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!