Consider this an early Christmas prezzie: a collection of some of my favorite writing tip-offs from some fine authors.
Every once in a while, you could say during a writer’s block or a dry spell, I try to discover what worked for other writers. How they moved forward. What is it that made them persevere. It inspires and encourages me and it fuels me with energy for the day ahead.
Sometimes we just need a moment’s lift.
Graham Greene’s writing tip on getting started
‘In periods when I can’t write, I keep a notepad beside my bed. When I wake up in the night after having a dream, I note it down at once. I’ve discovered dreams are like serials and the instalments sometimes carry on for weeks and in the end form a whole.’ (Graham Greene)
Agatha Christie on working on the plot:
‘The best time to plan a book is while you’re doing the dishes.’ (Agatha Christie)
Jane Austen on the power of written word
‘I have now attained the true art of letter-writing, which we are always told, is to express on paper what one would say to the same person by word of mouth.’ (Jane Austen)
William Faulkner on how to keep on going
‘Don’t be ‘a writer’ but instead be writing. Being ‘a writer’ means being stagnant. The act of writing shows movement, activity, life. When you stop moving, you’re dead. It’s never too soon to start writing, as soon as you learn to read.’ (William Faulkner)
Haruki Murakami on moving forward and routine
‘When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m.
I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.‘
Chuck Palahniuk on how to write when you don’t feel like it
‘When you don’t want to write, set an egg timer for one hour (or half hour) and sit down to write until the timer rings. If you still hate writing, you’re free in an hour. But usually, by the time that alarm rings, you’ll be so involved in your work, enjoying it so much, you’ll keep going. Instead of an egg timer, you can put a load of clothes in the washer or dryer and use them to time your work.’ (Chuck Palahniuk)
P. D. James on reading while writing:
‘Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious.‘ (P.D. James)
Phillip Pullman on writer’s block:
‘a lot of howling nonsense would be avoided if, in every sentence containing the word WRITER, that word was taken out and the word PLUMBER substituted; and the result examined for the sense it makes. Do plumbers get plumber’s block? What would you think of a plumber who used that as an excuse not to do any work that day?’ (Phillip Pullman)
Ernest Hemingway on avoiding writer’s block:
‘When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there.
You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again.’
Jodi Picoult on the writer’s block:
‘ I don’t believe in writer’s block. Think about it — when you were blocked in college and had to write a paper, didn’t it always manage to fix itself the night before the paper was due? Writer’s block is having too much time on your hands. If you have a limited amount of time to write, you just sit down and do it. You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.‘
Kathy Reichs on having multiple layers to a story:
‘an ‘A’ story that might involve a particular plot/incident, and a ‘B’ story involving ongoing things about characters, along with perhaps a ‘C’ story and other strands for plots and characters.’ (Kathy Reichs)
Alfred Hitchcock on what to expect from a novel:
‘Drama is life with the dull parts left out.’ (Alfred Hitchcock)
Write with your ending in mind, says Edgar Allan Poe:
‘Nothing is more clear than that every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its dénouement before any thing be attempted with the pen. It is only with the dénouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention.’ (Edgar Allan Poe)
Paulo Coelho on being a confident author
‘You cannot sell your next book by underrating your book that was just published. Be proud of what you have.’ (Paul Coehlo)
Zadie Smith on technology:
‘ Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.’ (Zadie Smith)
Neil Gaiman on finishing that book:
‘ Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it. ‘ (Neil Gaiman)
And perhaps my favorite one:
Agatha Christie on perseverance:
‘I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.’ (Agatha Christie)
Barbara Kingsolver on motherhood and being a writer
‘I became a novelist and mother on the same day. Those two important lives have always been one for me. I’ve always had to do both at the same time. So my writing hours were always constrained by the logistics of having my children in someone else’s care. When they were little, that was difficult. I cherished every hour at my desk as a kind of prize.
For me, writing time has always been precious, something I wait for and am eager for and make the best use of. That’s probably why I get up so early and have writing time in the quiet dawn hours, when no one needs me.
My children have taught me everything about life and about the kind of person I want to be in the world. They anchor me to the future in a concrete way. Being a mother has made me a better writer. It’s also true to say that being a writer has made me a better mother. ‘
I always remind myself: write with your heart, write what matters to you.
I hope these writing tip-offs from some really fine authors gave you that tiny boost. What are your best tips on writing and keeping it going?