Writing tips from author and teacher
Oakley Hall, general director of the Squaw Valley Community
of Writers, a summer program for talented young novelists.
1. Write every day
2. Observe and listen
3. Employ all the senses
4. Use strong verbs
6. A specific always beats an abstraction
7. Describe people and places in terms
8. Anglo-Saxon words are usually more
effective than Romance-language-based words
9. Fiction is dramatization; dramatization
is point-of-view, sense impressions, detail, action and
10. In dialogue keep speeches short
11. Look for likenesses, parallels,
contrasts, antitheses and reversals
12. Beware of use of the habitual case
(would), the passive voice and the word ``there.''
13. Plotting is compulsion versus obstacles
14. In the second draft start deleting
Borrow widely, steal wisely
Most persuasive words in our culture are: you, money, save,
new, results, health, easy, safety, love, discovery, proven,
To become a better writer, become a better person.
If you want to be a writer, write. --Epictetus (55-135 AD)
"I found your essay to be good and original. However, the part that was original was not
good and the part that was good was not original." --Samuel Johnson (1709-1984)
"Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics
is like asking a lamppost how it feels about dogs." --Christopher Hampton
Anybody who thinks clearly should be able to write clearly
and vice versa. (Info
"To be a good writer, you have to kill your babies."
-- Iris Murdoch
Pick a number, select a buzz phrase:
This particular chart is
showing its age. I'll start another for updates:
- Microsoft acquisition
If You Want
to Write, a 1938 book by Brenda Ueland Sometimes say softly to yourself: "Now...now. What is happening to me now? This is now.
When writing, you should feel like a child stringing beads
in kindergarten--happy, absorbed, and quietly putting one
bead on after another.
Behind the words and sentences, there is this deep, important,
moving thing--the personality of the writer. And whatever that personality is, it will shine through the
writing and make it noble or great, or touching or cold
or niggardly or supercilious or whatever the writer is. The only way to become a better writer is to become another person.
Leonardo da Vinci said that if a man paints a portrait, it
will always look like himself, the painter, as well as the
Read your writing aloud to yourself. As soon as your voice drags, cross that part
The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things
familiar, familiar things new.
--William Makepeace Thackeray
From Safire, country words: whole- (as in whole-wheat), split
(Split-pea), fallow, furrow, sweetwater, post-and-beam,
hominy, deep-dish, daisy, sassafras, muslin, dappled, quilt....
From Writing Down the Bones...
Composting. Our bodies are garbage heaps: we collect experience,
and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells,
spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our
minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. Out of
this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories. But this
does not come all at once. It takes time.
The problem is we think we exist. We think our words
are permanent and solid and stamp us forever. That's not
true. We write in the moment. Every minute we change. At
any point, we can step out of our frozen selves and our
ideas and begin fresh. That is how writing is. Instead of
freezing us, it frees us.
Use detail in your writing.
Timing your writing adds pressure and helps to heat things
up and blast through the internal censor. Also, keeping
your hand moving and not stopping add to the heat, so a
beautiful cake may rise out of the mixture of your daily
If you want to become a good writer, you need to do three things.
There is fine line between precision and self-indulgence. Stay
on the side of precision; know your goal and stay present
Don't tell, but show. When you write, stay in direct connection
with the senses.
We are very arrogant to think we alone have a totally original
mind. We are carried on the backs of all the writers who
came before us.
Forget yourself. Disappear into everything you look at.
Writing is an act of burning through the fog in your mind.
Even if you are not sure of something, express it as though
you know yourself.
Lombards WOMBAT Waste of Money, Brains, and Time
LOMBARD Lots of money,
but a real dickhead [courtesy of The Economist].
GSYFILS Go stick your finger in light socket
RTFM read the (f-word of your choice) manual
YMMV your mileage may vary TMOT trust me on this
If you're really listening, Alice Waters' pop
says you should be able to: