5 Writing Tips from Modern Writers
When I was thinking about what writing advice I could give this week, I drew a blank. But then I started thinking about where I get my writing advice and it hit me. I could post about writing tips from successful authors. Because, if you are writing with the intent to publish, you would want your writing to be successful. Of course, you do. We all do.
I dove in and searched quotes and advice from a bunch of great authors but there are just too many throughout history for one blog post. We’ve all heard those great Hemingway, Faulkner, Lovecraft, and Steinbeck quotes over and over. So I don’t feel the need to rehash them. One of my favorite bits of advice is from Muriel Spark, by the way, about how every writer should have a cat because they curl up under the desk lamp and radiate contentment.
Anyway. Back on track. This week, I have compiled 5 tips on writing by 5 modern writers. I’ll list each bit of advice and then give my input on that advice because if I don’t add something, why would I include it in my blog?
Right out the gate, Lee Child gives us the advice to ignore advice. This may seem contradictory, but I’ve put this one at the beginning to remind you to take each of these quotes with a grain of salt. Remember, you are the writer. This is your journey. Do it your way.
“If a book has any chance of succeeding,” Lee Child said, “it’s gotta be vibrant and alive. It’s gotta have a beating heart. It’s gotta be organic. And then it stands a chance... To get to the starting line, it’s gotta have vitality and the only way you’re going to get that vitality is to have one mind working on it, which is yours. If you sit down to write a book and you say, ‘this is what I really want to do, but this author says to do it this way and that author says, no do it this way and the third author say, well what about this?’ If you start doing it by committee, you’ve lost. It has no vitality.”
I agree with Mr. Child, mostly. I do love a good bit of writing advice from an author you respect. You respect their writing, or you respect their success. Maybe both. Just keep in mind, their advice is based on their personal experience, and they are not you. Each writer works differently and it’s up to you to determine what works best for you to produce the best writing and still enjoy yourself.
Stephen King tells us that the good stuff sticks around. “A writer’s notebook is a great way to immortalize bad ideas... A good idea will stick around. It's like breadcrumbs in a strainer. Shaking it is the passage of time. The bad stuff falls out and the good stuff stays.”
I agree that the good ideas stay in your head, but I disagree with his thoughts on an author’s notebook. I love jotting down new ideas, good or bad. I’m constantly taking notes. I’m quite positive Mr. King didn’t mean to not take notes. I think the point he is making is that the good ideas nag at your mind and beg to be written. I can agree with that.
Neil Gaiman was asked where his ideas come from at a conference. After explaining why one should never ask a writer that question, he explained that he thinks it’s from daydreaming. Confluence. Two ideas morphing together. “You know if you’re bitten by a werewolf, you’ll turn into a wolf. What if the werewolf bites a goldfish? What if a werewolf sinks its teeth into a chair, and your sitting in that chair when the full moon hits it and the arms start feeling more and more wolfish and then it growls. Then you’d have to set it [the story] in winter because you need the snow for people to try and figure out why you’ve got chair leg marks in the snow by the body that’s had its throat ripped out and suddenly, you have a story... I always feel like I’m disappointing people when they ask where I get my ideas because what they really always want is the answer. They want you to be able to say, ‘well, what you do, is at 11:58 at night, go down to the cellar, you roll the goat bones, there’ll be a banging on the door, it will open, this thing will fly in, it will explode, you’ll have something like a chocolate, you eat it, and you have an idea.’ I don’t know. You make ‘em up out of your head.”
I love this explanation because I feel like my brain works the same way. Not on Mr. Gaiman’s level of crazy imaginative chain reactions, but to some extent, anyway. I also don’t like that question because it’s hard to answer. I usually say I get my ideas from a little bit of everywhere. That’s as true and as vague as an answer can be.
Neil Strauss tells us to make people care. “My first thing is, I assume no one cares. Nobody cares what I’m writing about, nobody cares about me, nobody cares about what I have to say, no one cares about the things I care about. If you just go from the premise that nobody cares and how can I make them care from the first sentence, from the first paragraph. At the end of that first chapter, how am I going to make them turn to the next one?”
I Like this tip. I’ve never read any of Strauss’ stuff, but he has a good point here. If you fail to invest your reader, they’ll stop reading. It’s an easy concept to understand but it’s a harder thing to effectively put in your writing. People are different. People care about different things. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to making your reader care. If you can write honest characters, in relatable situations (realistically or otherwise), and you can hook your reader early on, they will keep turning pages.
Anne Rice told us that there are no rules for writers. “The great thing about our profession is, there are no rules. Think what it’s like if you want to be a classic ballet dancer, or if you wanna be a great violinist, or if you wanna be a symphony conductor, or if you wanna be a painter, if you wanna be a movie maker. All those fields involve communal apprenticeship, personal instruction, time practicing, many many rules, many many ways to do it, but lots of rules. The profession of being a writer doesn’t involve any of that. All you need is a computer and a word processing program or a typewriter and some paper. You can begin at any time. You can do that writing anywhere.”
I love this quote because it’s true. My only limit is myself. I can create anything at any time and in any place. The same goes for you or any other writer. Sure technical skill levels, book deals, and marketing play their parts in your career, but not in your writing. Your mind, and your drive to write free you from all that.
Thanks for reading. I post writing advice, self-publishing tips, or writing prompts every week on Friday. If you enjoyed this, please share it with friends.
If you would like to learn more about my debut novel, Well of Bones, please use the link below. Thanks again. Until next week.