“I always advise people who want to write a fantasy or science fiction or romance to stop reading everything in those genres and start reading everything else from Bunyan to Byatt.” — Michael Moorcock
Michael Moorcock is spot on here. If you only read within your chosen genre, you run the risk of being a mimic and repeating ideas already familiar to the reader. Originality means adding something fresh; if you’re a science-fiction writer like Moorcock, adding influences from the classics or modern literature and applying those influences to a completely different field avoids being predictable and regurgitating other genre writers.
“In the planning stage of a book, don’t plan the ending. It has to be earned by all that will go before it.” — Rose Tremain
The temptation for any writer is to plan out their novel from start to finish, and stick rigidly to that formula. But this doesn’t allow for a story to evolve. It also forces you to try to make the ending fit the story, which can lead to it feeling forced. As Tremain points out, an ending has to make sense in the light of what precedes it. If you insist on adhering to your original intentions, regardless of whether it flows logically, you either negate your preceding chapters or leave the reader feeling that the ending doesn’t fit.
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekhov
Authors who insist on describing everything in precise detail are usually in need of a good editor. A far more effective method of imparting information to your readers is to explain via hints. So instead of writing “Stephen refused to speak to his wife during the three-hour journey because of the terrible row they’d had the previous night”, try ‘”Stephen, are you really surprised I’m not feeling talkative after last night …?”‘ This implies that these two are a couple, and that things are not going well, rather than shouting it out to the reader. It’s also intriguing; what happened last night? Why are they having problems?
“It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” — Jonathan Franzen
We all have to put our hands up to this one; there can’t be a single person with an internet connection who doesn’t give in to the temptation to check social media or another timewaster when they should be doing something more important. The answer is to limit your ‘net’ time or disconnect it altogether until you’ve finished your writing for the day. Alternatively, take your laptop somewhere without an internet connection, or leave it at home and head to a coffee shop or library with a good old-fashioned notebook.
“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”– Mark Twain
Overuse of adverbs is often criticised as unnecessary. However, it’s not just adverbs that can benefit from being cut out. If you have a tendency to liberally use certain words, try Twain’s advice and you’ll see whether it’s excessive or not. In fact, paring down your writing can often create a more satisfying and fluid style.
“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” – Jack London
We’ve all done this. I’ve done it. And sometimes, inspiration does strike – often at the most surprising times. But by and large, the old adage about genius being 99% perspiration is just as relevant with writing as with anything else requiring creativity and ingenuity. You have to work at writing. Most of it will feel pedestrian and not particularly rewarding. But writing won’t just flow thanks to a friendly muse. You need to sit down, write regularly, and keep slogging away until it’s finished.
“The first draft of anything is shit.” – Ernest Hemingway
Finally, this short and very much to-the-point comment from Hemingway. Many would-be writers have quickly abandoned all literary pretensions because of dissatisfaction with their early attempts at fiction. They’re discouraged because they lack confidence in their own writing. But first drafts are never the only drafts; they need to be rewritten, perhaps several times, before evolving into the final version that leaves their writer feeling they’ve cracked it.