Eight Letters to a Young Writer evolved as a fictional exercise addressed by Teju Cole to an imaginary young Nigerian writer. With the encouragement of Molara Wood, the editor of the series, Cole tried to move from discussions of simple writing precepts to more complex things like voice and calling. Those pieces, first published in the now defunct NEXT newspaper, were made available by Cole as a single downloadable PDF file. From that PDF I have gleaned 20+ tips/lessons on writing. I consider the letters one of the most important resource on the art of writing fiction that has come out of Nigeria in the last five years. And I share in Teju Cole’s aspiration that young writers in Nigeria and elsewhere find the tips useful.
Archives For Writing Tips
Eleanor Catton, winner in 2013 for The Luminaries
“Read everything. You can learn from everything that has a narrative—books, of course, but also films, TV shows, computer games, advertisements, conversations, speeches, articles, the news. Read things you don’t like, and try to figure out why you don’t like them. Ask ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ as much as possible, and don’t be content with an easy answer.”
Hilary Mantel, winner in 2012 for Bring Up the Bodies and in 2009 for Wolf Hall.
“Concentrate your narrative energy on the point of change. This is especially important for historical fiction. When your character is new to a place, or things alter around them, that’s the point to step back and fill in the details of their Continue Reading…
A Game of Thrones, the first book in George R.R. Martin’s mind-bogglingly successful A Song of Ice and Fire series, was first published on this day in 1996. Martin is frequently asked for advice by aspiring writers hoping to emulate his success; on his website he shares the following writing tips.
The most important thing for any aspiring writer, I think, is to read! And not just the sort of thing you’re trying to write, be that fantasy, SF, comic books, whatever. You need to read everything. Read fiction, non-fiction, magazines, newspapers. Read history, historical fiction, biography. Read mystery novels, fantasy, SF, horror, mainstream, literary classics, erotica, adventure, satire. Every writer has something to teach you, for good or ill. (And yes, you can learn from bad books as well as good ones — what not to do). Continue Reading…
The detective story is a kind of intellectual game. It is more — it is a sporting event. And for the writing of detective stories there are very definite laws — unwritten, perhaps, but none the less binding; and every respectable and self-respecting concocter of literary mysteries lives up to them. Herewith, then, is a sort Credo, based partly on the practice of all the great writers of detective stories, and partly on the promptings of the honest author’s inner conscience. To wit:
1. The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery. All clues must be plainly stated and described.
2. No willful tricks or deceptions may be placed on the reader other than those played legitimately by the criminal on the detective himself.
3. There must be no love interest. The business in hand is to bring a criminal to the bar of justice, not to bring a lovelorn couple to the hymeneal altar.
4. The detective himself, or one of the official investigators, should never turn out to be the culprit. This is bald trickery, on a par with offering some one a bright penny for a five-dollar gold piece. It’s false pretenses.
Sherman Alexie is the author of 24 books including Reservation Blues which received an American Book Award in 1996. His first young adult fiction novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, has sold over one million copies.
In the September 2010 issue of Writer’s Digest magazine Alexie shared the following advice for writers.
1. Don’t Google search yourself. Continue Reading…
“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.
Curtis Sittenfeld is the bestselling author of four novels: Prep, The 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.