Thursday, 21 February 2013

Good Advice from the Greats

Writing is simple, right?
All you have to do is come up with a good idea, write the beginning, write the middle, write the ending, write a little filler in between and make sure it sounds good.
Oh, if it were that easy. 
Here is a small taste of some very good advice from some pretty great writers that got it right.

'The best time for planning a book is while you are doing the dishes.' Agatha Christie
A little sexist and dated but Agatha had the right idea. When my house is silent and I am running around getting a little housework done, my mind is churning out ideas so that I must keep pen and paper close by to trap those slippery thoughts before they escape back into my head.

'Never use a long word where a short one will do.' George Orwell 
I am guilty of this - checking my thesaurus for a better word - and I am trying to curb this loathesome habit. Getting too wordy drags a story down and the reader quickly loses interest. Years ago, someone in my critiquing class suggested, "Your writing is sweet, but like a Krispy Kreme donut it may be a little too sweet." Words of wisdom I will never forget.

'If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others; read a lot and write a lot.' Stephen King
Brilliant and obvious. Doesn't every writer have a stack of books, ready to topple, beside their bed?

'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
Sound advice from one of the best storytellers of all time. Although I don't substitue with 'damn', I am conscious of this word - an adverb sorely overused.

'If you are using dialogue - say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.' John Steinbeck
More of us should try this. At the risk of sounding a little crazy to my family, I do it all the time. In fact, I read all my work aloud, not just the dialogue.

'You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.' Saul Bellow 
How many of us feel the pull of a great story at 2am? Maybe it's the shadows that beckon, but I've created some of my nastiest work in the middle of the night. This creative curse is not great for the dark circles and squinty eyes, but the best ideas refuse to let me sleep.

'Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.' F. Scott Fitzgerald 
This tip made me smile. I am so guilty of overusing this punctuation.(!) Sometimes it is necessary to get your point across, but there are other ways to build urgency.

'Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.' Louis L'Amour 
My son's favourite author is spot on. I think I can speak for many of us when I say that we are an easily distracted and procrastinating lot. I can't count how many times my good intentions are interrupted by Facebook, Amazon or housework. Shame on me. Write, write, write.

'When someone is mean to me, I just make them a victim in my book.' Mary Higgins Clark 
Why get mad when you can get even? I do it all the time. Revenge is sweet, Mary. 

'Hearing voices no one else can hear isn't a good sign, even in the wizarding world.' J.K. Rowling 
To the average person, voices in your head may be worrisome, especially if you answer them out loud, but to a writer, these voices are what direct you to create the most wonderful tales.

So many quotes, by so many greats. How many of us will be fortunate enough to have our words quoted?    


  1. I like Mark Twains advice. I don't use very damn much but it sure sounds fun...

    1. Ha Ha, me too. I would recommend using it a bit more, Jon. It's kind of liberating.