Friday, April 29, 2011

Think of Your Main Characters as Dinner Guests

Think of your main characters as dinner guests. Would your friends want to spend ten hours with the characters you’ve created? Your characters can be loveable, or they can be evil, but they’d better be compelling.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Be Ruthless About Protecting Writing Days

Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have "essential" and "long overdue" meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance. I must therefore guard the time allotted to writing as a Hungarian Horntail guards its firstborn egg.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Writing is Like Walking Through A Desert

I have never felt like I was creating anything. For me, writing is like walking through a desert and all at once, poking up through the hardpan, I see the top of a chimney. I know there’s a house under there, and I’m pretty sure that I can dig it up if I want. That’s how I feel. It’s like the stories are already there. What they pay me for is the leap of faith that says: ‘If I sit down and do this, everything will come out OK.

Whom Are You Writing For?

It comes back to the question, whom are you writing for? Who are the readers you want? Who are the people you want to engage with the things that matter most to you? And for me, it's people who don't need it all spelled out because they know it, they understand it. That's why there's so much I can't read because I get so exasperated. Someone starts describing the character boarding the plane and pulling the seat back. And I just want to say, Babe, I have been downtown. I have been up in a plane. Give me some credit.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Keep A Diary

Keep a diary, but don't just list all the things you did during the day. Pick one incident and write it up as a brief vignette. Give it color, include quotes and dialogue, shape it like a story with a beginning, middle and end—as if it were a short story or an episode in a novel. It's great practice. Do this while figuring out what you want to write a book about. The book may even emerge from within this running diary.


Writing Fiction is Solitary but Not Lonely

Writing fiction is a solitary occupation but not really a lonely one. The writer's head is mobbed with characters, images and language, making the creative process something like eavesdropping at a party for which you've had the fun of drawing up the guest list. Loneliness usually doesn't set in until the work is finished, and all the partygoers and their imagined universe have disappeared.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Dialogue Is Easier Than Plot

It is much easier to write great dialogue (which is a talent and not really very much of an exertion) than to write great plots. So we playwrights do the next best thing to writing great plots: we write bad plots. And then we fill up the empty spaces with verbiage.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Your Best Tools

Your best tools are short, plain, Anglo-Saxon verbs. I mean active verbs, not passive verbs. If you could write an article using only active verbs, your article would automatically have clarity and warmth and vigor.


Simple, Short Sentences Don't Always Work

We throw in as many fresh words as we can get away with. Simple, short sentences don't always work. You have to do tricks with pacing, alternate long sentences with short, to keep it alive and vital. Virtually every page is a cliff-hanger—you've got to force them to turn it.

DR. SEUSS (Theodor Seuss Geisel)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Writing Should Be Kind of Invisible

Writing is trying hard to do two things, as I see it. One is to be entertaining in itself. Any page of good prose has something of the quality of a poem. It’s interesting in itself even if you don’t know the story or quite what you’re reading. It has a kind of abstract dynamism. But also it is trying to deliver images and a story to a reader, so in that sense it should be kind of invisible.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Answer Is to Write

If you’re afraid you can’t write, the answer is to write. Every sentence you construct adds weight to the balance pan. If you’re afraid of what other people will think of your efforts, don’t show them until you write your way beyond your fear. If writing a book is impossible, write a chapter. If writing a chapter is impossible, write a page. If writing a page is impossible, write a paragraph. If writing a paragraph is impossible, write a sentence. If writing even a sentence is impossible, write a word and teach yourself everything there is to know about that word and then write another, connected word and see where their connection leads.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Get the Reader to Care

Every genuinely literary style, from the high authorial voice to Foster Wallace and his footnotes-within-footnotes, requires the reader to see the world from somewhere in particular, or from many places. So every novelist’s literary style is nothing less than an ethical strategy—it’s always an attempt to get the reader to care about people who are not the same as he or she is.


Be Cold

When you describe the miserable and unfortunate, and want to make the reader feel pity, try to be somewhat colder–that seems to give a kind of background to another’s grief, against which it stands out more clearly. Whereas in your story the characters cry and you sigh. Yes, be more cold. The more objective you are, the stronger will be the impression you make.


