Archives For Writing Tips

Stephen King's Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully in Ten Minutes
We came across the following article by Stephen King a little while ago. We believe it was originally published in a 1986 edition of The Writer magazine and republished in the 1988 edition of The Writer’s Handbook. We reproduce it here for educational purposes; copyright remains with Mr King.

I. The First Introduction

THAT’S RIGHT. I know it sounds like an ad for some sleazy writers’ school, but I really am going to tell you everything you need to pursue a successful and financially rewarding career writing fiction, and I really am going to do it in ten minutes, which is exactly how long it took me to learn. It will actually take you twenty minutes or so to read this essay, however, because I have to tell you a story, and then I have to write a second introduction. But these, I argue, should not count in the ten minutes.

II. The Story, or, How Stephen King Learned to Write

When I was a sophomore in high school, I did a sophomoric thing which got me in a pot of fairly hot water, as sophomoric didoes often do. I wrote and published a small satiric newspaper called The Village Vomit. In this little paper I lampooned a number of teachers at Lisbon (Maine) High School, where I was under instruction. These were not very gentle lampoons; they ranged from the scatological to the downright cruel.

Eventually, a copy of this little newspaper found its way into the hands of a faculty member, and since I had been unwise enough to put my name on it (a fault, some critics argue, of which I have still not been entirely cured), I was brought into the office. The sophisticated satirist had by that time reverted to what he really was: a fourteen-year-old kid who was shaking in his boots and wondering if he was going to get a suspension … what we called “a three-day vacation” in those dim days of 1964.

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Hannah Kent’s Rules for Writing

Photograph by Nicholas Purcell

Hannah Kent’s debut novel Burial Rites has been translated into twenty languages. It won the inaugural Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award and was shortlisted for Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.
In May 2014, Hannah was a guest of the Emerging Writers’ Festival in Melbourne and appeared as part of a panel called ‘The 5 x 5 Rules of Writing’, where she and four other EWF ambassadors (Benjamin Law, Krissy Kneen, Maxine Beneba Clarke and Felix Nobis) shared the writing advice they wish we had known when they started out. We are delighted that Hannah has allowed us to reproduce this advice here.
Hannah introduced these rules by saying “These are five things I continually need to be reminded of, and they never fail to help me remember how and why I write.”

Rule 1. Read

This is perhaps the simplest, most worthwhile piece of advice I can give any of you today, and this is why it’s the first of my five.

Read.

To be a good writer you must, first and foremost, be a good reader. How else will you learn what to do? Read as much as possible, as often as possible, and if you read something you like, or something that makes you laugh, or something that moves you in a strange, ineffable way, ask why. Re-read it. Read it aloud. Pay attention to the use of words, and the narrative voice, and the comic timing. If you don’t understand words, splurge on a really great dictionary and look those words up. The more words you know, the greater your control over language.

Read everything. How else will you work out what is good and what is bad? Give your time to Thomas Hardy, Dostoevsky, Doris Lessing and Dickens, but also read debut novels, genre fiction, contemporary fiction, history books, plays, TV scripts, poetry and memoirs. If you can’t afford new books, buy second-hand books. If you can’t afford second-hand books, get a library card. Get a library card anyway.

I’ve always loved reading, but I don’t think I ever understood how crucial it is to bettering writing practice until now. If I’m writing and I find myself in need of inspiration, or renewed focus, I will always go and read. Nine times out of ten I return to my work refreshed and exhilarated.
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Michael Arndt is the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Little Miss Sunshine. He wrote the first draft of this, his debut script, in just three days (but went on to do around 100 revisions before the film was finally made). His second script was Toy Story 3, for which he also received an Academy Award nomination.

In the following short film Arndt shares how a close examination of Toy Story 1, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, and a better understanding of how the early stages of these scripts set up their characters, helped his own writing process.

