Great advice comes from all kinds of people: your grandma, the wise old man at the bar, and a bunch of authors you’ve never met. The authors have a lot to say to other writers, and a brief conversation may be just the thing you need for today’s work. So, what do some of the best of the best have to say about writing, reading, and critique?
“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”
If one of the greatest American writers to ever live proudly embraces his consumption of “trash,” then you should feel comfortable doing the same. Often, when writers hear someone say “Read a lot” they actually hear “Read the approved list of classics.” Reading classics is great! Faulkner encourages reading those, too. But you should still read what you like, figure out why you like it, and then take that into your own writing, regardless of what library section or bookshelf your favorite books come from.
Robert Louis Stevenson
“I kept always two books in my pocket: one to read, one to write in.”
Writing isn’t always sitting somewhere in the dark with a computer or large notebook, determined to write and do nothing but write. The fine art of carrying a small notebook for inspiration, questions, and bits of stolen dialogue from real life is criminally undersold to new writers. Keep a small notebook with you all the time. Find one that fits in your purse or pocket. Keep a pen or pencil with it. If you keep your eyes and ears open, you’ll need them.
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
Audience is important, but your passion as a writer comes first, especially in the early drafts. If you don’t enjoy the ride, few readers will. The second, unspoken part of Morrison’s insight is that there is someone like you who wants to read those stories, too. Don’t submit to the urge to make your characters conform to popular stereotypes and plotlines. Do what you want and write something you’d enjoy reading.
“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
This is another great commentary on audience. There is a long-standing bias against kids’ lit and YA fiction. Many people mistakenly assume just because the stories feature younger protagonists and are pitched to a demographic in their teens that the books must be simple, boring, or trite. Ground-breaking authors like L’Engle are beloved by readers of all ages, though, and her books captivate adults just as readily as children. There is absolutely nothing wrong with writing for a younger audience.
“Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.”
There is a wild difference between accepting reasonable critique and writing purely for others. Does your book say what you mean it to say, or is it what an influential critic said it should mean? More importantly, the flip side of Woolf’s quip affects your very survival as an author. Do not let others’ opinions drown you. Your opinion matters as much as theirs. Don’t give up, even in the face of bad reviews.
“Being a writer is a very peculiar sort of job: It’s always you versus a blank sheet of paper (or a blank screen) and quite often the blank piece of paper wins.”
If one of the most popular authors of the current century sometimes loses to the blank screen, it’s okay if you do, too. While extremely prolific authors – particularly Stephen King = are often cited for their impassioned defense of a high, regular word count, sometimes it takes a fantasy author to keep things real. You will have bad days. Or weeks. Maybe even years. So do popular, successful authors with great books. It’s okay.
Which quote do you like best? Which speaks to you as a writer? Do you disagree with any of them? Share your thoughts below.