writers advice

Advice—From Writer to Writer

To be in print was to be saved.  And to this moment a day when I have produced nothing printable, when I have not gotten any words out, is a day lost and damned as I feel it. —John Updike

Lawrence Block
“One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.”

Ray Bradbury
“You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”

Sage Cohen
“Many of us have this idea that we’re meant to be perfect as writers. Instead, try thinking of your writing as akin to your fingerprints. They are what they are – unique patterns that exclusively represent you – not good or bad or better or worse than anyone else’s. Instead of trying to perfect your writing, then, strive to get acquainted with this pattern and become more and more proficient at expressing it. There is no endpoint in this process, and we will never arrive at “perfect.” So why not give up the chase right now, and just enjoy the resonance and beauty of our humble, flawed writing as it is?”

Geoff Dyer
“Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it’s a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It’s only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. I always have to feel that I’m bunking off from something.”

Anne Enright
“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.”

William Faulkner
“Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”

P.D. James
“You absolutely should write about what you know. There are all sorts of small things that you should store up and use, nothing is lost to a writer. You have to learn to stand outside of yourself. All experience, whether it is painful or whether it is happy is somehow stored up and sooner or later it’s used.”

“Never go anywhere without a notebook because you can see a face that will be exactly the right face for one of your characters, you can see place and think of the perfect words to describe it. I do that when I’m writing, I think it’s a sensible thing for writers to do.”

Samuel Johnson
“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”

John Gardner
“The uneducated writer is, for one thing, locked in his own time and place. Not knowing (not really knowing) about Homer or Racine or the contemporary fiction of South America, not knowing the many different ways in which a story can be told, from the rough-hemp tale-spinning of the saga poets to the dandified French allegorical tricks of the Middle Ages to the strange ways of India and China or avant-garde contemporary Africans, Poles, or Americans, he is like a carpenter with only a few crude tools: a hammer, a knife, a drill, a pair of pliers.”

Amy Hempel
“I’ve always had three or four actual people in mind that I would want to win over: my editors—Nan Graham published Tumble Home and her involvement had a profound effect on my work—Mary Robison, Grace Paley, for example. It’s different for everyone. If you have a reader in mind, fine. If you don’t, fine. It helps me to think of actual people I would love to entertain or surprise. In the beginning, I think maybe I started trying to reach people who didn’t take me seriously (and I’m going way back in time). Later, that ceased to be a motivation. When I started taking myself seriously.”

Bernard Malamud
“You write by sitting down and writing. There’s no particular time or place—you suit yourself, your nature. How one works, assuming he’s disciplined, doesn’t matter. If he or she is not disciplined, no sympathetic magic will help. The trick is to make time-not steal it-and produce the fiction. If the stories come, you get them written, you’re on the right track. Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you.”

Guy de Maupassant
“Get black on white.”

Walter Mosley
“This is all you have to do. Sit down once a day to the novel and start working without internal criticism, without debilitating expectations, without the need to look at your words as if they were already printed and bound.

Haruki Murakami
“In private correspondence the great mystery writer Raymond Chandler once confessed that even if he didn’t write anything, he made sure he sat down at his desk every single day and concentrated. I understand the purpose behind his doing this. This is the way Chandler gave himself the physical stamina a professional writer needs, quietly strengthening his willpower. This sort of daily training was indispensable to him.”

Joyce Carol Oates
“Read 1,000 pages for every one you try to write. Subscribe to as many literary journals as you can afford.”

John Steinbeck
“The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.”

“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.”

George Singleton
“Keep a small can of WD-40 on your desk—away from any open flames—to remind yourself that if you don’t write daily, you will get rusty.”

R.L. Stine
“People say, ‘What advice do you have for people who want to be writers?’ I say, they don’t really need advice, they know they want to be writers, and they’re gonna do it. Those people who know that they really want to do this and are cut out for it, they know it.”

John Updike
“…try to develop actual work habits, and even though you have a busy life, try to reserve an hour, say – or more – a day to write. … So, take it seriously, you know, just set a quota. Try to think of communicating with some ideal reader somewhere. Try to think of getting into print. Don’t be content just to call yourself a writer and then bitch about the crass publishing world that won’t run your stuff.

“Read what excites you, would be advice, and even if you don’t imitate it you will learn from it. All those mystery novels I read I think did give me some lesson about keeping a plot taut, trying to move forward or make the reader feel that kind of tension is being achieved, a string is being pulled tight. Other than that, don’t try to get rich … If you want to get rich, you should go into investment banking or being a certain kind of a lawyer. But, on the other hand, I would like to think that in a country this large – and a language even larger – that there ought to be a living in it for somebody who cares, and wants to entertain and instruct a reader.”

Sarah Waters
“Treat writing as a job. Be disciplined. Lots of writers get a bit OCD-ish about this. Graham Greene famously wrote 500 words a day. Jean Plaidy managed 5,000 before lunch, then spent the afternoon answering fan mail. My minimum is 1,000 words a day – which is sometimes easy to achieve, and is sometimes, frankly, like shitting a brick, but I will make myself stay at my desk until I’ve got there, because I know that by doing that I am inching the book forward. Those 1,000 words might well be rubbish – they often are. But then, it is always easier to return to rubbish words at a later date and make them better.”

Written by The UnNovelist
The Unnovelist