Hang On To Their Words

We humans are social animals by nature. We need to communicate, to talk, to socialize. We need to ask questions about things that interest us in the same way we seek assurance and approval for the things we do. And if you are a beginning writer like me you tend to seek advice from professionals. You read about writers’ lives and how they have made it and you hang on to their words every time your writing doesn’t go well.

Of all the clippings that I have glued up on my wall perhaps the ones that stand out are those tips that have helped other writers succeed. Sometimes it’s good to remember that they, those bestseller writers, have in turn struggled and have in turn sought advice or inspiration from others more successful in the field. Here’s some of what made them (and me) tick, I hope they do it for you too.

Elmore Leonard: In 1952 I suggested to my agent at the time if she were to critique my manuscripts before sending them out, I could make revisions and we’d get fewer rejections. She said, “You learn how to write and I sell it.”

W.P. Kinsella: Offered by Lawrence Russell, professor of creative writing at the University of Victoria: “Don’t explain, just begin.” This advice is self-evident, and I look to it every time I begin a new story.

John Morgan Wilson: Years ago I clipped an article from WD full of advice from editors. One simple quote jumped out at me. “Really mean every word you write.” I have it taped on the wall above my desk.

John Jakes: The following, drummed into yours truly by Dr. Raymond Pence, a remarkable creative writing teacher who headed the English department at DePauw University in the 1950s: “Make them laugh, make them cry, make them wait- above all, make them wait.”

Michael Schumacher: I had one teacher who made all the difference. Sister Virginia Handrup taught high school journalism. She demanded that we be able to defend each and every word we put on paper- a practice I hold very dear to this day.

Marya Hornbacher: Jack Driscoll, the author of several novels, taught me countless things. Among them was this: “Stick with what is essential to the piece, find the right image, the right language, then shut up, stand back and let the work speak for itself.”

Sara Paretsky: The best piece of advice I’ve heard is from singer Maria Callas. A student once asked her what piece of advice she would offer someone trying to master a particular song and Callas said you have to live the music. Unless you can create the feeling in yourself that you are doing something for the glory of its creation, you might as well be selling computers to insurance agents- the work I did before I was able to work full-time on my writing.

Marion Zimmer Bradley: Jerome Bixby of Planet stories told me, “Damn it, Marion, stop showing me how beautifully you can write and tell me a story!”

Happy telling your stories everyone!


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3 Responses to Hang On To Their Words

  1. roamingelk says:

    Particularly fond of the last one, Marion. I feel like there are many good writers who tell beautiful stories, and many who write beautiful prose, but there are very, very few who can find that special balance that makes an excellent writer.

  2. All very inspiring words! I can see why they have become your wallpaper! 🙂

  3. I met David Baldacci this year at a book signing and in his speech to us fans, he said something I won’t forget. He said that most people don’t get into book writing for the money, they do it because they enjoy telling a story. An excellent point, I think.

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