A slight tangent to the Common Advice for Writers series.
In a sense all writers enter the arena – like that image 😀 – as novices, and like every novice before us there is a sense that our trials and tribulations are unique to us, as if we had invented the notion of narrative and hooks..
AS Hook himself says..
He came for a Hook and got a story..
And that was a very long time ago.
I said that the common advice out there felt well distilled but even I hadn’t realised just how long it might have been stewing. Here’s a few writers quotes that show what vexes the writer today has been vexing the writer for decades and likely will continue to vex for decades to come.
REMOVE UNNECESSARY WORDS
Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be – Mark Twain
Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts – Harper Lee
The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do – Thomas Jefferson
Although for every man standing for, there is one standing agin..
In a letter to his editor, Raymond Chandler let loose some words I am sure every writer carries in them..
By the way, would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have. I think your proofreader is kindly attempting to steady me on my feet, but much as I appreciate the solicitude, I am really able to steer a fairly clear course, provided I get both sidewalks and the street between.
And followed it with a poem. It does rather go on, but this part I thought worth quoting.
The rules are clean: they are right, I ween,
But where do they make the thing?
In the waxy gloam of a Funeral Home
Where the gray morticians bow?
SHOW DON’T TELL
Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass – Anton Chekov
For me, a page of good prose is where one hears the rain [and] the noise of battle – John Cheever
You don’t write about the horrors of war. No. You write about a kid’s burnt socks lying in the road – Richard Price
Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it – Hannah Arendt
Drama, instead of telling us the whole of a man’s life, must place him in such a situation, tie such a knot, that when it is untied, the whole man is visible – Leo Tolstoy
KILL YOUR DARLINGS
Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher – Flannery O’Connor
Most editors are failed writers — but so are most writers – T.S Eliot
Easy reading is damn hard writing – Nathanial Hawthorne
A good style should show no signs of effort. What is written should seem a happy accident – W.Somerset Maugham
I’d rather be caught holding up a bank than stealing so much as a two-word phrase from another writer – Jack Smith
All my best thoughts were stolen by the ancients – Ralph Waldo Emerson
An author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere – Gustave Flaubert
For all those who are too attached to the phrase ‘moderm readers’ as if all things were once permitted and we must lament the passing of great art as the age of rules has begun. These ones I really do agree with..(and not just because he is Scottish)
Damn the words, the story is the thing – Robert Louis Stevenson
The difficulty is not to a write but to write precisely what you mean; not to affect your reader but to affect him precisely in the way you want – Robert Louis Stevenson
And lastly one for our times, the age of the liberation of the bottom drawer…This goes so far back we might well have uncovered the origins of the Gatekeepers..
Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book – Cicero..