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Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by Carlos Ruiz Zafon to Make You a Better Writer

Carlos Ruiz Zafon (born in 1964) is the author of multiple beloved novels, including The Shadow of the Wind and The Labyrinth of Spirits.

Here are four of his wonderful quotes to inspire your writing!

1. I realized that I had always been writing things that other people wanted me to write and not what I really wanted to write, so I felt like I was losing my way.

Many of us need a few years to find our voice as a writer. Many of us need a few years to stop pretending to be like other authors we adore and instead write the stories we really want to write. And it can be especially disheartening when you’re writing things other people want you to be doing instead of what you want to be doing. There will be friends and family members and teachers who try to guide your writing, but as soon as they start pressuring you to write a certain kind of project you’re not interested in or passionate about, you have to resist that pressure as much as possible.

Writing is hard, and it’s made about twenty times harder when you’re hard at work at something you don’t want to do. It’s why millions of younger people struggle year after year with having to write that essay for class the next day they have zero interest in. When you’re faced with that scary blank page, and you’re being forced to write something when you’d rather do literally anything else, there’s pretty much nothing worse. So write what you want to write. Ignore those other people and stop the kind of work that’s been trying for you and lean into the stories that compel you and excite you, always.

2. My work as a screenwriter has influenced my fiction. Writing screenplays forces you to consider many elements regarding story structure and other narrative devices that can be used to enhance the infinitely more complex demands of a novel.

Novels and screenplays are vastly different beasts. In a novel you have more freedom to do what you want in terms of point-of-view and scene length and character interiority. You can write the novel super lean and have it almost look like a screenplay in a sense, and you can fill up your novel with giant block paragraphs and dozens of pages without any dialogue. You can pretty much do whatever you want in that form of writing, while screenwriting has a lot more rules you need to abide by. You can’t write scenes that go on for ten pages. You have to write some dialogue here and there. Everything you write will need to be seen in visual form, and you can never forget that.

But despite all those rules, I agree with Zafon that it’s in your best interest to at least learn about screenwriting, if not write a screenplay of your own. It’s a really great exercise to learn how to tell your stories actually, because you discover what needs to be there and what can go. You don’t have room to do everything you want. There are only so many pages you get to work with, and you have to make each one of them count. You want to think this way about your novels, too. You don’t want to write 600 pages just because you can. You don’t want chapter seventeen to have thirty block paragraphs and go on forever just because it can.

Study screenplays to learn how to tell your stories more visually and more concisely and try writing one at some point to see what happens. I promise you’ll learn a hell of a lot!

3. I am a curious creature and put my finger in as many cakes as I can: history, film, technology, etc. I’m also a freak for urban history, particularly Barcelona, Paris and New York. I know more weird stuff about 19th-century Manhattan than is probably healthy.

Here’s something to keep in mind as you grow your career as a fiction writer — the more curious you are about the world, and the weirder stuff you learn and pay attention to, the better your writing will be in the long run. You don’t want to just read novels in the genre you write in and watch movies of the genre you write in and then write in that genre. Your work will get stale after awhile. You’ll begin to repeat yourself.

To improve upon your skills, and to bring better ideas to the page year after year, it’s in your best interest to study new things that broaden your horizon. You want to be curious about history, film, technology. You want to read non-fiction books about subjects that you know little or nothing about. When you do so, you are not wasting your time, I promise. Even just one nugget from that non-fiction book you’re reading could inspire a new novel idea. It could bring you something that completely changes the trajectory of your writing career.

4. I’m a voracious reader, and I like to explore all sorts of writing without prejudice and without paying any attention to labels, conventions or silly critical fads.

So many successful authors have said it, so I hope you’ve learned by now one of the best things you can do as a writer. Yes, you want to read. And not just read the things you’re interested in, not just read the authors who you’ve adored for years. If you want to have a thriving career as a writer, it’s in your best interest to get your hands on all sorts of books and read voraciously.

Read stuff that fascinates you and read stuff that doesn’t necessarily fascinate you. Read that book that bores you and ask yourself why. Study the sentences. Study how the story is laid out. What doesn’t work about it? How could you improve upon it? Sometimes I find reading something I don’t like very much even more inspiring than reading a great work of art. I might enjoy the great work of art more, but by the time I reach the end, I might feel like my writing is inadequate. That if I lived another 1,000 years, I’d never be able to write something as good, and that can sometimes stifle my creativity.

What’s most important of all is to do what Zafon says: explore all sorts of writing without prejudice, without paying attention to things like labels and author names and book covers and fads. Don’t read the book everyone else is reading. Find that new book few people know about. Dip into an old classic that’s not really discussed anymore.

Read as many books as you can, and your writing will improve year after year, I guarantee it!

Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by Richard Yates to Make You a Better Writer

Richard Yates (1926–1992) wrote the beloved novel, Revolutionary Road, which was turned into the 2008 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. He also wrote the acclaimed novels, The Easter Parade and Eleven Kinds of Loneliness.

Here are four of his helpful quotes to inspire your writing!

1. If my work has a theme, I suspect it is a simple one: that most human beings are inescapably alone, and therein lies their tragedy.