Fellow screenwriter John August (Go, Big Fish, Charlie’s Angels) contacted Arndt about the insights he shares. Arndt explained:

I’m aware the model I set up here applies imperfectly to Toy Story 3 itself. (It applies much more cleanly [for example] to Tootsie, which I consider one of the best comedy first acts of all time.) The broader point is that the emotional fuel for your first act break is largely set up in your inciting incident — and that is something that does apply to Toy Story 3.

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15 Ways to Write a Novel

25 November 2014 — 7 Comments
15 Ways to Write a Novel
Max Barry is one of Australia’s most exciting writers. His speculative fiction novel Lexicon was named as one of the 10 best fiction books of 2013 by Time magazine. In this post Max shares some of the methods he and other authors use to write a novel. 

Every year I get asked what I think about NaNoWriMo, and I don’t know how to answer, because I don’t want to say, “I think it makes you write a bad novel.”

This is kind of the point. You’re supposed to churn out 50,000 words in one month, and by the end you have a goddamn novel, one you wouldn’t have otherwise. If it’s not Shakespeare, it’s still a goddamn novel. The NaNoWriMo FAQ says: “Aiming low is the best way to succeed,” where “succeed” means “write a goddamn novel.”

I find it hard to write a goddamn novel. I can do it, but it’s not very fun. The end product is not much fun to read, either. I have different techniques. I thought I should wait until the end of November, when a few alternatives might be of interest to those people who, like me, found it really hard to write a goddamn novel, and those people who found it worked for them could happily ignore me.

Some of these methods I use a lot, some only when I’m stuck. Some I never use, but maybe they’ll work for you. If there were a single method of writing great books, we’d all be doing it.

1. The Word Target

What: You don’t let yourself leave the keyboard each day until you’ve hit 2,000 words.

Why: It gets you started. You stop fretting over whether your words are perfect, which you shouldn’t be doing in a first draft. It captures your initial burst of creative energy. It gets you to the end of a first draft in only two or three months. If you can consistently hit your daily target, you feel awesome and motivated.

Why Not: It can leave you too exhausted to spend any non-writing time thinking about your story. It encourages you to pounce on adequate ideas rather than give them time to turn into great ones. It encourages you to use many words instead of few. If you take a wrong turn, you can go a long way before you realize it. It can make you feel like a failure as a writer when the problem is that you’re trying to animate a corpse. It can make you dread writing.

2. The Word Ceiling

What: You write no more than 500 words per day.

Why: You force yourself to finish before you really want to, which makes you spend the rest of the day thinking about getting back to the story, which often produces good new ideas. You feel good about yourself even if you only produced a few hundred words that day. You don’t beat yourself up about one or two bad writing days. You give yourself time to turn good ideas into great ones. Writing feels less like hard work. (More on this.)

Why Not: It takes longer (six months or more). It can be difficult to work on the same idea for a very long time. It may take so long that you give up. Continue Reading…

Geoff Dyer's Top 10 Tips for Writers

Geoff Dyer was described in New York Magazine as being “one of our greatest living critics, not of the arts but of life itself, and one of our most original writers – always out there beyond literary Mach 1, breaking the how-things-usually-sound barrier.” He is the author of four novels, two essay collections, and six genre-defying titles (that generally find themselves shelved among the non-fiction). His most recent book, Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush, was published in May of this year. In 2010 Dyer shared the following writing tips with the Guardian.

