One thing I like about this quote is how it challenges both the character and the reader to discover “what they are made of.” That “they” can work on multiple levels—making this quote both straightforward and yet layered.
Interestingly enough, this is just one of Vonnegut’s eight tips for writing (number six, specifically.) He’s not the only writer to dish out eight tips—seems like a comfortable number for a lot of us. You can read all of Vonnegut’s eight and the eight tips from other great authors over at this post.
Over the last week, I saw a couple of authors share tips for writing and for whatever reason, they each chose eight as their number. I know there are others who go with more or less, some of which I’ve even highlighted on this blog (Elmore Leonard, Dave Farland, Heinlein.) I wondered if this was a thing, so I did a little Googling. I found quite a few sets so I figured it’d be fun to gather them up and share them here.
A note before we begin: take everything with a grain of salt. Glean what you can; ignore what doesn’t resonate. What works for one author doesn’t always work for someone else. There is no right path to writing. Be willing to try anything, and figure out your process along the way. It’s easy to get frustrated, but learn to enjoy the discovery, uncovering how you work is part of the fun. So, that said, let’s jump in!
If there were a “big eight,” it’d probably be these eight. (I’d theorize that it was Vonnegut who set the precedent.) He doesn’t hold back, and his “rules” clearly serve as guidelines for his razor-sharp prose.
My Favorite: “Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”
This set wasn’t assembled by O’Connor but rather gleaned from her work. However, it’s a fascinating insight into the way she worked and why her stories still resonate.
My Favorite: “I suppose I am not very severe criticizing other people’s manuscripts for several reasons, but first being that I don’t concern myself overly with meaning. This may be odd as I certainly believe a story has to have meaning, but the meaning in a story can’t be paraphrased and if it’s there it’s there, almost more as a physical than an intellectual fact.”
There is a bit of an my-way-or-the-highway style to these “Do’s and Don’ts,” but there are some good approaches within them as well. And one cannot argue with Grisham’s results, but as always do what works for you—write to serve the story.
My Favorite: “Don’t — Keep A Thesaurus Within Reaching Distance”
Gaiman’s rules are as varied and profound as his own work. But they also come from a place of kindness and empathy. Very much worth a read.
My Favorite: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
This collection was gleaned from Rowling’s various quotes, and she offers some good advice for those struggling through the difficulties of creation.
My Favorite: “I always advise children who ask me for tips on being a writer to read as much as they possibly can. Jane Austen gave a young friend the same advice, so I’m in good company there.”
But wait… even after you read those rules, I should stress that Rowling didn’t assemble these herself. Like O’Connor above, someone else gathered them from various quotes of hers. However, unlike O’Connor, Rowling was able to hit up Twitter and explain her approach.
All nonsense. I’m with W. Somerset Maugham: “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” pic.twitter.com/V8JSHteiHz
While the post is absolutely a collection of things she said, they aren’t hard and fast “rules”—think of them as tips or approaches. As I mentioned above, there are no rules specific to everyone and Rowling would agree. You can read more of her thoughts on writing (pulled from Twitter), right over here.
Personally, I’ve never been interested in writing short stories. But they are a staple of science fiction and fantasy. These eight little rules are a wonderful approach and would be effective for any fiction long or short.
Lewis’s tips are very similar to most modern writing advice. Just replace the “radio” with “internet” and magazines with the “internet.” Basically, replace the internet with books, people! Get rid of the internet!
My Favorite: “Read good books and avoid most magazines.”
So that’s it! Perhaps yo—
Wait, though… if the J. K. Rowling’s “rules” weren’t really hers, right? I mean she said them, sure, but they weren’t her rules per say. (The same argument could be made for O’Conner and Lewis, but they’re not around to tell us any different.) That means I owe you someone else! So, here’s eight different rules from eight different authors—they also happened to have won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
As you’d expect, there’s a ton of good advice on this list. One thing I’ve noticed as you read more and more of these is that the tips and rules seem to the echo the others—almost as if each set is constructed of similar material but reflected by an inner mirror within each writer.