We all have to start somewhere as writers, and when it comes to your first short story or novel, you can write anything you want. Write in whatever world and genre and tone you prefer. And then as you build upon your number of manuscripts, you should try whenever possible to take chances and do different kinds of things. Please don’t just write the same kind of story over and over, with similar characters and similar structures. Even if your readers expect a similar kind of book over and over, don’t give it to them. Have the confidence to surprise them with something new.

However, there is something to be said about connecting all your different stories and novels with a theme. I actually think that’s a great way to be a prolific writer — challenge yourself with unique characters and story-lines but subtly connect with themes that speak to you personally. Richard Yates wrote different kinds of books, but they all had a simple theme he was able to point out, even if it’s not something he was necessarily focused on as he wrote the books. The theme of your work shouldn’t necessarily be at the forefront of your mind when you’re writing.

The story and characters should always come first, but sometimes, even instinctively, you might find many of your stories and novels have a connected theme, and if that’s the case, then your work just becomes all the richer for it.

2. If you wanted to do something absolutely honest, something true, it always turned out to be a thing that had to be done alone.

One thing you have to get used to as a writer sooner rather than later is that time you spend alone. If you hate being by yourself, you’re going to struggle as a writer. If you hate being by yourself, you’ll make excuses to not write today or tomorrow, and in those times you are working, you won’t always write work that’s absolutely honest and true. You have to be willing to put in the hard work and to most of that work alone, especially when you’re writing a first draft.

I used to like writing fiction in coffeehouses and libraries, but for years now I’ve preferred to write alone in an office, where my only company is some well-chosen film scores playing softly through my speakers. Allow that isolation to help your writing, not hinder it. Allow being alone to calm your mind and ignite your imagination and get more words down on the page than you’ve ever managed before. You’re never going to write great prose that is honest and true if you can’t embrace the time you need to spend alone. Thinking is part of writing, too. And so is reflection.

So give yourself some alone time every day, and see what happens. You’ll be surprised to discover just how much your work improves in the long run.

3. If you don’t try at anything, you can’t fail… it takes back bone to lead the life you want.

I’m pretty sure the number one reason why many people never start writing those magnificent stories they have in their head or finish those short stories or novels they did start is this — not starting and not finishing means there’s no chance at failure. The work was never rejected by anybody, so there’s no bad feelings that you failed at something. You’re able to just let your ideas stay stuck in your head or have those four unfinished manuscripts pile up without any person having to tell you they stink.

If you want to be a successful writer, you have to start writing, and you have to finish what you start, of course. But going further, you have to send out your work and not only get rejected hundreds of times but embrace the rejection as much as possible. Don’t feel bad when your latest story or novel gets rejected, or worse, gets completed ignored. Rejection doesn’t make you a failure. It makes you a success! Because you’re putting in the hard work and sending your work out there. You’re a working writer who’s actually trying to find homes for your manuscript.

It’s the ones who never try who are the failures, especially the ones who wanted to be writers but were always afraid to get started or finish anything. Richard Yates was right in that it takes back bone to lead the life you want, and that’s especially the case for writers.

4. And do you know a funny thing? I’m almost fifty years old and I’ve never understood anything in my whole life.

There’s not a magic wand that makes anyone a successful writer. And there’s not some kind of secret you need to know to get into the club. Every successful writer started from a place of ignorance, of not knowing much about storytelling or the publishing industry. Pretty much everyone wrote things at the beginning of their careers that was no good, but they pressed on anyway. Even when they didn’t have a clue with what they were doing and or what kinds of writers they wanted to be. Even when they didn’t understand anything in their whole life, just like Richard Yates.

I’m thirty-five years old and I still don’t understand much about life. I don’t know how a lot of things work. I question how many of my friends and family are so adept and successful at certain aspects of their lives. And that’s okay. To be a great storyteller, it’s okay to not understand a whole lot about life. What’s most important is that you allow your imagination to go to the limit and that you look at things around here or listen to things and study things. You want to be observant always, but you don’t necessarily have to understand anything.

Just remember that success in your writing will come when you capture honesty on the page. When you capture emotion in your characters that readers are able to identify with. Don’t feel like you have to understand everything. Just be able to understand those important things that make your stories soar.

Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by Rick Yancey to Make You a Better Writer

Rick Yancey (born in 1962) is the bestselling author of The 5th Wave young adult book series.

Here are four of his wonderful quotes about writing!

1. It’s been a while since I’ve written a novel aimed at the adult market, but I never sit down and say to myself, ‘Okay, now I’m going to write something for us old folks.’ I get gripped by an idea, and I go where the idea takes me.

Everything starts with the idea, my friend. No matter what kind of genre you prefer to write in, and no matter what age market you typically write books for, it all comes down to an idea that grips you and never let go. And if you’re used to writing books for, say, the young adult market, and then suddenly you get some amazing idea for an adult novel, does that mean you should just ignore that idea until the end of time? Of course not. If you come up with an idea, you have to write it!

Now, sure, if you have some success writing for a particular age market, it might be difficult to convince your agent and/or editor to jump ship to the world of adult fiction. Many readers like to know what they’re getting with each new novel of an author they adore, and if they’re used to the author writing children’s fiction, that leap into another age market might surprise and confuse some. But Roald Dahl did it. Judy Blume has done it. And so has R.L. Stine and Daniel Handler and Anthony Horowitz.