Monday, April 18, 2011

You Write What You Write

All of these declarations of what writing ought to be, which I had myself—though, thank God I had never committed them to paper—I think are nonsense. You write what you write, and then either it holds up or it doesn't hold up. There are no rules or particular sensibilities. I don't believe in that at all anymore.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Reading any book

Reading any book--whether you loved it or hated it or just didn't care--helps improve your writing. You learn what works for you, what worked for them, what worked in the past and what's likely to work in the future. You learn about yourself and your prejudices as a writer. You learn about what type of writing stimulates you and what leaves you cold. Anything, from the longest epic to the tiniest, most amateur blog entry, can have that sort of impact on you. If you know how to look at it, that is.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Writing is more like a sculpture

Writing is not like painting where you add. It is not what you put on the canvas that the reader sees. Writing is more like a sculpture where you remove, you eliminate in order to make the work visible. Even those pages you remove somehow remain.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Subject of Drama is The Truth

The subject of drama is The Truth. At the end of the drama THE TRUTH —which has been overlooked, disregarded, scorned, and denied—prevails. And that is how we know the drama is done.

A Writer Tries to Make Sense of Life

People make the mistake of regarding commitment as something solely political. A writer is committed to trying to make sense of life. It's a search. So there is that commitment first of all: the commitment to the honesty and determination to go as deeply into things as possible, and to dredge up what little bit of truth you with your talent can then express.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Avoid the Passive Voice Whenever Possible

Avoid the passive voice whenever possible. University term papers bleed with the passive voice. It seems to be the accepted style of Academia. Dump it.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

I'm Afraid of Writer's Classes

I’m afraid of coaching, of writer’s classes, of writer’s magazines, of books on how to write. They give me centipede trouble—you know the yarn about the centipede who was asked how he managed all his feet? He tried to answer, stopped to think about it, and was never able to walk another step.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Short Story Accepted

My Short Story, 'The Borrowed Book', has been accepted for publication in the US anthology, 
'Cobwebs & Antiquities'.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The work never gets easier.

The work never gets easier. It gets harder and more provocative. And as it gets harder you are continually reminded there is more to accomplish. It's like digging for gold. And when you find the vein, you know there's a lot more where that came from.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite.

Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. If it still doesn't work, throw it away. It's a nice feeling, and you don't want to be cluttered with the corpses of poems and stories which have everything in them except the life they need.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Writing is a Kind of Double Living

Writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Read like mad.

Read like mad. But try to do it analytically – which can be hard, because the better and more compelling a novel is, the less conscious you will be of its devices. It's worth trying to figure those devices out, however: they might come in useful in your own work.

Writing Is Like Meditation

Writing is like meditation or going into an ESP trance, or prayer. Like dreaming. You are tapping into your unconscious. To be fully conscious and alert, with life banging and popping and cuckooing all around, you are not going to find your way to your subconscious, which is a place of complete submission.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Read Your Stuff Aloud

After all my years of teaching and being taught, I am convinced there is only one specific, reliable tip writers in training can be given: read your stuff aloud, if not literally, then with an inner voice attended to by the inner ear. It is the only sure way to spot the clinkers, the rum rhythms.


Never ride a bike with the brakes on.

Never ride a bike with the brakes on. If something is proving too difficult, give up and do something else. Try to live without resort to perseverance. But writing is all about perseverance. You've got to stick at it. In my 30s I used to go to the gym even though I hated it. The purpose of going to the gym was to postpone the day when I would stop going. That's what writing is to me: a way of ­postponing the day when I won't do it any more, the day when I will sink into a depression so profound it will be indistinguishable from perfect bliss.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Punctuation Ought to be as Conventional As Possible

My attitude toward punctuation is that it ought to be as conventional as possible. The game of golf would lose a good deal if croquet mallets and billiard cues were allowed on the putting green. You ought to be able to show that you can do it a good deal better than anyone else with the regular tools before you have a license to bring in your own improvements.


Dialogue Should Be Brief

1. Dialogue should be brief.

2. It should add to the reader’s present knowledge.

3. It should eliminate the routine exchanges of ordinary conversation.

4. It should convey a sense of spontaneity but eliminate the repetitiveness of real talk.

5. It should keep the story moving forward.

6. It should be revelatory of the speaker’s character, both directly and indirectly.

7. It should show the relationships among people.