Advice on writing from some pros

There’s a lot that just about anyone, including myself, can say about writing. But right now, I’d like to directly offer up pieces of advice from some long-established pros. These snippets are excerpted from longer essays and books. I will put the name and title of the work here also so readers can look up the piece themselves if they wish.

Wallace Stegner – “To a Young Writer”

Your confidence had suddenly got gooseflesh and damp palms; you came up out of your book and looked around you and were hit by sudden panic. You would like to be told that you are good and that all this difficulty and struggle and frustration will give way gradually or suddenly, preferably suddenly, to security, fame, confidence, the conviction of having worked well and faithfully to a good end and become someone important to the world. If I am wrong in writing to this unspoken plea, forgive me; it is the sort of thing I felt myself at your age, and still feel, and will never get over feeling.

It is no trouble to tell you that you are indeed good, much too good to remain unpublished. Because publishers are mainly literate and intelligent, most of them are sure to see the quality in your novel… But that is as far as I can honestly go in reassurance…

The readers do exist. But any of them you find you will treasure. This audience, by and large, will listen to what you say and not demand that you say what everyone else is saying or what some fashionable school or clique says you should say. They are there, scattered through… listening and making very little noise. Be grateful for them. But however grateful you are, never, never write to please them.

Raymond Carver – “On Writing”

It’s possible, in a poem or short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things–a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring–with immense, even startling power. It is possible to write a line of seemingly innocuous dialogue and have it send a chill along the reader’s spine–the source of artistic delight, as Nabokov would have it.

Mark Twain – “My Literary Shipyard”

There are some books that refuse to be written. They stand their ground, year after year, and will not be persuaded. It isn’t because the book is not there and worth being written–it is only because the right form for the story does not present itself. There is only one right form for a story, and if you fail to find that form the story will not tell itself. You may try a dozen wrong forms, but in each case you will not get very far before you discover that you have not found the right one–then that story will always stop and decline to go any further.

In the course of twelve years I made six attempts to tell a simple little story which I knew would tell itself in four hours if I could ever find the right starting point. I scored six failures; then one day in London I offered the text of the story to Robert McClure, and proposed that he publish the text in the magazine and offer a prize to the person who should tell it best. I became greatly interested and went on talking upon the text for half an hour; then he said:

“You have told the story yourself. You have nothing to do but put it on paper just as you have told it.”

I recognized that this was true. At the end of four hours it was finished, and quite to my satisfaction. So it took twelve years and four hours to produce that little bit of a story, which I have called “The Death Wafer.”

All of these excerpts can be found in the book Great Writers on the Art of Fiction by James Daley.
Nancy O. Greene

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Filed under Book, Book Excerpts, Writing

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