My Favorite: Alice Munroe’s “Work stories out in your head when you can’t write.”
So, there are eight writing tips from eight different writers writing tips from sixteen different writers! A lot of good stuff, and plenty of interesting strategies. Hopefully, you find something that works for you. I listed my favorites, but I am sure you have your own as well. What stood out to you? Anything you disagree with? Do you have your own list of eight? Leave a comment and let me know!
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Apologies to the Weather Girls, but I couldn’t resist that title. (Also, I’m surprised at how literal they went with that video. Damn.)
It’s been a wild and strange week so far and I have some positive developments that I want to share. Documenting the journey of writing/publishing/promoting has always been a mission of this blog, both good and bad, and it’s time for some good.
On Sunday, I launched another promotion through BookBub, my second, in it I discounted Old Broken Road to 99¢. (I also discounted The Stars Were Right, because, why not?) I’m happy to report the promo has been a wild success. More than I could have ever expected. Here is Old Broken Road’s ranking at the height of the sale:
Sales were solid and steady, and as you can see it became a best seller in quite a few categories. I saw a lot of people picking up The Stars Were Right and Red Litten World, which was encouraging. As a result of this promotion, there are a lot of new readers just now experiencing the Territories for the first time. Welcome to the company, roaders. I sincerely hope you enjoy the ride as much as I enjoyed writing it.
I also hit another milestone, one I am quite proud of:
For a few glorious days, I was listed on Amazon’s Most Popular Authors in Science Fiction and Fantasy for the Kindle. Amazon Author Rank a new-ish list that highlights and tracks the bestselling authors on the platform. I got to be one of them, and for a while, I was ranked higher than two of my writing heroes: Kurt Vonnegut and Stephen King. It was a surprise, so much so even I had issues with it.
I’m still sorting through my emotions. I am flattered that so many people decided to jump in a read some of my books, I’m humbled to see that you’re willing to give my work a chance, and I’m excited to hear what you think. Please, feel free to drop me a line at any time good or bad. Don’t forget to leave a review on Goodreads and Amazon. Reviews are what allow me to do promotions like this one.
Old Broken Road will continue to be on sale through next Monday. You can find out more on this postincluding links to all the stores.
If that quote doesn’t make you want to read this book, you’re probably dead. I’m happy to say that today is the launch of Join by author Steve Toutonghi. Now before I continue, full disclosure: Steve is a friend of mine, a former co-worker (and boss), and I was lucky enough to be an early a beta reader of the manuscript that became Join.
Join is good, it’s real good, and you should buy and read it. As I mentioned in my review on Goodreads, Join reminds me of the work of Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut, or, more recently, Jeff VanderMeer. A strange and cerebral tale that is both intimate and engaging. The story is set on a familiar near-future Earth that has been ravaged by extreme weather events. In this setting, we find ourselves confronted with the technology of Join: the merging of individual’s consciousnesses (and bodies) into a single person with the memories comprised of each former individual. The Join technology is the crux of the story, the partial cause of tragic events on a personal and, ultimately, global scale. Throughout the novel, Steve takes us on a journey into the ramifications of Join, masterfully weaving beautiful prose with his dark humor, while examining ideas of individualism, mortality, gender, and consciousness.
A great novel doesn’t have to provide answers, often all it needs to do to achieve greatness is asks the right questions. The thing I like—and this is something a lot of authors can glean from this book—is Steve’s use of restraint. This was something that was present even in early drafts. Steve goes just far enough, poking and prodding at ideas and asking difficult questions. Ultimately this tactic challenges us the reader to provide the final answers. As a result, the story left me dwelling on Join’s themes long after it had ended.
It’s time to share a few interesting links I have found throughout the week. Some of these I mention on Twitter, if you’re not already following me there, please do! Have a link I should feature in the upcoming link pack? Let me know!
Tracy Hickman’s Sobering News for Aspiring Writers
I debated including this link this week. However I feel it’s important to show all sides of the disruption in the book market. What can you take away from this? Well, as the old way of book marketing crumbles around us those who don’t adapt to the new paradigm risk being left behind.