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Should you sit with a thesaurus? Or write daily? Here are 10 great writing tips

Here are the checkboxes to keep in mind, if telling stories and telling them well is what you’ve set your heart on.

books Updated: Jul 17, 2017 09:22 IST
HT Correspondent
Write the story you really want to tell, says Harry Potter creator JK Rowling.
Write the story you really want to tell, says Harry Potter creator JK Rowling.(Shutterstock)

There is no substitute for reading. Pick up any book on writing by those who have mastered the craft and you’ll find one universal advice: Read, read, read. For all competent writers are voracious readers. Read good books to learn how to write and bad ones to know what mistakes to avoid, says American novelist Stephen King in his excellent memoir On Writing. Here are other checkboxes to keep in mind, if telling stories and telling them well is what you’ve set your heart on:

Stephen King

“Put your vocabulary on the top shelf of your toolbox, and don’t make any conscious effort to improve it. (You’ll be doing that as you read, of course . . . but that comes later.) One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones…Make yourself a solemn promise right now that you’ll never use “emolument” when you mean “tip” and you’ll never say John stopped long enough to perform an act of excretion when you mean John stopped long enough to take a shit.”

– On Writing (2000)

JK Rowling

“I think you’re working and learning until you die. I can with my hand on my heart say I will never write for any reason other than I burningly wanted to write the book.”

– BBC interview (2012)

Ruskin Bond

“For a writer, a window is most important. I lived in Delhi for seven years. I found joy moving to Mussoorie where windows opened to reveal trees. If you are living close to nature, there is always something to write about.”

–The Penguin Annual Lecture 2015

Anita Nair

“I do not spend long hours in front of the writing pad waiting for the words to come. Whatever I’m doing, there’s still a part of me working on the story/ book, thinking about what it’s saying, the direction it’s going. So when I begin to write, I know exactly how to proceed and the words flow…

I keep a little notebook that records anything that’s pertinent to the plot, characters or atmosphere of the book. I carry it with me everywhere so that as and when something occurs to me, I can make a note of it. I also write down anything unusual that I see or hear or experience apart from any interesting thought or phrase that wanders through my mind. I also make a list of words and phrases and brief thoughts, simply because they attracted my attention.”

– 2014 article

Zadie Smith

“Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.”

– Brainpickings piece

Neil Gaiman

“You write. You finish what you write. You look for publishers who publish “that kind of thing”, whatever it is. You send them what you’ve done (a letter asking if they’d like to see a whole manuscript or a few chapters and an outline will always be welcome. And stamped self-addressed envelopes help keep the wheels turning.) Sooner or later, if you don’t give up and you have some measurable amount of ability or talent or luck, you get published.”

– Advice to authors, neilgaiman.com

Margaret Atwood

“Writing is a very optimistic act. Writing is also the primary way in which the unknown, the obscure, the undervalued and the neglected can become known. Not much money is needed to write. Only time and determination. All over the world, writing has been the means whereby light is shed on darkness. Whether the darkness of oppressive regimes, the darkness of lives lived in poverty, the darkness of the oppression of women, the darkness of discrimination of so many kinds. There are many darknesses, but there are also many voices.

Keynote address Jaipur Literature Festival 2016

Philip Pullman

Don’t listen to any advice, that’s what I’d say. Write only what you want to write. Please yourself. YOU are the genius, they’re not. Especially don’t listen to people (such as publishers) who think that you need to write what readers say they want. Readers don’t always know what they want. I don’t know what I want to read until I go into a bookshop and look around at the books other people have written, and the books I enjoy reading most are books I would never in a million years have thought of myself. So the only thing you need to do is forget about pleasing other people, and aim to please yourself alone. That way, you’ll have a chance of writing something that other people WILL want to read, because it’ll take them by surprise. It’s also much more fun writing to please yourself.

philip-pullman.com

Arundhuti Roy

“I write every single day, at home, at my desk. Sometimes the day goes by and I haven’t noticed. Suddenly I look around and it’s dark. The only light there is comes from my computer screen.”

– 2016 interview

Philip Roth

“I often have to write a hundred pages or more before there’s a paragraph that’s alive. Okay, I say to myself, that’s your beginning, start there; that’s the first paragraph of the book. I’ll go over the first six months of work and underline in red a paragraph, a sentence, sometimes no more than a phrase, that has some life in it, and then I’ll type all these out on one page. Usually it doesn’t come to more than one page, but if I’m lucky, that’s the start of page one.I look for the liveliness to set the tone.”

– The Paris Review interview

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