Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Nice Little Piece of Advice About Writing

I (Donis) like to read what other authors have to say about the art and craft of writing. Not just because I'm looking for handy tips which will improve my technique, though that's not something to be sneezed at, but because I love to see that even very famous and acclaimed authors have exactly the same problems and demons I do.

If you could only give an aspiring writer one piece of advice, what would it be?

Some well known author--I forget who--said you should always face a blank wall when you write. (Who was it? I believe it was a woman. Does anyone know?)

M.T. Anderson, A National Book Award finalist, advises that you should "always eat broccoli before you begin."

Hemingway suggested that you always know exactly what word comes next before you stop writing for the day. Sometimes he'd stop right in the middle of a sentence. I've tried this and find it to be an excellent tip.

I recently read an essay by John Barth, author of Lost in the Funhouse and professor of creative writing at Johns Hopkins, in which he advised that the number one rule of writing is to be wary of rules of writing. The exact quote is: "I myself advise that you merely perpend such advisements and predilections, including mine to follow, en route to discovering by hunch, feel, trial, and error what best floats your particular boat." (Aside: anybody who writes like that is okay with me. See my entry of last week referencing Madame Anastasia Behrendorff, the Vocabulary Queen.)

Barth continues, "That said, I report that for this writer at least regularity is as helpful with the muse as with the bowels: a comparison to be taken just so far and no further. Go to your work table at the same time daily..."

Somerset Maugham follows a similar rule. An interviewer once asked him if he kept a strict writing schedule or if he simply waited for the Muse to strike him before he sat down to compose. He replied, "Oh, I wait for the Muse to strike. Fortunately she strikes every morning at precisely nine o'clock."

My piece of advice? The number one thing that works for me is just to sit down and do it and quit trying to figure out how to do it. Quit fooling around, Donis. The dishes will wait.

p.s. I looked up the Somerset Maugham in an attempt to get the above quote right, and I must say that Maugham is a fountainhead of quotable wisdom. Here are a couple that particularly spoke to me:

"The great American novel has not only already been written, it has already been rejected."
"There are three rules for writing a novel Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."
"You can do anything in this world if you are prepared to take the consequences."
And this, which seems especially apt right about now: "My own belief is that there is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world at large with surprise and horror."

p.p.s. I looked up the "blank wall" quote, too. It was Edna Ferber.

p.p.p.s. Sunday's guest blogger here at Type M is Deborah J. Ledford, novelist, short story writer, film producer, editor, and photographer. How does she do it all?

4 comments:

Eve said...

Donis I particularly like Barth's second quote: "That said, I report that for this writer at least regularity is as helpful with the muse as with the bowels: a comparison to be taken just so far and no further. Go to your work table at the same time daily..."

Thanks for sharing it.

Donis Casey said...

The man gets right down to basics, doesn't he, Eve?

Renaissance Women said...

I am getting to this post late, but must say...I enjoyed it. The advice was timely and timeless for all writers. Thank You.

P.S. I do love quotes!

Donis Casey said...

Me, too, RW.