Posts Tagged ‘Writing advice’


“Books should be about the people you know, that you love and hate, not about the people you study . . .”

Ernest Hemingway’s 9 Best Tips on Writing


Philip Roth

“Beginning a book is unpleasant. I’m entirely uncertain about the character and the predicament, and a character in his predicament is what I have to begin with. Worse than not knowing your subject is not knowing how to treat it, because that’s finally everything. I type out beginnings and they’re awful . . . I need something driving down the center of a book, a magnet to draw everything to it—that’s what I look for during the first months of writing something new. . . . What matters most isn’t there at all. I don’t mean the solutions to problems, I mean the problems themselves. You’re looking, as you begin, for what’s going to resist you. You’re looking for trouble.”

–“Philip Roth, The Art of Fiction No. 84


Ursula Le Guin

“There’s always room for another story. There’s always room for another tune, right? Nobody can write too many tunes. So if you have stories to tell and can tell them competently, then somebody will want to hear it if you tell it well at all. To believe that there is somebody who wants to hear that story is the kind of confidence a writer has to have when they’re in the period of learning their craft and not selling stuff and not really knowing what they’re doing.”

Ursula Le Guin interview with Choire Sicha


John Grant

A couple of days ago I asked two-time Hugo Award winner John Grant what advice he’d have for aspiring writers. His newest book is Corrupted Science: Fraud, Ideology, and Politics in Science (revised & expanded). Here’s John’s advice:


Of all such pieces of advice, my favorite comes from Nora Roberts. As accurately as I can remember, it read simply: “Apply ass to chair. Write.”

Corrupted ScienceDecades ago, I got a similar message from Alec Waugh. He said essentially that the way to become a writer was to buy a ream of paper and a typewriter (told you this was decades ago!), then stick the first sheet of paper into the machine. By the time you got to the end of the ream you’d be a writer. If that failed, buy another ream and if necessary a fresh typewriter ribbon.

My late and still much mourned pal Iain Banks apparently wrote about six unpublished novels before the Waugh trick worked for him. The fact that he used the thinnest available paper and single-spaced his typing, forswearing such bourgeois desirables as margins (why waste good paper?), may also have had something to do with the delay in his being recognized as the extraordinary talent he was.

The best advice I ever got was from Colin Wilson, although he never exactly expressed it in words to me. One of my earliest books was a co-authorship with him. While working on it I noticed that (duh!) his bits were, y’know, better than mine. It eventually dawned on me that this was because Colin’s writing had all the immediacy of a conversation: he was essentially speaking onto the paper.

Although since then I’ve explored lots of other modes of writing, that remains my default style. One difficulty is that editors, especially for some reason American editors, sometimes crack down on what they perceive as my “sloppiness” — changing “won’t” into “will not,” sorta thing, or sticking in Oxford commas — but essentially that’s still the way I write: I hear what I want to write, then write the spoken words down.

So that’s the single piece of advice I’d pass along to you: don’t write, just speak onto the paper. You can always cut out the swearing and scatology later.


Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

“Develop the habit of ruthless self-criticism. Your first (or tenth) draft is not your precious child. Murder it. Savage it. It is nothing more than inert clay: a thing to be scrutinized, questioned, kneaded, chopped up, pounded, rearranged, and, if necessary, thrown away. Seek out those whose opinions you respect and ask them to give you objective criticism. . . . Another piece of advice is to write the kind of story you yourself would like to read.”

–“So you want to become a published writer


“Some write their first draft and think whatever pours out of them in the first instance is Man Booker-worthy. If you can nail a first draft like that then I doff my cap to thee, but for the vast majority of us, editing is necessary. As Hemingway eloquently put it: ‘first drafts are shit.’ Before you get down to revising, though, there’s something you need to do: put your story away for a while.” 

— “7 Nifty Editing Tips

(All seven tips are well worth reading.)


George R.R. Martin

“You need to read everything. Read fiction, non-fiction, magazines, newspapers. Read history, historical fiction, biography. Read mystery novels, fantasy, SF, horror, mainstream, literary classics, erotica, adventure, satire. Every writer has something to teach you, for good or ill. (And yes, you can learn from bad books as well as good ones — what not to do).”

— quoted in “Inspirational writing quotes by 15 celebrated authors