Archives For Writing Tips

How to Write a Short Story: Advice from Kurt Vonnegut

“Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”
– Kurt Vonnegut

In this video, narrated by the author himself, Kurt Vonnegut shares eight insightful tips for writing a great short story.

This advice was published in the introduction to Bagombo Snuff Box, a collection of Vonnegut stories written during the fifties and sixties for popular magazines including Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post.

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3 Writing Tips from Curtis Sittenfeld

Curtis Sittenfeld is the bestselling author of four novels: PrepThe Man of My Dreams,  American Wife and Sisterland. In an article in The Guardian last week, published in the wake of the controversy caused by Hanif Kureishi’s assertion that creative writing courses are ‘a waste of time’, Sittenfeld (herself an experienced creative writing teacher) shared the following very practical advice for writers.

1. Establish a writing schedule ahead of time for the coming week or month.

This is more important the less time you have. If you work full-time, you might plan to write for an hour at 6am on Tuesday and Thursday, or at 4pm on Wednesday and Saturday. Write this commitment down in your diary or calendar, don’t schedule anything that conflicts with it, and sit alone somewhere you can focus when the time comes. It’s OK if you don’t produce sentences during that time, but don’t do anything else – don’t check email, don’t text, don’t go online (and for heaven’s sake, if you’re using a computer, shut all files and windows except for the one you’re working on). If some nagging errand you need to do occurs to you, write it down, but don’t start doing it.

2. Create an outline. 

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PD James - Top 10 Writing Tips

P.D. James is one of Britain’s most popular crime writers. Born in 1920, she has published over 20 novels, many of which have been adapted for television. P.D. James was created Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991 and was inducted into the International Crime Writing Hall of Fame in 2008 alongside Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. In November 2013 she shared her top tips for writing novels with the BBC.

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In July this year Joyce Carol Oates, one of the most prominent writers of her generation, posted on Twitter her top 10 writing tips. For new and experienced writers alike, this is some very valuable advice.

Joyce Carol Oates' top 10 writing tips

Related post: Joyce Carol Oates on Developing Realistic Characters

CS Lewis's Five Writing Tips

C.S. Lewis (29 November 1898 – 22 November 1963) was a novelist, poet, academic and essayist, and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day. He was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University until 1954, when he was unanimously elected to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, a position he held until his retirement. To most readers though, he is best known as the creator of The Chronicles of Narnia which he wrote between 1949 and 1954. This seven-part fantasy series endeared him to millions of readers around the world, and resulted in him receiving thousands of letters, particularly from young fans.

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How to Mix Voices Like Annie Proulx

A guest post by Joe Bunting 

I was in Kenya when I found it. It was a loaner from a friend, a travel buddy. They couldn’t handle the slow plot, the terse sentences, the overall “literariness” of it. I borrowed it eagerly, reading it in between our jaunts out to the dusty streets lined with dark faces. I read it on a cheap foam mattress on the floor. I read it in our outside “living room” while drinking African chai—so good.

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Cate Kennedy

Over the past few months we’ve shared top 10 writing tips from a range of famous international authors including Margaret Atwood, Zadie Smith and Jonathan Franzen. In this post we thought we share advice from an Australian writer that we greatly admire, the wonderful Cate Kennedy.

Cate Kennedy is a novelist, poet and short story writer based near the Broken River in north-eastern Victoria. Her 2010 novel, The World Beneath, won the People’s Choice Award in the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards and her most recent poetry collection, The Taste of River Water, won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Poetry in 2011.

Here are Cate’s Top 10 Tips for Writers.

1. CLEAR A SPACE

For the moment, try to forget about marketability, prizemoney, fame, fortune, or who’s going to play you in the miniseries. None of these spurs will actually allow you to write a better story as you’re sitting staring at the blank page. Instead, try to visualise your unwritten story as something to approach with a respectful curiosity, something you need to pick up carefully in both hands.

2. GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION

You’re going to spin this out of thin air, so let your subject matter creep up on you from wherever it comes from, and permit yourself the playful mental spaciousness to pay it some non-judgemental, sustained attention. Get a good look at it.

3. UNPLUG YOUR INTERNET CONNECTION

There is nothing in the world you need to research or investigate at this moment, except what’s already bumping around in your head. Do yourself the favour of turning off the external, distracting stimulus for once. You don’t need more information – you need to see the patterns in what is already there.

4. TRUST THE POWER OF THE STORY

Don’t worry too much about where it’s going, or the direction it’s taking you in. This is not a cerebral, analytical process. Your rapier-sharp judgment and compulsive need to solve it all can come into play later. Just trust that you will, at some stage, come to see the story that is emerging in what you are writing.

5. YOU ARE AT YOUR MOST POWERFUL WHEN YOU ARE AT YOUR MOST VULNERABLE

Feeling hesitant, nervous, queasy almost, about the raw revelation needed to give away your deepest secrets? That’s the way. Sit tight.

6. ENGAGE NOW, DETACH LATER

Try to see this as a two-stage process – the hot stage and the cool stage. That egotistical little voice on your shoulder, whispering about control and competence, whining for your attention? Gag them for the moment. They’ll have plenty of time to show off later, when you’re redrafting and have achieved, through this process, a little more detachment from your work. For now, plunge in. Nobody’s watching – you’re allowed to skinny-dip.

7. GET OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY

Don’t overthink this. A story is an offer, not a claim. Writing with something to prove – your extensive vocabulary, your arcane bits of knowledge, your cleverness – will trip you up like clown shoes. Learning to write wholeheartedly instead will let you gradually burn away the lurking pretention and self-regard which will choke your story to death.  Your inner voice is the one that has true pitch; your ego-ridden voice is dangerously tone-deaf.

8. COMPASSION AND A GOOD MEMORY

An unbeatable combo for storytellers and writers keen on getting better.

9. PREPARE TO FIND THIS TIRESOME

Here’s the thing – at the other side of your boredom (and disillusion, and aggrieved sense of entitlement) lies your better, more honest self and your stronger, more powerful story. Mastering your distracted restlessness will get you there, solitary minute by solitary minute.

10. THERE’S MORE THAN TEN TOP TIPS

as you’ll quickly find as soon as you get to the end of your first draft. Stories are living, breathing entities; they refuse to be corralled by aphorism. So…

11. KEEP GOING ANYWAY

until you no longer get a stitch every time you try, until you feel like sharing it, until it becomes its own reward. By then, it’ll be knitted into your DNA, so it’ll be too late to even consider giving up.

These tips were original posted on the Black Inc Blog in 2010 to celebrate the release of The Best Australian Stories 2010, edited by Cate Kennedy.