Tips from writers, for writers

Stephen King’s  short story, “A Death,” was this week’s fiction in the New Yorker, so naturally I started thinking about how I still have to get around to reading 11/22/63 and ON WRITING. Then I started thinking about how a lot of writers seem to enjoy giving advice about writing. But is any of it any good? The answer is yes: Yes, writing tips from established writers can be very, very good.

Here’s some of the best advice I’ve come across:

99% of great writers will tell you that their first drafts are rambling, incoherent pieces of s!@*. The other 1% are lying. (Full disclosure: I haven’t finished crunching all the numbers yet, so I’m ballparking here.) Editing and rewriting are such vital components to crafting a story, but first you need to put your ideas down on paper. You can’t shape what’s not there. If you haven’t read Anne Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD, do so. Now. It will revolutionize your writing process.

John McPhee’s “The Writing Life” column in the New Yorker is a goldmine of wisdom. His tips on how to develop the structure of a story are particularly helpful. Few writers place such importance on structure as McPhee. Few writers have also had as prolific a career.

You ever hear of this guy Ernest Hemingway? I hear he’s good. He was also a proponent of simple, direct prose. Cut out all ornamentation. If a word isn’t necessary, lose it. He also said that writers should never describe an emotion—they should present the situation/action in a way that evokes the emotion in readers. This is  difficult to perfect, but it’s something all writers should strive to do.

What are your favorite tips from writers? Let us know in the comments.

4 Responses to Tips from writers, for writers

  1. Anonymous says:

    OK< I just dropped in here to get some jerky and Mountain Dew on my way back to Death Valley and you're going to make me miss my train-but drop everything you're doing and read Stephen King's ON WRITING immediately-and then read SALEMS LOT just for the fact that it's a completely outrageous idea set in the real-time 70's which he actually makes beleivable. It's also like Led Zeppelin II-done early and in the zone before he grew up and grew up, rehabed, and became ashamed of horror. There, I'm done-lifting off & gone….

    • Mike Hoogland says:

      I know, I have to read ON WRITING! Thank you for the suggestion–I will definitely check out SALEM’S LOT.

  2. D. C. DaCosta says:

    For what they may be worth, here are my own personal rules for writing:
    1. Whenever possible, show, don’t tell.
    2. Make every word count. (This doesn’t mean you have to be spare and non-descriptive — just don’t waste the reader’s time.)
    3. Let the reader fill in his own details, especially as to the appearance of people or the setting.
    4. No matter how good it is, if the episode neither advances the plot nor provides new information about the characters…out it goes!
    5. Never throw anything away. Whatever you excise under #4, above, can usually be recycled for another character in another story.

  3. Mike Hoogland says:

    Thanks for sharing D.C. Number one is especially crucial.

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