should have a copy to refer to from time to time and while your at it you might as well pick up a copy of the witty “Spunk and Bite”, a contemporary and irreverent offshoot written by the clever Arthur Plotnick.

Since The Elements of Style came out ( and probably before 1935 as well) writers have been putting out their own guides to creativity and writing skills. For some it seems like a mandatory mid-career move and some of the results have been quite enjoyable to read. I have very much enjoyed The Zen of Writing by Ray Bradbury, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. And don’t forget the very popular “Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss. Whoever thought that a book about punctuation would be so fun to read. (Fortunately, I have millions of people who bought the book to back me up on this claim)

Then there is the bizarre “On Writing” by Stephen King, who after creating over half his manuscript gets run over by a van, while walking near his summer home in western Maine. So, here we have a book about writing that takes a strange and gruesome twist during the creation process and all the unfortunate details of Mr. King’s near death experience become part of the literary endeavor. Maybe fact is stranger than fiction after all.

Cover for creative writing book
Cover for creative writing book

Recently, while strolling through Borders, I came across a book in the discount bin about “Inspired Creative Writing”, ( a cover shot is provided without permission, I hope the author doesn’t mind)by Alexander Gordon Smith, who is for me an unknown English writer. Nonetheless, he must be popular in the British Isles, for he has several novels and many short-stories to his credit. He is also the author of a first-rate book about writing. If you come across a copy, check it out, for it is very well organized and thought out. In this 230 page treatise about writing, Alexander covers the gamut from writing fiction to poetry and he even discusses screen writing, a serious endeavor that any writer with at least half a brain should avoid like the plague. All in all, it is my favorite writing book and you should check it out if you have a chance. It even has nifty little pictures at the beginning of each chapter to add insight and humor to the subject.