It’s a new year and you’ve made new writing goals. Will you begin/finish your book this year? What writing goals do you have? To help you reach your goals, I’ve rounded up important writing advice from famous authors. Take what you want, ignore the rest:
Writing advice from famous authors: Ray Bradbury
If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned to and sent rambling.
You must write every single day of your life.
Read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, ad let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next.
You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads.
I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime.
I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you.
May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories—science fiction or otherwise.
Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days.
And out of that love, remake a world.
Writing advice from famous authors: Elmore Leonard:
- Begin writing before you put the coffee on.
- Never open a book with weather.
- Avoid prologues.
- Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
- Don’t use a an adverb to modify the verb “said.”
- Keep your exclamation points under control.
- Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”.
- Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
- Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
- Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
- Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Readers won’t skip dialogue.
- Keep it simple.
- You have to have fun at this, or it’ll drive you nuts.
- Don’t worry about what your mother thinks about it.
- It’s very, very important to have a style or sound to your writing.
- Writing is rewriting, constantly rewriting.
- If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.
Writing advice from famous authors: Seth Godin
- Lower your expectations.
- The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out.
- Pay for an editor.
- Understand that a non-fiction book is a souvenir.
- Don’t try to sell your book to everyone.
- Resist the temptation to hire a publicist.
- Think hard before you spend a year trying to please one person in New York.
- Your book cover matters.
- If you have a real publisher, invest in a few things.
- In case you skipped it, check #2 again.
- Blurbs are overrated.
- Blog mentions matter a lot.
- Bookstore talks and book club interviews by phone work.
- Consider the free PDF option.
- Show up in places where people who don’t usually buy books spend time.
- Most books that sell by the truckload sell by the caseload.
- Publishing a book is not the same as printing a book.
- Bookstores are run by absolutely terrific people.
- Writing a book is a tremendous experience.
Writing advice from famous authors: John Steinbeck
Now let me give you the benefit of my experience in facing 400 pages of blank stock—the appalling stuff that must be filled. I know that no one really wants the benefit of anyone’s experience which is probably why it is freely offered. But the following are some of the things I have had to do to keep from going nuts.
- Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
- Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
- Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death, and in the second place, unlike the theatre, it doesn’t exist. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person—and write to that one.
- If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it give trouble is because it didn’t belong there.
- Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
- If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.
Well, actually that’s about all.
I know that no two people have the same methods. However, these mostly work for me.
Writing advice from famous authors: David Ogilvy (Advertising master)
How to Write
The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well.
Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches.
Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:
- Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.
- Write the way you talk. Naturally.
- Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
- Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
- Never write more than two pages on any subject.
- Check your quotations.
- Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.
- If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
- Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
- If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.
Source: The Unpublished David Ogilvy (1986)
Writing advice from famous authors:Pixar
The following first appeared in this blog here. I’m re-posting it because of its relevance.
- You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
- You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.
- Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
- Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
- Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
- What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
- Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
- Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
- When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
- Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
- Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
- Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
- Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
- Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
- If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
- What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
- No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
- You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
- Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
- Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
- You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
- What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
I hope you have enjoyed these tips and that they will make a difference to your writing.
What tips do you have to share?
Mine are B.I.C. and F.O.K. (Butt In Chair, Fingers on Keyboard)