Posts Tagged ‘Writing advice’


Barbara Kingsolver

“To begin, give yourself permission to write a bad book. Writer’s block is another name for writer’s dread—the paralyzing fear that our work won’t measure up. It doesn’t matter how many books I’ve published, starting the next one always feels as daunting as the first. A day comes when I just have to make a deal with myself: write something anyway, even if it’s awful. Nobody has to know. Maybe it never leaves this room! Just go. Bang out a draft.”

–Barbara Kingsolver in “5 Writing Tips: Barbara Kingsolver” on the Publishers Weekly site

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(Kingsolver’s five writing tips constitute the best writing advice in a short space I’ve ever seen. I’d highly recommend reading all of her tips.)


Danez Smith

“I don’t believe in writer’s block. When I am experiencing what feels like it, I know I need to do one of a few things. The first would be to stop writing and to focus on absorbing art. . . . The other thing I have to do is ask questions. (Why am I stuck? Is it the piece? Am I feeling balanced enough in other areas in my life to flourish in my writing? Am I hungry? Am I tired? Are the idea and the genre of what I’m working on agreeing with each other? Am I experiencing a road block or a directive to try something else?) Another option is to write through it, to write every ugly, horrible sentence that comes to mind and just work until I find something of value.”

–“Is it real? 25 famous writers on writer’s block” on LitHub


“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

–quoted by Adam O’Fallon Price in “On Semicolons and the Rules of Writing


“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.