Do Long-suffering Bastards Write Better than Happy Schmucks?
I don't write or post much about the craft of writing for several reasons:
- There are as many ways to write as there are writers, and we all have to develop the process that works for us. What works for me will probably not be useful for you, and vice versa.
- So much has already been said about the subject, a great deal of it from really good writers, that I can't imagine I have very much to add to the subject.
- I have an abiding belief that writers, good ones at least, are born rather than made. William Faulkner agrees. (See below.) Any tips that I might offer would be contrary to this belief, and, to the extent they looked like encouragement, would seduce those not born to the art to pour still more dreck into the growing flood in which I have to compete for attention. I'm just not interested.
. . . and, Then, There Are These
Still, there are some gems of writerly wisdom that I have distilled from the authors who failed to discourage me. Here are a baker's dozen of them. Maybe you'll find them useful. Like a lot of good advice, almost all of it can be applied to other difficult and worthwhile pursuits. Also like a lot of good advice, bits of it will only make sense to those who can profit from it. My personal favorites are the ones from the two Annies. Coincidence? I think not. The truest thing here, though, is surely #3 from Jonathan Franzen.
- Elmore Leonard: If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.
- G.K, Chesterton: I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.
- Jonathan Franzen: It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.
- Ernest Hemmingway: Write drunk. Edit sober.
- Elbert Hubbard: Grammar is the grave of letters.
- Charles Baudelaire: Always be a poet, even in prose.
- Annie Proulx: Write slowly and by hand and only about subjects that interest you.
- Margaret Atwood: 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.
- Zadie Smith: Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand—but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied.
- Annie Dillard: Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case.
- William Faulkner: Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him.
- Neil Gaiman: Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that – but you are the only you.
- Dorothy Parker: 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.