  1. Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project. That stuff is for agents and editors to fret over—or not. Conversation with my American publisher. Me: “I’m writing a book so boring, of such limited commercial appeal, that if you publish it, it will probably cost you your job.” Publisher: “That’s exactly what makes me want to stay in my job.”
  2. Don’t write in public places. In the early 1990s I went to live in Paris. The usual writerly reasons: back then, if you were caught writing in a pub in England, you could get your head kicked in, whereas in Paris, dans les cafés … Since then I’ve developed an aversion to writing in public. I now think it should be done only in private, like any other lavatorial activity.
  3. Don’t be one of those writers who sentence themselves to a lifetime of sucking up to Nabokov.
  4. If you use a computer, constantly refine and expand your autocorrect settings. The only reason I stay loyal to my piece-of-shit computer is that I have invested so much ingenuity into building one of the great auto-correct files in literary history. Perfectly formed and spelt words emerge from a few brief keystrokes: “Niet” becomes “Nietzsche,” “phoy” becomes “photography” and so on. Genius!
  5. Keep a diary. The biggest regret of my writing life is that I have never kept a journal or a diary.
  6. Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.
  7. Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it’s a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It’s only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. I always have to feel that I’m bunking off from something.
  8. Beware of clichés. Not just the clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought—even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation.
  9. Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don’t follow it.
  10. Never ride a bike with the brakes on. If something is proving too difficult, give up and do something else. Try to live without resort to per­severance. But writing is all about perseverance. You’ve got to stick at it. In my 30s I used to go to the gym even though I hated it. The purpose of going to the gym was to postpone the day when I would stop going. That’s what writing is to me: a way of postponing the day when I won’t do it any more, the day when I will sink into a depression so profound it will be indistinguishable from perfect bliss.

Read more writing tips from Hilary MantelPaulo Coelho, Teju ColeMeg Rosoff, Joss Whedon and Neil Gaiman.

Text via The Paris Review. Photo by Jason Oddy.

12 Literary Magazines for New & Unpublished Writers

Providing news and helpful information for emerging writers was one of the major motivations for starting the Aerogramme Writers’ Studio website. One of the most popular articles we’ve posted to date has been 9 Literary Magazines for New and Unpublished Writers. So, by popular demand, here are 12 more publication opportunities for writers at the start of their careers to consider.

If you haven’t submitted your work for publication before, or if you would just like some tips from the experts, be sure to read How to Submit Your Writing to Literary Magazines, a great article with lots of useful advice from the editors of Neon Literary Magazine.

1. Sixpenny
is a new digital magazine of illustrated short stories. Each issue has six stories that take six minutes to read: three by widely published authors, and three by unpublished authors. Each writer is paid $100 for their work. The editors are seeking literary fiction that ‘keeps a reader engaged and excited from the first word to the last.’

2. The Wrong Quarterly
is a London-based literary magazine showcasing prose from both British and international writers. Its aim is to provide an inclusive platform for emerging writers worldwide. The Wrong Quarterly accepts fiction up to 6000 words and non-fiction up to 5000 words.

3. Quiddit Literary Journal 
is part of a multimedia arts program produced by Benedictine University in partnership with NPR member station WUIS Illinois. The journal, published semi-annually, features prose, poetry and artwork. International submissions from emerging as well as established writers are encouraged.

4. Neon Literary Magazine
is published three times a year in print and online, and welcomes submissions from new and never before published writers. The magazine’s tastes tend towards the dark and the surreal. Writers are asked to include a short biography and cover letter with their submissions and poets should send several poems at once (rather than just one). Neon’s website also has a number of helpful links and resources for both emerging and established writers.
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“Maybe nobody’s perfect but Billy Wilder comes as close to it as you’ll find among filmmakers in Hollywood today, and also yesterday.” – Jack Lemmon

Six-time Oscar winner Billy Wilder is one of the most respected and beloved screenwriters and directors of the twentieth century. In 1999’s Conversations with Wilder by fellow filmmaker Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire, Elizabethtown), Wilder discussed his extraordinary career in detail and shared the following tips for writers:

  1. The audience is fickle.
  2. Grab ‘em by the throat and never let ‘em go.
  3. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
  4. Know where you’re going.
  5. The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
  6. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.
  7. A tip from [Ernst] Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.
  8. In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they are seeing.
  9. The event that occurs at the second-act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
  10. The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then –
  11. – that’s it. Don’t hang around.

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