The choice to train to be an artist of any kind is a risky one. Art’s a vocation, and often pays little for years and years — or never. Kids who want to be dancers, musicians, painters, writers, need more than dreams. They need a serious commitment to learning how to do what they want to do, and working at it through failure and discouragement. Dreams are lovely, but passion is what an artist needs — a passion for the work. That’s all that can carry you through the hard times. So I guess my advice to the young writer is a warning, and a wish: You’ve chosen a really, really hard job that probably won’t pay you beans — so get yourself some kind of salable skill to live on! And may you find the reward of your work in the work itself. May it bring you joy.
To sum it all up, if you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling.
You must write every single day of your life.
You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next.
You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads.
I wish for you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime.
I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you.
May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories—science fiction or otherwise.
Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.
Cross out as many adjectives and adverbs as you can. It is comprehensible when I write: “The man sat on the grass,” because it is clear and does not detain one’s attention. On the other hand, it is difficult to figure out and hard on the brain if I write: “The tall, narrow-chested man of medium height and with a red beard sat down on the green grass that had already been trampled down by the pedestrians, sat down silently, looking around timidly and fearfully.” The brain can’t grasp all that at once, and art must be grasped at once, instantaneously.
According to George Orwell, a scrupulous writer, in every sentence they write, will ask themselves these questions:
- What am I trying to say?
- What words will express it?
- What image or idiom will make it clearer?
- Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
- Could I put it more shortly?
- Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?
From 1953 to present, Elmore Leonard, the king of gritty realism and strong dialogue, has written 49 novels, 9 screenplays, and more than a few short stories, so it’s fair to say the man knows a thing or two about writing. So, even if you aren’t a fan of his work, it couldn’t hurt to take a couple of tips from a man who’s been there, written that:
- Never open a book with the weather.
- Avoid prologues.
- Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
- Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said.”
- Keep your exclamation points under control!
- Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
- Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
- Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
- Same for places and things.
- Leave out the parts readers tend to skip.
Almost makes writing a novel sound easy, doesn’t it? Truth is, it’s only as hard as you allow it to be.