Sunday, June 27, 2010


When I first started writing, I enthusiastically read every how-to book, blog and website, I could find. 
But soon they began to be repetitive
and not useful. I felt I had wasted a lot of time.
This is the most useful advice for writers I’ve found:

1)    Read widely and well so you know how to write.
2)    Live wildly so you have something to write about.
3)    There is no advice for writers, you have to figure     it out for yourself. John Steinbeck realised this and he turned out all right.
At some point, a writer must assume responsibility for her writing and express her own thoughts, in her own way. Some writers don’t ever have the courage to do this, they hide behind popular themes and formats and write unsatisfying books where style and formula are more visible than the characters or the plot.
    So-called “creative writing” courses are another form of advice-for-writers. I took a few courses and felt frustrated and irritated by most. We were asked to go out and sit in a cafĂ©, observe and return to class to write a story. Another teacher played a piece of music and asked us to write about what it evoked. We were also told not to write what we knew but to make it all up (deliberate sabotage?). Another teacher mocked a student who tried to talk about Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz. “Who?” he asked with an ignorant curl of the lip. Only the course where the teacher assigned reading and gave us plentiful reaction to our writing was valuable. The fact that this teacher loved my writing and laughed out loud at the funny bits naturally made it my favorite. 
    I don’t think good writing can be taught, anyway. It has to be lived, observed from real life, ripped from the gut. Somehow, I don’t think FLAUBERT, NABOKOV, SHAKESEARE, MORRISON or PINTER based their writing on advice. 
    The practical stuff like formatting a manuscript and how to write a query letter can be figured out in a day or two, no need to follow self-appointed advice-givers for years or, worse yet, pay them.
    Too many new writers follow advice too humbly for too long. If you don’t trust your own writing, nobody else will either. Stick your neck out, jump in, take a chance. Refuse to make a career out of reading how-to books and advice blogs.


Nora Lumiere said...

And writing courses are expensive as well as fairly useless.
Two bits of self-promotion in one comment - I'll have to go and do some on your blog now!

John L said...

Great thoughts. Another point is that everyone writes differently, and there is no perfect way that fits everyone. I think a good writing teacher can be helpful if they can point you in the right direction. But they can't teach you how to find your writer's voice, that's something you have to learn by writing. As Melville said, it is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.

Nora Lumiere said...

Thank you. Yes,the elusive writer's voice is not easy to find. Unless you're transported by passion, then it just flows out. Hard to keep it up for a whole book though.

Nora Lumiere said...

Always glad to hear from you and thank you for your comment.
I'm not publishing it because of the link to a blog which has asked me for money for advice.
If you'd like to comment without the link, I'll be glad to publish it.

u.v.ray. said...

Indeed. I was recently banned from an online writer's discussion forum for saying creative writing tutors should be taken up an alleyway and quietly strangled.

Nora Lumiere said...

I wouldn't go that far but I do think the fault lies with those willing to pay exorbitant fees for useless classes more than twice.