Quick writing tips from top authors

I thought this week I’d share a few one line tips from top writers – just because I think they’re great and are the sort of thing which make us think about what we write. In the end I believe we all find our own best way to get words down on the page, but I also believe it’s a good idea to listen to good advice which comes from experts – so here is some.

Annie_Proulx_Frankfurt_Book_Fair_Conference_2009Write slowly and by hand only about subjects that interest you.

Annie Proulx

I’ve always written first drafts by hand in notebooks – I think it gets you in touch with the words and what they mean – also it ensures that when you come to type your work up on a computer later you are effectively doing a second draft. I think it also slows you down and that’s a good thing – there’s no point in writing faster  than you can think. As far as writing about what interests you goes – writing a novel is a marathon – if you are writing about something which doesn’t fully engage you then you are running uphill.

Kurt-Vonnegut-US-Army-portraitBe a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr

I always think a book should really be about something – that there should be issues and events in there which are worth the weight of all those words. I suppose that’s what Kurt Vonnegut is saying here in a way – that there‘s not much point having characters just drifting about unchallenged. The awful things of which he speaks can take many forms of course

479px-Zadie_Smith_NBCC_2011_ShankboneTry to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.

Zadie Smith

This touches on the power and importance of rewriting – which, for me, is a crucial part of writing. I think the ability to self-edit successfully is a hard-won but vital skill and it really does depend on the ability to come to your own work as if it belonged to someone else and view it with a critical eye.

800px-Elmore_LeonardDon’t go into great detail describing places and things.

Elmore Leonard

I wrote a blog a while ago about words being in some ways better at describing ideas and emotions than they are at describing things. I believe, as clearly Mr Leonard does, that a good way to bog your book down with detail which could bore and baffle the reader is to describe things in tortuous detail. Often less is more and an impressionistic approach can be more satisfying.

Do you have any favourite writing quotes? Share them with us in the comments!

Song of the Sea God visualDon’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

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18 thoughts on “Quick writing tips from top authors

  1. Chris, I have a hopeless memory for quotable quotes, so I had to google ‘Famous Quotes and choose one from the many really good ones they have on the site http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-quotes. This one caught my eye, as it feels a bit familiar. I’m still working on the ‘really good’ part!.

    Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.
    – William Faulkner

    One that I do remember though, but it’s about writing letters, not books and has been attributed to a number of people from Blaise Pascal to Mark Twain. It’s the one that goes “I’m sorry to have written such a long letter. I didn’t have time to write a short one.” I use this quote a lot with my students!

    • Yes, I love that quote about it taking longer to write something short too – it certainly strikes a chord with me because of my background in newspapers. And just this week at work I spent ages cutting down some 1000 word biographies to 100 words each – took forever.

  2. “Immerse yourself in the art of [writing]. Then write. Write yourself silly. Write yourself mad. Write yourself blind. Trust the excitement that builds within you when the idea is good and the writing is superb.” Elizabeth George

  3. I recently got some advice about having my main character suffer more in my newest manuscript. I need to look at ways to make life more miserable for her. Great post as always!

  4. I think one of the greatest keys is to know your writing process, and then to challenge yourself with new genres, worlds, stories, a completely different character. Creativity thrives on growth and the seeking of growth.

  5. Great tips! I do a lot of long-hand writing in bed in the mornings, then transpose into a word doc. But I do compose a lot still on the computer. Love the quote about the long letter too–so true. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Lovely blog you have here Chris,

    I saw your tweet about your latest post and was browsing a bit when I came across this blog post. I read all the replies here and I agree with many of them when it comes to finding your tune to dance to…

    Among others, writing in different genres and broadening our horizon in terms of genres is an adventure of its own… To quote Mark Twain, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

    So, why set rules to stories when its magnificence and magic was bound to be discovered by the writers, ourselves? Drop the rules, live the dream…and share it with the world, for they are in need of an adventure to discover too.

  7. I’m going to be brash quote myself! I used to tell my first year tutorials that, “the hardest thing in the world is saying exactly what you mean.”

    • How true – we could also use the quote which I’ve seen attributed to both Mark Twain and Blaise Pascal: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

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