If you’re a writer and you want the best, truest and only advice I can give you on how to be a better writer, here goes: The first rule of Writing Club is, there are no rules. Don’t tell yourself there’s only one way to succeed, or you need to do whatever **** did. Pick your own writing path. If you don’t like where it leads you, pick a different path. If nothing seems to work and you’ve lost your joy for the process, quit.
Oops, that last word slipped in unexpectedly. (That happens with these posts, doesn’t it? Glynn and I outline our novels, but these words are frequently spur of the moment.) Life is too short to spend weeks, and months, and years on something that no longer brings you any happiness. When writing becomes a chore, put your pages away and do something else. On occasion, I have. I may yet again.
(The guy on the left? H.P. Lovecraft, as I choose to imagine him.)
When it comes to writing tips, that’s all the wisdom I have to share. Fortunately, there are some wonderful writers out there willing to offer us all much, much more advice. So let me share a little of it.
R.L. Stine believes writers should never use WAS as a verb. If John Steinbeck had been alive to follow those words, think how much better his novels would be. (Kidding, J.S., kidding!) Speaking of John Steinbeck, he believed writers should abandon any hope of finishing their creations and keep writing, anyway. A few decades later, Elmore Leonard commanded that our particular tribe never begin a novel – or, I’m guessing, a blog post -- with the weather.
Did I mention the humidity here? Twenty-seven percent today. In your face, Elmore Leonard. (Glynn loves Leonard’s work. Don’t tell him about this, okay?)
The Writer’s Digest team implores us to make the last 10,000 words of our novel so fascinating that the reader’s only disappointment is that the book is over – but, having said this, they follow their advice with a marketing pitch. Unfortunately, the WD marketing pitch wasn’t interesting at all.
If their advertisement had said, “Also, make the first 10,000 words of your novel so interesting that the reader must go to the second 10,000 words…and then make the second 10,000 words so engrossing that the reader must go to the third 10,000 words…but, by the third set of 10,000 words, what the hell, just pump something out ‘cause nobody reads the middle section” – well, I might have hit the link and pursued their marketing pitch. After all, I’d feel they might have something interesting to share with me, even if it was a little deranged. I could enjoy that.
H.P. Lovecraft also had some advice to offer. You probably remember the name, since I’ve mentioned him here in a previous post or six as my go-to author for reading comfort. Or maybe you'll have heard about him because he’s hugely famous. One or the other.
I found 316 pages of his wisdom when my friend, Sue, sent me a link to an absolutely free (if you have a kindle) book that came out under his name. It’s called Writings in the United Amateur, 1915-1922 and I say this as a huge fan, it’s mostly interesting as a historical oddity. There are a few Lovecraft poems and many, many story critiques, but I won't be grabbing it when I have trouble sleeping, I'll tell you that. Even at the beginning of the book, I had my doubts that this was a keeper. Lovecraft starts by telling the reader, “The desire to write for publication is one which inheres strongly in every human breast” – and I immediately had my doubts that he was correct. Yes, his statement applied to me. Most days. It applied to Glynn. Not on NFL Sunday, perhaps, but for six days of the week. But did it apply to everyone? Say, to Glynn’s sister?
I emailed her and asked. She very kindly wrote back, “I don’t have a deep desire to write for publication” although, as it turns out, if there’s someone out there who’d like to write her fairly interesting life story, she’s open to negotiation.
I then texted a family friend, who texted back “?”, as if that was an adequate response to any text message other than, “What is the appropriate symbol for question mark”. I called the Good Witch but her cell phone was turned off/busy/dead, and I was too lazy to go over to her house for her answer. However, since she spent ten minutes yesterday complaining about finding the right words needed to fill out her nephew’s birthday card, I’m guessing she’d disagree with Howard. If I discover differently, I’ll let you know.
But here is where Mr. Lovecraft and I do agree: “All attempts at gaining literary polish must begin with judicious reading, and the learner must never cease to hold this phase uppermost. In many cases, the usage of good authors will be found a more effective guide than any amount of precept. A page of Addison or of Irving will teach more of style than a whole manual of rules, whilst a story of Poe’s will impress upon the mind a more vivid notion of powerful and correct description and narration that will ten dry chapters of a bulky textbook.”
It’s the second rule of Writing Club. To be a good writer, you have to be a reader. If Lovecraft’s suggestion has given you a sudden urge to read a little Edgar Allan, you can go here to get his complete works as a 99-cent download.
A little something to enjoy on a bright and cloudless day like today.