Writing is hard. Fortunately, lots of people have done it before me, and many of them have given advice on how to do it. I keep a list of favorite quotes on writing, on perseverance, and on doubt. The following are the ones I have found the most helpful. The best writing advice I’ve ever gotten, if you will. In the comments, I would love to hear yours.
Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader. Not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.
This quote gave me such an epiphany. My goal isn’t merely to explain to the reader what the character is doing, but to bring out in the reader sympathy for what the character is experiencing. Ah ha! I find this so much more helpful than the axiom, “Show, don’t tell.”
Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very;” otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.
I love the beauty and humility of Lewis’s writing, and this quote is so emblematic of that to me. I hear it in the back of my mind as I cut away easy hyperbole and lazy adjectives. Keep your language simple and clear, so that you can reach for the soaring language when you really need it.
I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows.
This one helps me remember that not everything has to be on the page. The backstory for your characters is important, but you don’t have to tell it to the reader. It’s enough for you to know it, and the reader will intuit it because it informs the choices you make for the character.
There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is; nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that makes us more alive than the others.
This isn’t actually writing advice; Martha Graham was a dancer. It helps me so much with my writing, though. I turn to it again and again when the doubt creeps in. I love that Graham says we don’t have to decide if what we produce is good, and in fact we will never believe that our work is good. That isn’t our concern. Our concern is to be true to the voice inside us, because if we don’t, that voice will be lost forever.
Those are my favorites. What are yours?