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Good advice

Laura Miller at Salon always has something interesting brewing, and this week it’s an interview with legendary editor, publisher and author Robert Gottlieb. Illustrious as his career has been (he has edited a who’s who of literary luminaries, including Toni Morrison, John Cheever, Salman Rushdie, Doris Lessing, Margaret Drabble, Joseph Heller, etc. etc.) his perspective on his role is refreshingly down to earth: “I love what I do, which is a service job.” It’s true that Gottlieb can afford to be modest, given the hyperarticulate bunch of important cultural figures who comprise his fanclub, but it’s hard to find fault with an editor who believes his job “is to be in sympathy with what the writer is doing and to try to help her or him make it better of what it is, not to make it into something else. Because that way there will be tears.” Or, with respect to the editorial process, “You can take it out, but you can’t put it in.”

I might just embroider that on a throw pillow. Or have it tattooed to my forearm.

Gottlieb was (and still is) a veritable font of solid advice. He told Toni Morrison to quit her day job. He’s advised “generations of writers who have writer’s block, ‘Don’t think about writing. Think about typing.’” Assuming that Gottlieb has not cornered the market on good counsel, and taking a page from Katie Couric (who has cleverly put together a book based not on her own thoughts or experiences but things other people have told her called The Best Advice I Ever Got) what is the best writing related advice you’ve received?

5 Responses to Good advice

  1. LupLun says:

    Favorite story of mine: Early in their careers, after one of their first gigs in the UK, The Ramones were taken to dinner by some of their local fans. One of the people at this impromptu party was a young Paul Simonen. Naturally, they get to talking about music, and Johnny Ramone asks Paul, “You in a band?”
    “Yeah.” Paul says.
    “What’s it called?”
    “The Clash, but uhh… you never heard of us. We’ve never had a gig, we just practice.”
    “Why not?”
    “Well, uh… we’re not good enough.”
    Johnny Ramone busts out laughing. “You’re not good enough? Did you see us up there? We stink, we’re lousy, we can’t play. Just get out there and do it!”

    Sound advice for people in all professions. Skill can be learned, but motivation can’t. Have the courage to get up on stage and stink.

  2. Lance Parkin says:

    ‘It’s not about finding ways to get words on a page, it’s about finding ways to keep your bottom on the chair’.

    and

    ‘Never take the deal with the smaller advance and the higher royalty rate’.

  3. Alli says:

    Luplun, that is a fabulous story! Very cool.

    Probably one of my favorites is “You can’t fix a blank page”.

  4. I was told, “Write three pages in a journal everyday.” I feel it’s the best advice because a writer needs to generate verbiage – lots and lots of lots of verbiage – if you think of revision as compression, winnowing, reducing, distilling. Less and less and less and less.

  5. Lance Parkin says:

    > I was told, “Write three pages in a journal everyday.” I
    > feel it’s the best advice because a writer needs to
    > generate verbiage – lots and lots of lots of verbiage

    It’s the same as you can’t edit a blank page – it’s not a book until it’s words on a page.

    I don’t know about ‘just write anything’ type advice. I’m acutely aware that as I’m typing this I’m not working on any of three things I’m meant to be working on today. I think, if you’re working on something, you keep writing and writing that thing, even if it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere (Kate Orman, a writer pal of mind calls this ‘Flintstoning’ after that bit where Fred’s in his car but only running on the spot). You can usually edit that down into *something*, or at least come to understand you’ve discovered one wrong way to do it.

    Break things up into smaller blocks, set yourself goals, don’t get up/go online until you’ve finished that scene/description/bit of research.

    Everyone’s different, and works in a different way. If writing a journal helps, do it. If it doesn’t, don’t get hung up on the idea you’re ‘meant’ to be doing that, do something else that does work.

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