Tag Archives: best advice for writers

Best Advice for Writers: Iain Banks

atkins-bookshelf-literatureWriting is like everything else: the more you do it the better you get. Don’t try to perfect as you go along, just get to the end of the damn thing. Accept imperfections. Get it finished and then you can go back. If you try to polish every sentence there’s a chance you’ll never get past the first chapter.

Iain Banks (1954-2013), Scottish science fiction author, best known for The Wasp Factory and the nine books that make up the Culture series. Bank was named one of the “50 Greatest British writer since 1945” by The Times in 2008.

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Best Advice for Writers: Diane Ackerman

atkins-bookshelf-literatureDiane Ackerman (born 1948) is an American essayist, naturalist, and poet. She is best known for The Zookeeper’s Wife, The Human Age, An Alchemy of Mind, A Natural History of Love, and A Natural History of the Senses. In Jon Winokur’s Advice to Writers, Ackerman offered this writing advice:

“The best advice on writing I ever received was: Invent your confidence. When you’re trying something new, in security and stage fright come with the territory. Many wonderful writers (and other artists) have been plagued by insecurity throughout their profes sional lives. How could it be otherwise? By its nature, art involves risk. It’s not easy, but sometimes one has to invent one’s confidence.

My own best advice to young writers is: follow your curiosity and passion. What fascinates you will probably fascinate others. But, even if it doesn’t, you will have devoted your life to what you love. An important corollary is that it’s no use trying to write like someone else. Discover what’s uniquely yours.”

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For further reading: Advice to Writers by Jon Winokur

Best Advice for Writers: P.D. James

atkins-bookshelf-literatureP. D. James (Phyllis Dorothy James, 1920-2014) wrote crime fiction for more than half a century. In her first novel, Cover Her Face (1962), James introduced readers to Adam Dalgliesh, a poet and inspector at New Scotland Yard. She followed that with 13 additional Dalgliesh mysteries and five other unrelated novels.  Her last novel, published in 2011, was Death Comes to Pemberley, a murder mystery that is a pastiche of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. In an interview with The Guardian in 2012, James offered this writing advice:

1. Increase your word power. Increase your vocabulary. Words are our raw materials.

2. Practice writing.

3. Read widely, particularly of the best writing.

4. Learn to try and understand and sympathize with other people.

5. Go through life always open to experience. Nothing that happens to a writer, good or ill, is ever lost.

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For further reading: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/jul/15/pd-james-author-interview-readers

Best Writing Advice From Famous Writers

atkins-bookshelf-literature“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration,” observed novelist Stephen King, “the rest of us get up and go to work.” Writing, like anything else, can be difficult work but it begins by actively avoiding distractions, facing the blank screen, rolling up your sleeves, and actually doing the work. It’s not surprising that many successful writers suggest working on a computer that is not connected to the internet (hopefully you can write a few hours before withdrawal symptoms manifest themselves). Here are some famous writers sharing some sensible advice on writing.

Italo Calvino: “To write well about the elegant world you have to know it and experience it to the depths of your being… what matters is not whether you love it or hate it, but only to be quite clear about your position regarding it.”

Harper Lee: “Any writer worth his salt writes to please himself… It’s a self-exploratory operation that is endless. An exorcism of not necessarily his demon, but of his divine discontent.”

Orson Scott: “Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.”

Anne Lamott: I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts.”

William Faulkner: “Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”

Zadie Smith: “Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.”

Charles Dickens: “I have nothing else to tell; unless, indeed, I were to confess that no one can ever believe this narrative in the reading, more than I have believed it in the writing.”

Jonathan Franzen: “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.”

Stephen King: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

Anton Chekhov: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Joyce Carol Oates: “Be your own editor/critic. Sympathetic but merciless!”

Neil Gaiman: “The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.”

Helen Simpson: “The nearest I have to a rule is a post-it on the wall in front of my desk [with a quote from French novelist Gustave Flaubert:] ‘Faire et se taire.’ which I translate for myself as ‘Shut up and get on with it.’”

Toni Morrison: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

William Shakespeare: “And as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothings a local habitation and a name.”





