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Writers on Writing
Many writers have tried to explain how the process of writing happens, offering their insights and personal thoughts.
On the internet you'll find a huge list of "How to" and general tips for writing, by blog authors and freelancers who have managed to make money with their craft. We can't deny there's a great demand for content texts, articles, reviews etc., and a productive writer can make a living out of it, but that doesn't really mean those are good at what they do — as long as you're productive and able to arrange words in an intelligible sentence, you're a good candidate to make coins out of writing. When it comes to internet content, quality is often a secondary matter.
Then, of course, if you write a lot, you'll come up with really bad stuff, not so bad stuff, and good stuff. Even professional, bestselling writers publish awful texts. But, as Chuck Wending says: " Write, write, write, motherfucking write. Write better today than you did yesterday and better tomorrow than you did today. (...) If you're a writer, you'll write. And you'll never stop to look back".
Here's what we know for sure about writing:
- It's difficult and toilsome.
- Being a reader does not make you a writer.
- Being a writer does not make you a good writer.
- Even the best ones will write bad stuff and be rejected sometimes.
- There's no magic formula to it.
- If it's hard to write, it's even harder to make a living out of it. And there are more broken writers in history than rich ones.
What about the "big" ones?
Those writers who can finally make it to the top and are recognized because of the quality and importance of their work usually don't tell "wonders" about the craft either.
Most of them only become "famous" after hard work, editing, and being rejected. A small number will make it out of luck.
After reading about what those big, acclaimed ones have to say, I've collected what I consider to be the most interesting quotes:
Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards. (Robert A. Heinlein)
Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the back yard and shot it. (Truman Capote)
A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity. (Franz Kafka)
Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. (George Orwell)
If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy. (Dorothy Parker)
I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose. (Stephen King)
I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide. (Harper Lee)
Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. (Neil Gaiman)
If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do. (William Zinsser)
Write drunk, edit sober. (Ernest Hemingway)
Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. (Oscar Wilde)
You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. (Ray Bradbury)
Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously. (Lev Grossman)
Books on the subject
It is impossible to keep tracks of all the books that have been written on the subject of writing. Authors of those kind of books are scholars, professional writers, school teachers or even successful bloggers and webmasters willing to share their work strategies, habits and techniques.
Although there are no specific methods that are certain to work, gathering insights of various books and tutorials might be a good beginning — and, while you try those tips you will not only find out which ones can work for you, but also develop your own strategies.
One of my favourite books on the writing craft is Stephen King's "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft". Being a prolific writer, King mixes autobiographical glimpses with technical approaches in an objective dialogue with the reader.
Stephen King when he was still on high school. His first story to be published, in 1965, was I Was a Teenage Grave Robber, serialized over four issues of the fanzine Comics Review. He was 18 then.
In 1967, he sold his first short story to Startling Mystery Stories, entitled The Glass Floor. During his time in University and after being hired as a teacher, he continued to contribute short stories to some magazines, although constantly dealing with financial struggles and rejections from publishers.
Only in 1973 Carrie was accepted by publishing house Doubleday. King's first draft of the novel was thrown into the trash by the author, but his wife retieved the manuscript and encouraged him to finish it. In advance, King received £2,500. But the book earned him £100,000 for the paperback rights alone!
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft was published in 2000. In the same year, the Book of the Month Club published Secret Windows: Essays and Fiction on the Craft of Writing, marketed as a companion to On Writing. In fact, Secret Windows is a collection of previous essays written by the author about writing and horror as a genre and its market, besides some unpublished short stories. Even if you're not a fan of King's work or the horror genre, those titles are valuable reading for literature students, as well as for aspiring and experienced writers.
Here are some interesting quotes from On Writing:
- I've written because it fulfilled me. Maybe it paid off the mortgage on the house and got the kids through college, but those things were on the side — I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.
How many of us have jobs we don't like? At least there is this positive thing on being difficult to earn good money with writing: those who don't love it will quickly give up.
- You can't please all of the readers all of the time; you can't please even some of the readers all of the time, but you really ought to try to please at least some of the readers some of the time.
Writer Ricardo Piglia accounts that there is no text without the reader. This situation is reflected on every text about writing: you must think about the audience. Though it seems quite obvious, some don't realize that in order to write an appealing text you must think about to whom you want it to be appealing.
- You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair — with the sense that you can never completely put on the page what's in your mind and heard. You can come to the act with your fistis clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.
Think about what you've read so far... text with "light" approaches are usually bland and boring, aren't they? Even when working on a commissioned text about a subject you usually don't write about, you have to make a connection to it some way. Otherwise, you'll have nothing but a bad text.
- If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.
This is quite self-explanatory. Some blog writers will only read other blogs and write occasionally, when they have a good idea for content. Again, what you'll have from it are bad, poorly written texts.
- Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room. Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around.
Unless we're, well, artists, we hardly ever stop to contemplate and reflect about art. Life is not meant to be creative, it's meant to be a chain of habits so it will culminate in automation. When we create art, we stop everything else and transport ourselves to a parallel universe in order to focus.
- Write with the door closed, and rewrite with the door open.
First, put your own thoughts into words, make a draft so you can have a visual sense of what you really want to accomplish. While doing this, it is crucial to stay focused on those ideas you have and on putting them on paper. After you've finished, distance yourself from your writing a little bit; try to visualize it from other perspectives, to get feedback from friends and to open your mind, so you can enrich your text.
- You undoubtedly have your own thoughts, interests, and concerns, and they have arisen, as mine have, from your experiences and adventures as a human being... You should use them in your work.
Using your thoughts and experiences will make your text "your own", with a style that, after refined, might become your unique particular way of writing.