Sometimes a pseudonym is required at the end of the day, but if there’s a project you’re passionate about, you must do it no matter what.

2. I always feel trepidation at the beginning of every project. I worry about so many things. Time to get it right, the skill to do it justice, the will to finish. I also worry about more mundane things, like what if my computer crashes and I’ve forgotten to back up the manuscript?

You know what kind of writer you are when you feel trepidation at the beginning of a new project? A normal one. If you’re feeling super confident in the days before starting a new short story or novel and you have zero fears or worries about anything, I would question if you’re truly ready. Because as energized and care-free that you might be at the beginning, trust me, writing a novel especially always gets hard after awhile, and you have to be prepared at some point for self-doubt. There’s no such thing as writing something new without at least a little self-doubt.

Worrying about things like having the time to get the manuscript right and the skill to do it justice and the will to finish it is totally normal. Finding time every day to work on your latest piece of fiction can be hard at times, especially when you have a full-time job and kids at home and pets and responsibilities. Your skills in writing might need more fine-tuning, and that’s okay. And the will to finish can elude you when you hit those chapters in the middle that aren’t working and that might be leading you down the wrong path. This is all normal and fine. You have to push through anyway no matter what. The goal is to finish that first draft, always.

But one thing you shouldn’t have to worry about? Don’t worry about your computer crashing and taking your new manuscript along with it. Just do what I do, to be totally on the safe side — e-mail the manuscript to yourself at least once a week, preferably twice a week. That way you have your latest version with you at all times just in case something wonky goes down with your computer!

3. I really kill myself on titles, although The 5th Wave seems like an obvious title, doesn’t it? You don’t know how long that took me.

Don’t beat yourself up about your titles. Don’t waste too much time thinking of the perfect one. Just find something that suits your story and suites your genre, and then start writing. You don’t even need a title before you start writing (although I always like to have something, even if I decide to change it later). Sure, at some point you’ll need to send out your work to a literary magazine or an agent or an editor, and you’ll need a title that hooks them. Often your title is in the subject line of the e-mail, so don’t pick something absurd or confusing or overly long.

But keep this in mind, too — if you want your novel to be traditionally published, your title might at some point be changed before your publication date, and there’s nothing you can do about it. A pal of mine got a publishing deal for a novel with a title she adored, and then later the title was changed no matter how often she championed the title she had come up with. So don’t panic too much about your titles. Just pick something that fits, that’s somewhat unique, and then worry much more about writing the best story possible.

It’s the quality of the writing that will get you places, remember that. Not the quality of your title.

4. The 5th Wave is sci-fi, but I tried very hard to ground the story in very human terms and in those universal themes that transcend genre. How do we define ourselves? What, exactly, does it mean to be human? What remains after everything we trust, everything we believe in and rely upon, has been stripped away?

Rick Yancey is most known for writing his 5th Wave trilogy, which was a monumental success in the world of young adult fiction a few years back, and part of the reason for the massive success was how much he grounded the stories in human terms and in universal themes that transcend genre. Sure, there’s a lot of science fiction in that trilogy, but what makes those books work is the human element and what people do when everything they’ve relied on has been stripped away.

You have to remember the human element in your fiction, especially when you’re writing fantasy or science fiction or horror. You can’t let the rules of the genre dictate the progression of the story. You can’t feel most compelled to serve fans of your genre over anything else. You have to pay attention to your characters and develop them throughout the narrative and infuse your story with fascinating, surprising, complicated relationships. No matter how far you take some of the genre elements, you’ll have more success at the end of the day if you concentrate the most on the human terms.

When that human element is lacking, you might lose many of your potential readers, but if there are characters and relationships we can identify with, you will have hooked countless more readers than you ever could have imagined!

Posted in Film

My New Podcast Film at Fifty is LIVE!

Hi Friends,

Many of you know me as a novel writer and a writer on Medium, but I’m also a life-long movie buff, and this past summer I had the idea of creating my first ever podcast, all about film history!

Well now that podcast Film at Fifty, which celebrates semicentennials in the world of cinema, is officially LIVE at Buzzsprout, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and anywhere else you like to listen to your podcasts.

In addition, today I launched the Patreon page for my podcast, which will include exclusive bonus episodes every month like reviews of new movies, deep dives into the careers of actors and directors, and discussions of other important years in film history. Just $5 a month to get hours of brand new content from Film at Fifty!

In today’s first bonus episode, I go back another 50 years and explore the world of cinema from 100 years ago in 1920. Click here to take a listen. In the coming days I’ll be adding a discussion about Tenet and the career of Christopher Nolan as well.

I hope you’ll take a look at my new podcast, Film at Fifty, a labor of love that will educate, inform, and inspire… just like my writing. Thank you so much for your support!

Love,

Brian

Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by Tobias Wolff to Make You a Better Writer

Tobias Wolff (born in 1945) is the author of Old School, This Boy’s Life: A Memoir, and the fabulous short story, “Bullet in the Brain.”

Here are four of his terrific quotes to inspire your writing!

