Monday, March 8, 2010

Writing Advice from Famous Authors

“Sometimes I give myself admirable advice, but I am incapable of taking it.” - Mary Wortley Montagu

I like to read advice from others because, like Ms. Montagu, I’m not very good at listening to my own counsel. Therefore when I read about a “chorus of advice on writing from famous writers,” on the Coconut Wireless blog by Sara Williams, I had to go check out the two-part article, “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction” in

There’s typical advice such as, “Keep your exclamation points under control,” (Leonard Elmore). There’s also some rather unusual rules. I picked out ten of my favorites.

“Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.” (Margaret Atwood)

“You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You've been backstage. You've seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ¬romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.” (Margaret Atwood)

“You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there's no free lunch. 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.” (Margaret Atwood)

“Do not place a photograph of your favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.” (Roddy Doyle)

“Do not search for the book you haven't written yet.” (Roddy Doyle)

“Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, eg "horse", "ran", "said".” (Roddy Doyle)

“Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer's a good idea.” (Richard Ford)

“Don't drink and write at the same time.” (Richard Ford)

“Stay in your mental pyjamas all day.” (Colm Tóibín)

“In the planning stage of a book, don't plan the ending. It has to be earned by all that will go before it.” (Rose Tremain)

Click on Part One and Part Two for the entire Guardian article.

What is the best writing advice you’ve been given? Do you have a writing rule you'd pass on to a new writer?

Thanks for stopping by.

Tags: Mary Montagu, Elmore Leonard, Margaret Atwood, Rose Tremain, rules for writing, writing advice,


Elisabeth said...

Thanks for all these wonderful quotes here Jane.

The best advice I ever heard about was to do with 'bum glue' and the need to keep yourself at your desk.

But today on the radio I heard of an argument between Gustav Flaubert and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Flaubert argued that you needed to sit or even recline for hours in order to have good ideas and to write. Nietzsche thought this a wanky idea and argued for movement as the best generator of writing and ideas.

I suspect that both apply. You'll get back problems for sure if you sit all day, and movement certainly shakes my brain up from time to time. at the same time I've never yet managed to write meaningfully while standing up.

Joanne said...

Great advice, thanks for sharing. Some of the best writing advice I've received is regarding blogging. Before I set out with my blog, I was advised to give it a specific theme, or focus, which would help in writing blog posts. I borrowed a general theme from the fiction manuscript I was writing, and I'd have to say that's worked out well for me.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Great tips, Jane! And they made me smile, too.

"Write every day" is a tip I received and try to live by.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Darcia Helle said...

I love the idea of staying in my mental pajamas all day!

A piece of advice I like is to let the creative juices flow and just write. Don't stop to conjure up the right phrase or word, particularly with fiction writing, because it breaks the creative flow. Deal with those things in your first editing phase.

Karen Walker said...

These are delightful, Jane. Made me smile. The best advice I've received about writing is to let it come from the heart, not the head.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Some of those are funny, especially the dead author's photo one.
And I understand the don't drink and write!

Elspeth Antonelli said...

I loved these lists. The best advice I ever got was to remember you can't get it perfect the first time through.

Tamika: said...

I love the last insight about not planning the ending- let it earn it's conclusion by the work that has gone on before. That is powerful.

Carol Kilgore said...

These are great, Jane. Thanks for posting.

Galen Kindley--Author said...

Ha...loved the one about don't drink and write. That would be interesting.

My best advice was, "Don't fall in love with what you've written." It was offered in the context of don't be afraid to aggressively edit "great stuff" out.

Best Wishes, Galen.

arlee bird said...

Loved those quotes-- practical advice told in an entertaining manner. Can't think of any new advice at the moment, but I can certainly vouch for the back ache one.

Stephen Tremp said...

Coffee. That's it. Gotta have great gourmet coffee with cream.

Stephen Tremp

Rayna M. Iyer said...

Every one of the quotes resonated so much with me. Thank you so much for culling them out.
My favourite advice is the one I have culled from all your collective wisdom - keep writing.

Journaling Woman said...

Jane, Advice given to me, "Write even when you don't feel like it. Otherwise one would never write."

Jan Morrison said...

Show up every day. Sit down and write. After awhile read what you've written and have at it. Repeat.

Patricia Stoltey said...

These are great quotes! I plan to come home from tomorrow's errands and change into my mental pajamas...and stay in them until Monday morning. It's time to put my nose to the grindstone on these revisions.

The best writing advice I ever received? "Never give up."

Theresa Milstein said...

What a great list of quotes. A few of them made me laugh.

For those who struggle with show and not tell, I pulled this from Francine Prose's, Reading Like a Writer:

“…a form of bad advice often given to young writers-namely, that the job of the author is to show, not tell. Needless to say, many great novelists combine ‘dramatic’ showing with long sections of the flat-out authorial narration that is, I guess, what is meant by telling. And the warning against telling leads to a confusion that causes novice writers to think everything should be acted out…”

Christina ROdriguez said...

I like Richard Ford's advice not to drink and write. If I were talking to my peers (book illustrators), I'd say, "Hey, have that drink if you want to. It worked for all those French impressionists!"

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arlee bird said...

Famous author "Mike" --

Advises getting a good deal on a foreclosure, fixing it up, and refinancing. Thanks, Mike, for that helpful writing tip.


Journaling Woman said...

This is GREAT, Jane. Thanks for those wonderful tips. Some made me laugh (tickled) and some are head nodders.

Jane's Ride - Novelist Jane Kennedy Sutton's journey through the ups and downs of the writing, publishing and marketing world