Writers on Writing

A friend on a list just asked what to do to learn to write well, which reminded me that I’ve collected quite a few inspiring and instructional works (thanks, Jay; thanks, all!).

I don’t claim to have read these, but herewith a great list of writers’ wisdom about writing:

Plus Orwell’s rules for writing well in English (from Politics and the English Language, 1946):

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of theses rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

and Kurt Vonnegut’s advice on writing, from his book Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Enjoy!

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About Jerry Michalski

Lateral thinker, itinerant troublemaker, convener, idea mill.
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