1. There’s a joy in writing short stories, a wonderful sense of reward when you pull certain things off.

Even if your primary focus is writing novels, you should take the time here and there to experiment in short story writing. I love writing a short story for many reasons. It allows you to do something radically different you might not be afforded to do in a novel. It allows you to write something fast, in a week or two. And, as Tobias Wolff says, it allows a wonderful sense of reward when you pull certain things off.

I’ve been teaching English at the college level for many years now, and one of my favorite works of short fiction to teach my students is Wolff’s electric short story, “Bullet in Brain,” which has been heavily anthologized throughout the years. It’s so great because it starts one way, you have a pretty good sense as to where it’s going, and then about halfway through, Wolff takes you in a totally unexpected direction that could have flopped hard but instead works beautifully, like a minor miracle. Wolff took a chance with this story, and collected a huge reward in the end. Try to write short stories when you can. They can be so much fun to do, and so very satisfying!

2. I try to help people become the best possible editors of their own work, to help them become conscious of the things they do well, of the things they need to look at again, of the wells of material they have not even begun to dip their buckets into.

Wolff teaches English, too, and his dedication to his students is apparent from this quote. It’s not enough as a teacher to tell your students what’s working in their latest story and what isn’t working. It’s not enough to say what they’re good at and what they stink at. You have to dig deeper than that to bring good, thoughtful writers out of your students. Helping people become the best possible editors of their own work is a great place to start since at many points during a project the only editor you can truly rely on is yourself.

But going beyond editing, you want them to discover what talents they hold buried deep, down down and what kind of material that can slowly rise to the surface. Some writers, especially young ones who haven’t written much, are scared to tap into their secrets and fears and dreams. Some want to just work at the surface level of things and not offer us anything more than that. These writers won’t get far in their work, but if they have a teacher or a mentor who can help them recognize what they do well and what they can improve on, and then bring out the wells of material they can use for future work, that’s always going to be a great place to start.

If you’re an aspiring writer, it might be worth your time to seek out a teacher or a mentor who can help you. Inspiration, as you probably well know by now, can go a long way in your long writing life!/media/c701c4f3f089fca628d78c0b395a8953

3. There are writers who do start doing the same thing again and again and almost inevitably fall into self-parody.

One of the things you have to be especially careful of as a writer is not repeating yourself to the point where the things you fall into self-parody. It’s so hard because many writers get put into a specific kind of box, especially when they’re successful. They finally write a break-out bestseller, and they write a similar title to that first book that’s an even bigger hit, one that wins an award and is adapted for the screen, and so that author chooses to keep writing more books like that one. It makes sense, after all. You don’t want to write something that will alienate your fans.

But at the same time, there is something to be said for the pitfalls of doing the same thing again and again. After awhile you’ll get bored what the stories you’re pumping out, and your readers will eventually see that. You have to keep surprising yourself and taking chances in your writing, even if you’re writing in the same genre every time. Just because you write ten horror novels in a row doesn’t mean you have to keep repeating yourself. You can take the genre in new spooky directions and do a hundred nifty, unpredictable things with it. Once you begin veering into self-parody territory, that’s when it’s time to try something different or put down your pen once and for all.

4. When I was about fourteen or fifteen I decided to become a writer and never for a moment since have I wanted to do anything else.

Many writers are the same way. They knew from a young age that writing was something they had a gift for, enjoyed doing, looking forward to doing, and they haven’t looked back since. The truth is that writing has to be this way for you to stick with it. If you just sort of like doing it, or think of writing more as an occasional hobby than anything else, you won’t get very far. You have to have the writing bug in your blood as much as possible.

I’ve been that way for the longest time. I’ve been voraciously reading and writing since I was in third grade, and I haven’t stopped. There was a period for a few years where I only wrote screenplays, but even during that period I was writing all the time and loving the process. And in the past ten years I’ve been writing and revising fiction almost every day, and what a joy it has been. I absolutely love writing, and I can’t wait to see what I end up doing in the next ten years.

You want to feel the same way. Sure, it’s okay if you didn’t know at fourteen or fifteen years old that you wanted to be a writer. It’s fine if you didn’t get serious about writing until your twenties or thirties, or even older. Better late than never, as they say. What’s most important is that you’ve found your calling now, and you want to give yourself over to it as much as you can. You want to love writing so much that you don’t really want to do anything else.

Make writing the greatest joy in your life and give it everything you have!

Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by Tennessee Williams to Make You a Better Writer

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Tennessee Williams (1911–1983) is the celebrated author of the plays, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Here are four of his fantastic quotes to inspire your writing!

1. When I stop working the rest of the day is posthumous. I’m only really alive when I’m writing.

You learn you’re a writer when you find yourself yearning to go back to the writing desk because that’s the time of your day you feel the most alive. I mean, think about it. You go about your day cooking food and doing laundry and running errands and cleaning the house and all those things we human beings need to do. Some of those activities are more fun than others, but what’s the one thing we’re able to do that truly make us feel alive?

It’s writing, of course. It’s creating something out of nothing. It’s taking something that exists only in your imagination and putting it on the page. It’s introducing readers from all over the world to a dynamic story and three-dimensional characters and compelling relationships and emotionally resonant themes. Sure, there are real-life adventures that can be an absolute blast, but there’s little like having the adventure of writing your latest manuscript. And when the writing is going really, really well? When you enter that beautiful thing called the Zone? Then that’s absolutely when you feel the most alive, always.

