What The Best Writers Suggest to Become A Good Writer
Faulkner, Poe, Hemingway and Nietzsche, among others, left some valuable advice for novice writers.
The composer Arvo Pärt once said that “the advice and the methods to foment creativity proliferate so much because they have such a valuable end: they help us to be ourselves, more genuine than we would be if we didn’t let ourselves explore that creative part. And we all have it.” And as well as there being hundreds of suggestions for convoking the muses, there are numerous others for learning how to write. But we must remember, above all, what William Faulkner (the master of literary appropriation) said:
Take what you need from other writers. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice.
Even so, Faulkner offered many suggestions to young writers between 1957 and 1958 when he was a professor at the University of Virginia.
I think the writer, as I’ve said before, is completely amoral. He takes whatever he needs, wherever he needs, and he does that openly and honestly because he himself hopes that what he does will be good enough so that after him people will take from him, and they are welcome to take from him, as he feels that he would be welcome by the best of his predecessors to take what they had done.
His modernist contemporary and sometime rival, Ernest Hemingway also offered a generous collection of advice for writers. But he warned the novice that:
All style is, is the awkwardness of a writer in stating a fact. If you have a way of your own, you are fortunate, but if you try to write like somebody else, you’ll have the awkwardness of the other writer as well as your own.
His great piece of advice was: “Don’t think about your writing when you’re not writing.” He believed that the best thing to do is only think about the story at the time one is writing because otherwise the imagination will tire. “It was necessary to get exercise, to be tired in the body, and it was very good to make love with whom you loved,” he wrote in an article for Esquire while writing A Moveable Feast.
Going farther back to the 19th century, to the father of the detective story and American gothic, Edgar Allan Poe also had a lot to say, not only on how to furnish a house, but about how to write horror stories. First of all, he said (and this is in large part what the brilliant Conan Doyle would configure in his Sherlock Holmes):
One must know the ending beforehand, before starting to write.
Now, continuing with horror literature, or “weird fiction,” as he called it, H. P. Lovecraft believed that the main thing was to “suggest rather than show,” and that “the inexplicable is irresistible.”
Mastering the form and the tone can achieve any result that one aims for, as demonstrated by the modernist and the gothic writers. But to transmit an idea clearly, as writers of aphorisms do better than anybody, Nietzsche had 10 things to say, among them:
The richness of life reveals itself through a richness of gestures. One must learn to feel everything — the length and retarding of sentences, interpunctuations, the choice of words, the pausing, the sequence of arguments— like gestures.
Returning to Hemingway, perhaps the best advice for writers is to live as many experiences as possible and read, read until we fall into a coma. There is no relationship more symbiotic than that of life and writing, even if that life is lived through those written by others.
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