Literary Liaisons

A blog about writing and all things story…

Sage Writer’s Advice

Newport Oregon

Some time ago I was asked to review a piece of writing for a
friend of a friend. My advice to you; Unless it’s what you do for a living, NEVER do that for strangers!
When they ask just say, “Oh I’m sorry I have temporary
blindness” or something. Just don’t do it. Aside from the “what the hell am I going to tell this poor soul who can’t string three sentences together in a comprehensive or even remotely interesting way” problem, it brought back all my painful lessons about writing and all the horrible writing crimes I’ve committed (and continue to commit) in my life long internship as a scribe. I think that’s the longest sentence I ever wrote. Anyway….
My knuckles have been tapped so many times over this one; “Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” as in, “… he admonished angrily” (eew!). To use an adverb this way is considered a “mortal sin”,Elmore Leonard said harshly (Ha!). It’s really just we writers inserting ourselves into the writing; it distracts and interrupts the rhythm of the scene. Thankfully I stopped doing that about 6 years ago. I’m a slow learner.
Here’s some wise and often funny advice from some well known authors:
Anne Enright: The first 12 years are the worst. – The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page. – Only bad writers think that their work is really good.
Elmore Leonard: Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a charac­ter’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead look­ing for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.
Margaret Atwood: Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What ­fascinates A will bore the pants off B. – You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.

Roddy Doyle: Do not place a photograph of your ­favorite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide. – Do be kind to yourself. Fill pages as quickly as possible; double space, or write on every second line. Regard every new page as a small triumph ­– Until you get to Page 50. Then calm down, and start worrying about the quality. Do feel anxiety– it’s the job. – Do give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak Housebefore he started writing it. The rest must have been easy.
Helen Dunmore: Listen to what you have written. A dud rhythm in a passage of dialogue may show that you don’t yet understand the characters well enough to write in their voices. – Learn poems by heart.

Geoff Dyer: Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.
Richard Ford: Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer’s a good idea.
Esther Freud: A story needs rhythm. Read it aloud to yourself. If it doesn’t spin a bit of magic, it’s missing something. – Editing is everything. Cut until you can cut no more.
My sage advice: Do back exercise; pain is distracting and ultimately it shows up in your writing, and nobody likes that. – When asked to critique something, find the most compassionate and constructive way possible to educate and still be up-lifting. It’s hard to be a writer and we all need to be supported in our endeavors from the beginning to the ,well, middle, and I assume to the end of our writing careers. 

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This entry was posted on July 9, 2011 by in Uncategorized.
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