2. Success is blocked by concentrating on it and planning for it… Success is shy — it won’t come out while you’re watching.

Tennessee Williams is one of the most celebrated and famous playwrights of all time. If all he’d ever written was A Streetcar Named Desire, the man would be beyond iconic, but he also wrote Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Glass Menagerie, Sweet Bird of Youth, and Night of the Iguana, among many others. The man had lots of success, so pay attention to what he says about it.

We all want success, of course. We work hard on our writing and hope that one day we find success both monetarily and with readers. Here’s the thing, though — if you want to be success, you can’t ever concentrate on success. Seems like the two go hand in hand, right? Wrong? You can’t think about success as you’re writing. You have to concentrate on the work. You have to focus on the story, the characters. You have to look at the big picture of your latest work and also pay close attention to the smaller details.

Success won’t come out when you’re watching or waiting for it. It will eventually strike after you’ve put in months and years of hard work and doing the best job you can as a writer. It will be due to your creative growth and your incredible work ethic. So keep going after that success throughout your writing life. Just avoid thinking about it whenever you can.

3. I have found it easier to identify with the characters who verge upon hysteria, who were frightened of life, who were desperate to reach out to another person. But these seemingly fragile people are the strong people really.

Williams is most famous for his vulnerable characters who verge upon hysteria and who were frightened of life, most especially Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire, a character many people know about even if they haven’t read the play or seen the classic 1951 movie. Many might consider characters like Blanche to be weak and uninteresting. Many might think a more confident and robust person has more to offer an emotionally rich and cinematic story than a fragile person.

But Williams was right in that these fragile people like Blanche are the strong people really. Because they have more to fight for. They have more ways to change as a character. They have more ways to strive for something better. And those are the characters we end up rooting for on the page and on the screen because there’s that chance for redemption. You don’t want to write about happy, healthy, confident people all the time in your writing, that will get boring for the reader. It’s when you explore desperate, fragile people on the page that drama and conflicts become naturally embedded in the storytelling.

4. If the writing is honest it cannot be separated from the man who wrote it.

No matter what you end up writing — fiction or plays or essays or poems — there’s always going to be a little bit of yourself in there. Even if you’re coming up with characters totally unlike yourself, and even if you’re exploring a world wholly unlike our own, a little bit of your personality and your worldview and your eccentricities and your passions will feature somewhere in your storytelling, sometimes when you’re not even trying to.

You might think the writing you’re doing is separated from you, the writer, but if the work you’re doing is honest, Williams is right in that it can be hard to separate the artist from the painting, so to speak. The short film I made that was the most successful and honest was the one that was most personal to me, the one that I never could have been separated from. Similarly, the best short stories and novels I’ve written that are the honest ones that can’t really be separated from the person I am.

This is not to say that everything you write has been autobiographical. This doesn’t mean that honesty comes from you telling a story that you have to know every detail of from experience. Honesty can come from the characters you create on the page, from the situations you explore that are completely different from your own.

Whatever you do, try at all times to be honest in your work, the same way Williams always was, and success will follow.

PS Ready to be inspired? My newest craft book From Douglas Adams to Markus Zusak: Quotes by 100 Amazing Authors to Inspire Your Writing is now available on Amazon!

Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by Thornton Wilder to Make You a Better Writer

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Thornton Wilder (1897–1975) won three Pulitzer Prizes and wrote plays, novels, even a screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. He’s best known for his iconic play, Our Town.

Here are four of his great quotes about writing!

1. I regard the theater as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.

One of the most celebrated playwrights of the twentieth century was Thornton Wilder, who wrote the iconic play Our Town, which is still performed all around the world to this day, as well as the play The Skin of Our Teeth, both of which won the Pulitzer Prize. He clearly had a feel for writing for the theater because it’s his plays he’s most known for, and the reason for that is he regarded the theater as the greatest of all art forms.

Not every writer would agree with him. Many will say that the novel is the greatest because the author is writer, director, editor, and performer of that world. They are the sole creator of that story in a way, where the playwright essentially hands their work off to others to do with it what they will, same as the screenwriter. But it’s hard to argue that there’s a magical power to the theater, especially for the playwright who gets to hear their words performed by a live ensemble of actors.

2. Many plays — certainly mine — are like blank checks. The actors and directors put their own signatures on them.

I’ve never had the opportunity to watch something I’ve written performed on a stage, but I have made many films where I got to see actors say my words and bring a story I had in my head to visual life, and that thrill never got old. When it comes to writing a play or a screenplay (in addition to his many plays, Wilder also co-wrote the screenplay to Alfred Hitchcock’s marvelous 1943 thriller, Shadow of a Doubt), the man is absolutely right in that you’re essentially creating the blank check, only for the actors and directors to put their signatures at the bottom. You give them the base of the art that they get to fill in with their own talent.

You might be more used to writing short stories or novels or poetry, and if so, then that’s great! Whatever kind of writing you prefer doing, keep doing it, but be willing to try something out of the box here and there, including a play or a screenplay. Read a few beloved plays and learn the craft to the best of your ability and then attempt a play of your own. It can be short if you’d like, a one-act (I attempted and failed at one of these in my undergraduate days!). No matter what comes of the end result, you can learn tons about the storytelling process by looking a narrative from an entirely new perspective.