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A Novelist Doesn’t Choose His Themes; He is Chosen By Them

atkins-bookshelf-literatureMario Vargas Llosa is the quintessential man of letters — an erudite and engaging writer, essayist, literary critic, journalist, and politician. As a Latin American writer, his literary contributions rank up there with the brilliant and influential work of Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Octavio Paz. In 2010, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature; the Nobel jury recognized Llosa for “his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat.” Inspired by Rainer Maria Rilke’s eloquent and transformative, Letters to a Young Poet, Llosa shares his insights drawn from his eventful life as a writer in a deeply reflective and thought-provoking little tome, titled Letters to a Young Novelist:

“Writing novels is the equivalent of what professional strippers do when they take off their clothes and exhibit their naked bodies on stage. The novelist performs the same acts in reverse. In constructing the novel, he goes through the motions of getting dressed, hiding the nudity in which he began under heavy, multicolored articles of clothing conjured up out of his imagination. The process is so complex and exacting that many times not even the author is able to identify in the finished product — that exuberant display of his ability to invent imaginary people and worlds — the images lurking in his memory, fixed there by life, which sparked his imagination, spurred him on, and induced him to produce his story.

As for themes, well, I believe the novelist feeds off himself, like the catoblepas, the mythical animal that appears to Saint Anthony in Flaubert’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony [Flaubert’s description: “a black buffalo with the head of a hog, hanging close to the ground, joined to its body by a thin neck, long and loose as an emptied intestine. It wallows flat upon the ground, and its legs are smothered under the huge mane of stiff bristles that hide its face”] and that Borges later revisted in his book of Imaginary Beings. The catoblepas is an impossible creature that devours itself, beginning with its feet. Likewise, the novelist scavenges his own experience for raw material for stories — in a more abstract sense, of course. He does this not just in order to re-create characters, anecdotes, or landscapes from the stuff of certain memories but also to gather fuel from them for the willpower that must sustain him if he is to see the long, hard project through.

I’ll venture a little further in discussing the themes of fiction. The novelist doesn’t choice his themes; he is chosen by them. He writes on certain subjects because certain things have happened to him. In the choice of a theme, the writer’s freedom is relative, perhaps even nonexistent… My impression is that life… inflicts themes on a writer through certain experiences that impress themselves on his consciousness or subconscious and later compel him to shake himself free by turning them into stories.”

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For further reading: Letters to a Young Novelist by Mario Varga Llosa (1997)

Why Reading is Critical to the Writer

atkins-bookshelf-literatureConsidered one of the best books on writing, as well as one of Time magazine’s top 100 nonfiction books published, Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir on the Craft delivers plenty of honest and helpful advice on the craft of writing, including this gem: “If you want to be a writer,” explains King, “you must do two things above all: read a lot and write a lot.” And many successful authors would agree: there are no shortcuts. King continues: “[We] read to experience the mediocre and the outright rotten; such experiences helps us to recognize those things when they begin to creep into our own work, and to steer clear of them. We also read in order to measure ourselves against the good and the great, to get a sense of all that can be done. And we read in order to experience different styles…  Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life… The trick is to reach yourself to read in small sips as well as in long wallows.”

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For further reading: On Writing: A Memoir on the Craft by Stephen King, Scribner (2000)

Write What You Know

atkins-bookshelf-quotationsPeter Stone: “Do you think that it’s common for young writers to deny the worth of their own childhoods and experiences and to intellectualize as you did initially?”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez: “No, the process usually takes place the other way around, but if I had to give a young writer some advice I would say to write about something that has happened to him; it’s always easy to tell whether a writer is writing about something that has happened to him or something he has read or been told. Pablo Neruda has a line in a poem that says ‘God help me from inventing when I sing.’ It always amuses me that the biggest praise for my work comes for the imagination, while the truth is that there’s not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality. The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination.”

Excerpt from Peter Stone’s interview with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “The Art of Fiction,” that appeared in The Paris Review No. 82 (Winter 1981 issue).

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For further reading: theparisreview.org/interviews/3196/the-art-of-fiction-no-69-gabriel-garcia-marquez



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