3. An incinerator is a writer’s best friend.

This might be one of my favorite quotes about writing ever! Because it’s so very true. You’ll never be able to improve as a writer until you come to understand that the incinerator is a writer’s best friend. In most cases, the incinerator will be your friend, the delete key. The highlighting sentences and paragraphs and pages that don’t work and eliminating them from your manuscript.

You’re not going to get everything right in the first draft. Chapters will drag. Parts of the plot won’t make sense. The manuscript will have plenty of good in it, but lots of bad, too. Your job as you revise is to weed out the bad and make the good parts even better. Some of the sentences and paragraphs and pages you’ll be able to save from the incinerator and simply rework, but others will have to go, never to be seen again. Don’t be sad when you delete writing from your latest work. Remember that your goal at the end of the day is to make your writing the best it can be through any means necessary.

4. The future author is one who discovers that language, the exploration and manipulation of the resources of language, will serve him in winning through to his way.

There are so many things to think about when you’re writing. There’s usually a concept that excites you, and relationships between complicated and dynamic characters you love to explore on the page. You’re trying to make your pages engrossing and unpredictable, and you’re doing your best to make your story stand out from the crowd.

Something else you should also be doing always? The future author in you must also be paying attention to the language you use as well. Well-chosen language is one of the most important aspects to good writing. You want to explore it and manipulate it to help serve the kind of project you’re writing. If you’re writing a book for kids, that kind of language will be different than the language you use for an adult literary novel. The language in a spooky ghost story will be different than the language used in a sweeping fantasy novel. And, of course, your language will be different depending on the medium you’re writing in, like short fiction, novels, poetry, plays, and screenplays.

Thornton Wilder used language to the best of his ability in a variety of mediums in his long, celebrated writing life, and so should you. Don’t just pay attention to the story you’re telling. Pay attention to your language too, at all times!

PS Ready to be inspired? My newest craft book From Douglas Adams to Markus Zusak: Quotes by 100 Amazing Authors to Inspire Your Writing is now available on Amazon!

Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by Colson Whitehead to Make You a Better Writer

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Colson Whitehead (born in 1969) is the author of The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, both of which we won the Pulitzer Prize for!

Here are four of his wonderful quotes about writing to inspire you.

1. I was inspired to become a writer by horror movies and science fiction.

Inspiration can come from anywhere as a writer. Sometimes it’s one specific book you read as a child or one genre you’re exposed to early on that has a profound effect on you. And the inspiration can come from movies, too, of course. Many of us are watching movies before we even learn how to read, so that’s kind of our introduction to storytelling.

I read everything I could get my hands on as a kid, but I watched movies even more. And, like Whitehead, the genre that changed my life at a young age was horror. I loved R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books, and I was reading Stephen King by age ten. And my father introduced me to all the best horror movies, like Halloween, The Evil Dead, and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

When you start writing, you’ll likely emulate what you’re reading and watching, but at a certain point you have to take on a voice of your own. Colson Whitehead could have tried to be the next Stephen King his whole career or become a horror screenwriter, but he went in a different direction, one that worked out quite well for him. Just do you. Find the inspiration wherever you can find it and then take that inspiration into any direction you’d like.

2. Early on my career, I figured out that I just have to write the book I have to write at that moment. Whatever else is going on in the culture is just not that important. If you could get the culture to write your book, that would be great. But the culture can’t write your book.

It can be difficult as a writer to feel the pressure to write a certain kind of book every single time based on your culture or race or sexual orientation. Sure, these elements play an important role in the person you are, but if you force yourself to do something that you don’t feel comfortable with or that you don’t have a lot of passion for, that indifference will eventually come across in your writing, whether you do two drafts of the book or ten.

You have to believe in the story you’re telling. You need an overwhelming desire to put that story down on paper no matter what. You never really know if the story will work out or if it will be flat on the page, but you can rest well knowing you took on the book you had to write in that specific moment in your life. If it fails, it fails. Try something else, and see where that takes you.

Just do what you want to do every time out because, as Whitehead says, the culture itself can’t write your book. It’s all on you, my friend, so go with the story you’re excited about the most every time.

3. Usually, when I write a novel, it takes me about 100 pages to figure out the voice of the narrator.

Whether you have written one novel or twenty novels, starting a new writing project is never easy. Sure, if you have lots of experience in fiction writing, you come to the blank page with more confidence, especially if you’ve done your homework early on in coming up with your characters and at least a vague outline of what happens in your story. You want to spend a few weeks doing some prep work for your novel always. You never just want to start writing one random day and see where it goes.

But even if you’re extremely prepared, you’re not always going to get everything right in those first few chapters. It takes a week or two to find your groove. It takes a little bit of time to find the voice of your main character or narrator. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, that voice will come naturally early in the process, but don’t beat yourself up if it takes 100 pages or more to figure out that voice.

Always tell yourself if you’re struggling that you can come back to those first 100 pages at a later time and fix what parts of the voice aren’t working. When it comes to the first draft, keep going and don’t look back. It can take Colson Whitehead 100 pages to figure out the voice of the narrator… and the man has gone on to win two Pulitzer Prizes! So stay calm. Write another scene, another chapter. Keep the process moving forward, never backward.

4. You can’t rush inspiration.

I’m a big believer in writing all the time. Every day if you can. You want to practice, practice, practice. You want to get even just 250 words on the page and see where your latest story takes you. You want to experiment in short story writing and novel writing and screenwriting and poetry. You get better as a writer by working often and taking chances in new genres and mediums. And every day you want to have as much blissful fun as you can.

But at the same time, Colson Whitehead is absolutely right: you can’t rush inspiration. If there’s a story in your heart you’re desperate to write but for whatever reason, you don’t feel ready to begin, then don’t begin. You can hold onto that particular story for another few months, another few years even, and wait for the inspiration to come to you. I’ve had novel ideas I adored that I put off for years as I got better as a writer and allowed the inspiration to grow and grow. I’m still doing that for one particular novel I keep thinking about and yet continue put off year after year. You should feel free to do that, too.

If there’s something you believe in, don’t start it today just because you have a free month and the time to write it. If you think an extra few months or years will gain you the necessary inspiration you need, then by all means, wait. But what you don’t want to do is wait forever. You don’t want to spend the next five years thinking about a story and then never writing a word of it down.

You can’t rush inspiration, that’s absolutely true. But don’t wait so long for inspiration that the project never gets written. Find a happy place that rests somewhere in the middle. Wait as long as you need, but then get started when the inspiration has fully formed. And once that happens, it’s time to write your greatest novel yet!

PS Ready to be inspired? My newest craft book From Douglas Adams to Markus Zusak: Quotes by 100 Amazing Authors to Inspire Your Writing is now available on Amazon!

Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by E.B. White to Make You a Better Writer

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E.B. White (1899–1985) is the bestselling author of Charlotte’s Web and The Trumpet of the Swan.

Here are four of his fantastic quotes to inspire your writing!

1. Genius is more often found in a cracked pot than in a whole one.

This is one of E.B. White’s most famous quotes, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s difficult to designate who a genius writer might be, but I’ll tell you this much: an amazing story rarely comes in something that’s a perfect package and more often comes in something that has a few dents along the side. You’ll never be a perfect writer. And it’s going to be a major chore to write a story or novel that from first word to last is pure perfection.

What’s important is that you try to do your best every time. Don’t worry if you’re not a genius. Don’t even think about that word. And throw out that perfection word, too. You’ll never get anywhere if you try to be perfect. Doing things just right usually results in something that’s not even very good most of the time, especially in the world of writing. You’ll be better served to go after something that’s unique and personal, something that has a few cracks in it. And you know what? Your readers will all the happier for it.

2. There’s no limit to how complicated things can get, on account of one thing always leading to another.

One of the hardest parts about fiction writing, especially novel writing, is in keeping everything straight in your head as you get closer to the end of your narrative. You need to remember all the characters and their motivations. You have to make sure there aren’t any loose plot threads and that everything comes together by the final chapter. You have to make sure something you set up in chapter seven has some kind of pay-off by the time you reach THE END. Things do get complicated after awhile, one thing always leading to another, and it can be hard at times to keep track of it all.

But you know what will always be your wonderful savior? Revision, of course! I can’t tell you how many mistakes I’ve made during the drafting process. I’ve called a supporting character one name in the first half of the novel and then accidentally called him or her something else in the second half. I’ll on occasion have a character repeat the same thing three times in dialogue. A random chapter will be written in past tense even though the novel is supposed to be present tense. Things like that will happen, and you can’t beat yourself up over it.

All you have to do is this: use the second draft to fix the problems. Go through your novel and take notes about anything that doesn’t work or lacks consistency. And by the end of your third draft, most of it, if not all of it, will be fixed. So don’t panic in your first draft if something isn’t coming together the way you wanted, or if you realize you made a few huge errors along the way. Nobody is going to read your first draft. Just keep revising, revising, revising — until everything works.

3. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.

Why is this true? Because to be a good writer, you have to spend lots and lots of time by yourself working on your craft. You have to put off the parties and the social events and the late-night get-togethers to write your next chapter and draft that newest short story. When you’re a dedicated writer, you can’t always be there for your friends, even your best friends. You have to skip a lot of events in your life so you can do the necessary work, and that’s something many people might refuse to do after awhile. They’d rather spend time with their friends on a Saturday afternoon than write more of their novel.

The truth is after many years you’re able to find a system where you can be both a true friend and a good writer. You can find those two to three hours in your day to write and then spend time with friends and family during other parts of the day. If you schedule your time right, you can have both most of the time. But it can be hard, there’s no doubt about it. You have to be willing to sacrifice some of your social life to focus on your craft, or you’ll never get any better. You have to put in the time, always, if you want to be a good writer.

4. We should all do what, in the long run, gives us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry.

Not everything will go well every time you sit down at your writing desk. Sometimes you have a strong handle on the scene you’re writing, and the session will go fast and splendidly. Those are the best writing days, they really are. You walk away from your desk excited about the work you’ve done and amazed at how quickly everything came together. You feel so much joy.

But then sometimes you don’t have a strong handle on your scene, and you struggle for hours on end. You struggle writing five sentences. There are lots of snack breaks and staring out the window and tipping your fingernails against the desk. You don’t feel as much joy on those days. You feel like a fraud and that you’ll never have what it takes to be a successful writer. You might feel compelled to pick grapes or sort the laundry instead. E.B. White was right: you should do what in the long run gives you joy.

But clearly, especially if you’ve made it this far, you have a deep love of writing. Clearly you’re looking for inspiration and want to keep going no matter how long it takes. And it’s my firm belief that as long as writing gives you joy at least some of the time, then it’s worth pursuing. It’s worth studying and practicing and getting better at. No matter how many frustrating days you might have, keep going. You might eventually find joy radiating all around you every time you sit down at your writing desk.

PS Ready to be inspired? My newest craft book From Douglas Adams to Markus Zusak: Quotes by 100 Amazing Authors to Inspire Your Writing is now available on Amazon!

 

Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by Andy Weir to Make You a Better Writer

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Andy Weir (born in 1972) is the bestselling author of The Martian and Artemis.

Here are four of his fantastic quotes about writing!

1. My first book was so horrible I have deleted all copies of it. Thankfully, it was before the Internet, so there are no lurking caches of it anywhere.

Many writers have the hope that their first novel will be the one that makes all their publishing dreams come true, but sadly, such is not often the case. Usually that first novel’s entire purpose is to prove to you, the writer, that you can finish a novel. It proves that you can write a select amount of words day after day and eventually reach those two beautiful words: THE END.

That first novel is usually a way to train yourself in what not to do, as it was for me. At the time I thought my first book was pretty great, but looking back on it now ten years later, all I can do is cringe. Violently cringe, I’m telling you. The sentences are awkward. The pacing is off. Parts of the plot make no sense. But you know what? That’s okay. It was an extremely valuable learning experience, as all first novels are. And it’s okay to admit that, as Andy Weir does. The world didn’t need his first novel, but he needed to write it so that he could improve in his craft and eventually deliver us the incredible page-turner that is The Martian.

2. I originally wrote The Martian as a free serial novel, posting one chapter at a time to my website.

Sometimes we forget about all the different ways we can release our writing to the masses. So many of us get stuck in a tiny box that says the only way to get our books out there is to query literary agents and hope one of them takes a chance on us. Yes, this is the standard thing to do if you want your newest novel to be published with the Big Six, but if you believe in your latest project and nobody else does, you can publish it in all sorts of ways. There’s self-publishing, of course, where you take total control of your career and release your books your way and on your terms. This has been a successful option for many authors over the years.

Something else I’ve read authors do is release their novel chapter by chapter or section by section in various ways that are free or super cheap. Hugh Howey, for example, self-published the first part of his science fiction series Silo on Amazon and watched as the self-contained story took off in such a way that he was compelled to write further installments. And then Andy Weir apparently posted chapters of The Martian on his website for free. Did doing that hurt him? Of course not! The popularity of his work grew to such an extent that he was able to eventually get a book deal and watch his book become an Oscar-nominated film.

So don’t think you only have to go the traditional route every time. Especially when you have lots of manuscripts, feel free to experiment here and there with new publishing models… and then see what happens!

3. If the reader is rooting for the protagonist, they’ll forgive you just about everything else.

This is so true. You can have a compelling story that grips the reader from page one, but eventually you need to have the reader intensely rooting for your protagonist, or you might be in trouble. If the reader doesn’t care too much about the main character, all the bells and whistles you throw into the story won’t really matter. And the reader might some point put your book down and crack open a book by somebody else.

One of the best things about having the reader root for your protagonist from beginning to end? They’ll forgive you for little problems (or even some big problems) that happen in the manuscript along the way. They’ll forgive the occasional typo. They’ll glaze past a scene that confuses them. They’ll skim past two block paragraphs of directions. They’ll get over a plot point halfway through the novel that might be a little bit forced. Few novels are perfect, and yours probably won’t be either. But if you give the reader an awesome protagonist to root for, they’ll be able to look past lots of problems and inconsistencies every time.

4. A story in your head isn’t a story. It’s just a daydream until you actually write it down. So write it down.

You can spend months and months daydreaming about your latest story or novel, like I often do. Sometimes I’ll spend a year or longer thinking about my newest novel idea and the main characters and the theme and what happens at the beginning and ending. I’ll think deeply about all these elements for the longest time and not even think about putting a word down before I have a clear idea of what I want to do.

But yes, Andy Weir is right: at some point you need to write the story. What’s in your head is a jumble of ideas, but it’s not the story. It’s an essential part of storytelling, but it’s not the story, because you haven’t written anything down yet. I know that blank page can be scary. It’s still scary for me after all my years of writing novels and short stories. But nobody will ever be witness to that marvelous tale you’re cooking up in your head until you put the words down.

So daydream about your story to your heart’s content, figure out as much of your latest narrative that you can, get incredibly excited about what you might be able to do with it — and then start writing.

PS Ready to be inspired? My newest craft book From Douglas Adams to Markus Zusak: Quotes by 100 Amazing Authors to Inspire Your Writing is now available on Amazon!